Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hey (hey), you (you), get off of my cloud!

What's with all the judgment in reading?

Not in reading itself--that's pretty much judgment-free (well, there are some genres that aren't, but that's not what I'm talking about).  But I mean as in other judging what I (and others) read--and by extension, since I write things I would like to read, what I write.

I read primarily for entertainment.  I love nothing more than curling up with my Kindle and reveling in a new book.  Reading is an escapist pleasure for me.  I like to read books that take me away from the problems and complications of my own life and the real world.  I like books written from the female perspective.  (All of the books I've read thus far this year have been written by female authors.)  I like strong, independent heroines.  I like well-developed characters.  I like characters who do the wrong things for the right reasons.  I like romance, the kind that takes your breath away and overwhelms you with passion and makes you root for this relationship.  I like sex scenes.  Yes, I'll admit it.  Sex scenes have been a relatively recent discovery in my reading world.  But I have quickly, and utterly, embraced them.  Bring on the boinking!  The smuttier, the better!

I don't like when rape is used in a sexual gratification context.  (One recent book, which I had heard almost universally positive things about, skirted that line, and I liked it less because of it.)  I don't like characters that do the right things for the wrong reasons, because they tend to be sanctimonious and annoying.  I don't like characters whose sarcasm turns to meanness, or characters who are just mean otherwise.  When you hurt someone, you should apologize.  I can tolerate murder and betrayal and all sorts of unscrupulousness from my characters, but not meanness.  I don't like books in which nothing happens.  I read fast, and I'm not very patient.  If a book hasn't hooked me within the first five pages (or less), I'll probably stop reading.  Slow builds don't work for me.

I'm fascinated with the supernatural and the paranormal.  I always have been.  I was the kid who grew up anxious for the "Unexplained" stories on Unsolved Mysteries.  Is it any wonder, then, that I've found my literary niche in urban fantasy and paranormal romance?

When I write, my ambitions are not very grand: I want to write a good story that people will like.  I try to write the kinds of stories I think I would like to read myself.  I know not everyone will like it, but I hope some people will.  That would make me happy.  I don't need to write the Great American Novel.  What is that, anyway?  Wouldn't such a thing be different for everyone?

Why?  Because once upon a time, I was worried about what other people would think of me.

That's right.  I was not always the cool, confident chick that now haunts the interwebs.  As a long- and oft-bullied child, I longed for the one thing I couldn't have: acceptance.  Once I was finally accepted among my peers (a status that remains, in my mind, tenuous at best), I was afraid of doing anything that would alienate me from them.  We’re often more like animals than we care to admit, we humans.  Any weakness and we push people out of the pack.  Often, we perceive “difference” as “weakness.”

(I’m often not a fan of the human race.)

To this day, I don’t like anyone to be around me when I’m in a bookstore.  I won’t go into one with my friends.  Hell, I don’t even like anyone else in the stacks near me, even people I don’t know.  No matter what I do, I felt that all-too-familiar surge of self-consciousness.  What will they think of what I’m reading, I wonder.  It’s a weakness I despise in myself. 

Thank God for my Kindle, where I can indulge in the kinds of books I like to my heart’s content and not worry about judgmental eyes watching me.

Ironic, then, that I spend so much of my time writing about what I read.  I am CC2K’s ( Book Editor, a position I’ve held for over two years now.  I review things over there, talk about the books I like and the ones I don’t.  And more recently, I’ve started this blog.  I get to be a lot more self-indulgent here, talking about the process of reading and writing and my thoughts about it.

So it doesn’t matter, really, that I have my Kindle.  Those judgmental eyes follow me anyway.  Only now, instead of making me feel self-conscious, they make me feel angry.

I didn't get here because I've never read anything else.  On the contrary, I got here because I've read a lot of other stuff.  For years, I wouldn't touch anything in the genre sections of the bookstore.  No, I was all about the literary fiction and the classics.  I bought a lot of books that I never finished.  And I finished a lot of books that I didn't really like.  Most of those people who would look down on me because what I read isn’t “good” enough probably haven’t read nearly as much as I have.  I’d bet, in most cases, it’s not even close.

I’m not in school anymore.  I have no homework assignments to complete.  I don’t doubt my intelligence.  I am smart, and literate, and I can have a conversation about a great many things without making an idiot of myself.  I no longer feel like I have to prove anything to anyone.  So what right does anyone have to judge me because the books I read aren’t “good” enough? 

Reading is a huge part of my life.  Already this year, I’ve read 16 books (14 full-length and 2 novellas).  So when someone judges my reading as being not good enough, it feels like they’re judging me.

But I’m angry Beth now, the Beth who can conquer the world.  And I don’t need them anyway.

This is Annabel Lee, my cat. If you had a cat like her,
you'd be very happy, too.
 I am one of the happiest people I know.  I finished a 309-page novel draft, and I’m working on revisions now so I can start submitting it to agents/editors this spring.  I have a family that means the world to me, and a relationship with my mother that most people would envy.  I have great friends, people who would have my back no matter what.  (Fair-weather friends simply don’t interest me, another consequence of years of being an outcast.)  I have a cozy, if usually messy, apartment, and a cat who adores me and likes to sleep on my chest.  I have enough money to buy things and travel and go out when I want.  I live alone.  I answer to nobody and no one.  I have my solitude, when I want it—which may sound horrible to some people but, to me, it’s paradise.  I am more deeply content now than I have been at any other time in my life.

So to those of you who would get all condescending and snobby toward me for my literary choices: is it really that?  It’s the bullies back in school, all over again: they put people down to make themselves feel better.  Maybe they see that I have what they lack: happiness.

So I’ll read what I damn well want to read, and the hell with anyone who doesn’t like it.  It doesn’t affect you, anyway.  Now, get off of my fucking cloud.


Carolyn Crane said...

Oh, thanks for this excellent essay. I so agree here, as a fellow recovering genre avoider. I do think pleasure can be such an under-appreciated quality in choice of reading.

I love your cat pic.

Beth Woodward said...

Thanks, Carolyn. I'm glad you liked it, and my cat pic. (Annabel is a great cat. Felt I should show her off a bit!) I just run into a few judgmental types lately, and I needed to get a rant off my chest. It's just been one of those days all around!