The sad truth about the book world is that it doesn’t need more yes-saying novelists and certainly no more yes-saying critics. We are drowning in them. What we need more of, now that newspaper book sections are shrinking and vanishing like glaciers, are excellent and authoritative and punishing critics — perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise, abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star.
Most of the blogging I've seen about books reminds me all too much of the shallow "Sixty Second Preview" blurb-shilling that's been happening in the movie-criticism industry for a long time now, except that a depressing number of the bloggers in question seem to honestly think they're contributing something of value to a conversation about a given work. "I liked it" is not a form of criticism. "I liked it and here's why" is a little closer to the truth, but few people seem honest enough about their tastes (or perceptive) to speak with authority or insight about why something worked for them or didn't.Read more
Harry Potter is not a person who lives in JK Rowling's head, he's an idea which is shared in various forms by millions of people all over the world.
This, I think, is what people can't get their heads around. It's the idea that there does not have to be a single, correct answer to any question about a fictional character. The idea that something could be deliberately ambiguous, or intentionally left open to multiple interpretations seems to blow people's tiny minds. The idea that an interpretation that was not intended by the author could still be valid seems to make Fandom physically ill.
[And later, in the comments:]
... [this happened because] adults took something intended for "the kids" and got into it themselves. Adults are the biggest kill joys ever who need to know they're right and that the world makes sense etc, and who will annoyingly argue themselves to the ends of the earth in pursuit of acknowledgement.
There's a lot to mine out of an observation like this, so much so that at first I have trouble figuring out how to attack it systematically, like a sandwich that's too thick to bite into properly.
I suspect most of the author's comments about fandom come from being exposed to its noisiest, most reactionary and most hidebound elements — although, sadly, those tend to be the parts of fandom that make the biggest impression, because they're noisy, reactionary, hidebound, etc. It's easy to assume such people speak for the whole of the way fandom works.Read more
We all know, much to our dismay, the deal about there being nothing truly new. It received its first and most timeless expression in Ecclesiastes, which you ought to be able to quote with your eyes shut: "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."
The problem is, what classifies as being "new" or "original"? Why do we attach those labels to something in the first place? Especially creative work, which despite the label is more often than not made up of other things?Read more
I just returned from a vacation during which I came back several pounds heavier than when I left — most of it books and not body fat, thank goodness. Among them were new entries in the Vampire Hunter D series, which I've written about in these very pages, Miyuki Miyabe's ICO: Castle in the Mist novel, miscellaneous manga, and (c-c-c-combo breaker!) Ödön von Horváth's The Eternal Philistine. One of these things is most definitely not like the other.
It's been said that the main difference between "popular" and "literary" work is the amount of effort required to read the product in question and get the most out of it. A short book that is very densely written can be far more effort to plumb than one four times its length but pumped full of air via descriptions and digressions and all the other kind of writing-by-the-yard that can be read by simply moving one's gaze down the middle of the page. The fact that a book is like this has little or nothing to do with what it's really about (e.g., SF vs. "kitchen sink" fiction), but how it is about it, and it's the how that I think creates the most difficulties of approach for both writers and readers. We all want to write to be read, but some of us know that what we have to say cannot be said any other way.Read more