The Pretty Bird reads some more books, sees a movie.

23 Sep

The first half of this post and the first asterisked footnote were composed on July 5, 2010. I have no idea why I never finished it, but upon re-reading it, thought that some of what I assert here is kind of relevant to the last month or so of discussions of books, etc. 

So, over the holiday weekend, I did that thing again where I read a whole book in a day. I did it twice, in fact, once on Saturday, and once on Sunday. The Pretty Bird does not publish or endorse negative reviews of books (and doesn’t think you should either, if you’re a writer), so we’re only going to talk about one of those books.*

The book I liked was Michelle Richmond’s Dream of the Blue Room. I also liked The Year of Fog, the only other of Richmond’s books I’ve read. I’m interested in this space between books we’d call “literary” and those we’d call “chick lit”; they seem to fit into this space labeled “popular” or “commercial” fiction, but use the tools good writers recognize as good writing. They don’t necessarily want to teach us a new philosophy of life. I am sick to death of books that seek to teach me, it turns out. The next writer I read whose work screams, “I’m smarter than you!!!!!” deserves to be punched. ‘Cause, well, you’re not. And even if you were, it’s absurdly bad manners to say so, you fucking show-off.

Michelle Richmond is not one of those writers. Her books are accessible without pandering. What happy endings they do have are tempered by realistic and difficult life choices and circumstances. They feel, to me, honest. I hesitate to read dead girl stories, since I’ve been writing one for like 8 years now, and Dream of the Blue Room is undoubtedly a dead girl story.

Dream of the Blue Room has, in fact, stayed with me, particularly the deeply moving backstory that serves as the impetus for the main action. That backstory is moving and emotionally challenging. The characters’ relationship does not conform to the expectations you might carry into a story about two inseparable teenage girls; its surprises are authentic and feel real.

Meanwhile, I can’t remember if I’ve since read a book in one day, unless manuscripts submitted to Engine Books count. I know that I haven’t read another title by the author above who shall not be named, which is a bit of a shame, since I was gobbling up her books like mad a the time, and she’s published more.

Which gets me thinking about the relationship between author and reader, about gaining and losing a reader’s trust. Writers know, generally, how to think about this in terms of individual books, how to consider whether a novel fulfills the promises it lays out, how to think about the surprising yet inevitable ending rather than cheap tricks, etc. And of course we’re all familiar with the old sophomore slump. But being an incredibly slow (and currently unpublished in book form) writer, I hadn’t put much thought into the possibility of betraying a loyal reader as perspectives and positions change. It’s one of my core beliefs that to write well–to write at all, really–means to continue learning and evolving throughout your life. We don’t get to be those people who get to a certain stage of life, where they’re making enough money and getting enough done to stop growing. (I sometimes wish I was one of those people, but it’s not in me. Wouldn’t life seem so much more fulfilling, though?) Instead, we have to continue acquiring knowledge, empathizing with positions we perhaps would prefer not to understand, and learning new stuff in general, or risk writing the same thing over and over again.

Which! If we were a rock band with a cult following would prompt the same irritation I expressed above/below. Which makes me feel like a bit of a whiner, but I’m going to let those thoughts stand, anyway, because they are obviously still affecting my approach to the writer’s subsequent titles, and therefore not something I’ve entirely gotten over.

It turns out I don’t remember what the movie was. Probably a super-hero/comic book thing. Evidently the books stick with me a little better than the films.

*…even though I really want to talk about the other one, because I’ve read other books by its author, and liked them, and am feeling a little bit betrayed. Because I think she knows better than to do a lot of the shit she did, shit that, to my reading, did whatever the opposite is of rewarding her readers for their time and dedication. I would like to know if the three well-placed and specific mentions, by make and model, of a particular shampoo (a shampoo that it actually seemed pretty unlikely that the character in question would even use) were, in fact, compensated product placement. I would like to know if there’s some particular goal being met by the blatant disregard for basic accuracy. (For example, there is no pregnancy test on earth that can detect an embryo five days after conception, a fact with which readers of this book should probably be familiar.) I’d like to talk about many substantially larger and, to my reading, anti-woman moves the narrative makes. But won’t do so in public, I’m afraid. Writers who publish negative reviews of other writers’ work seem to me, at best, to be tempting fate; at worst, they look petty, jealous, and small.**

**Which is not to say that I don’t think there should be negative book reviews. I just don’t think writers–especially those in the same genre–should write them.


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