Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Joys of the internet, take 27.

Ahh, the internet. I should have known that within 24 hours of my last post, someone would forward the link to Jonathan Carroll. (If, on the other hand, I had said that Glass Soup was a work of brilliance unsurpassed in human memory, no one would think to send him the URL. This is how these things work. No one dug up my posts saying that I'd liked previous books.) I got a very nice note from him, just saying that he was sorry I felt that way, and sad to hear it.

And my stomach went kind of twisty, because I don't know that Mr. Carroll is a nice man, but I strongly suspect it: most of the writers I've met have turned out to be decent examples of the species, and I don't go around saying mean things to or about writers in hopes that they will feel bad, or even in hopes that they will Mend Their Ways. (Why do it, then? I'll get there, I promise.)

Then some anonymous person posted in the comments: "For someone who has yet to find a literary agent, and whose books to date available at have titles like CHINESE IMMIGRATION, it might be prudent for you to temper your public (literary) opinions somewhat, or at least until you have established a presence in the field. Jonathan Carroll has won every major award in this genre, not to mention his books sell in the millions worldwide.
And you?
GLASS SOUP is hands down brilliant"

Yah. Uh-huh. I shall stop making money from nonfiction this very minute, lest someone scorn my literary opinions because of it. Sure. I am so ashamed of knowing stuff and writing books to teach it to kids. I will slink off with my tail between my legs any minute now. Just wait for it. It's coming.

You know what? Winning awards does not make a book good. Selling in the millions does not make a book good. Some anonymous person asserting on the internet that a book is good still does not make a book good. If you have written a string of books that are as brilliant jewels, books that make me and every other reader laugh, cry, and change their lives -- and then you write a total stinker* -- the string of brilliant books will not mean that no one should criticize the stinker.

And Jonathan Carroll himself seems to know that. He did not suggest that I should have thought differently, just that he wished I had. Fans who refer to their favorite authors as deities of any kind, and bristle, and attempt, badly, to get personal in their favorites authors' defense are not actually doing the said authors any favors. Wise authors know better than to do it for themselves; let them know better, for heaven's sake.

I don't believe that non-writers, young writers, old writers, bestsellers, perennial midlisters, has-beens, wannabes, or anyone else at all should just sit down and shut up about which books they like or don't like. I don't think that's good for writers, and I don't think it's good for books. Further, I don't think it's good for readers, and that's the important thing. Most of us who read lj in this little circle have gotten book recommendations, positive and negative, from our friendslists. "More of the same" or even "ew, what a bad book" is useful data, especially when it comes from a known quantity, as it can on lj. It's not as pleasant as "go read this right now SQUEEEEEE!" But it's still good to know.

I don't expect Mr. Carroll to leap from his chair, shouting, "A reader in Minnesota is dissatisfied? Quick! To the bat cave!" Even if you modify "reader" to be "reader who has read every single book by the said gentleman," I don't expect it to happen that way. I will go further and say it shouldn't happen that way. A single reader's unsolicited opinion should not have the power to derail whole projects with a single internet post. But on the other hand, if he hears the same thing from people who aren't me, if it starts to add up, then it might be something to consider. Or it might not. We can only write the books we can write.

As important as book reviews feel to authors, they aren't for authors. They're for readers. And I think that the day a writer stops behaving like a reader, at whatever stage in her career, is a bad day and probably a foolish day as well. I'm not going to do anything to hurry that day along for myself. I'm not going to sit down and shut up and only think happy thoughts about books, or at least only about books whose authors have won awards. I don't suggest that any of you do so, either. If you disagree with me about a book, say so, here or elsewhere. If you can articulate it, say why. But even, "I liked that one, actually; the mosaic stuff really resonated with me," is better than no opinions. More talking about books is a good thing.

*Please note that I did not say Glass Soup was a total stinker, nor am I saying so now.
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