Should I let you know about all the books I read? I received an email from a reader named Camille (and I am posting this with permission to quote her side of the correspondence–so yeah, no hating here) about my 2010 Reads tab, an easy-to-handle list of the books I finish reading this 2010–and I say easy, because my Moleskine’s bursting with details about the books, some of them one-liners whose references I wouldn’t be able to remember in a few months’ time, and some of the books have been given two-three pages of my teensy writing.
Anyway. Camille asked me about items #03 to #07. She told me she couldn’t help but feel disappointed about them, and pointed out the stark differences between those items and the items that sandwich them:
I love what you have written about Yates, and you have amassed a readership that looks forward to your impressions on the books you read. You have a unique voice, as well as a new way of reviewing. Even your posts on romance novels are enjoyable. However, I don’t think you should put that in jeopardy by telling people you read erotic romance. I read erotic romance too, but I’m not going to tell everyone when it could potentially ruin what I have built for myself.
Camille and I went on to write each other about why I shouldn’t list down this side of my reading habits, and we both agreed that we’re going to put aside the debate about the shame attached to reading particular books. She said, It’s not about hiding particular titles because you need to give the wrong impression; it’s about not calling attention to those books, when they don’t “fit” into the scheme, when they just might cause people to draw conclusions about me. She told me, emphatically, that there is nothing wrong with reading erotic romance. She offered,
…but maybe some guilty pleasures should be exactly that. Yes, we like to read erotica. But what if your straightforwardness causes people to ignore the wonderful things you say about literary fiction?
I understand what Camille was saying, that it might just be iffy to some people, the disparity between the books I read and like to read. Because I do like to read erotic romance. Yes, it is different to reading literary fiction; these books are more affective, they go for the gut–they go for your goshdarned libido, okay?
Do I feel a certain gloating pleasure (haha) when I take Eugenides or Bronte out of my book? Yep. Have I read a romance novel (with the I-Am-A-Romance-Novel cover) in public? Yes. Will I read an erotic romance while waiting for the train? No. So why tell all of you that I do read romance? Should certain things be kept to myself?
I pointed out to Camille that I did a review of Beth Kery’s Wicked Burn—a contemporary erotic romance. And she responded that Kery’s book was well-written, it was a book–but the novels I posted in that list (released as e-books from Samhain and Ellora’s Cave) went for titillation rather than going for any kind of literary merit. Besides, she went on, they’re too personal. And I said, “So, by posting them, people will know I’m not reading them because I’m looking for the key to unlock the human condition?”
And Camille said, “Yes. To be crude about it, they know you’re reading them to get off.”
She pointed out one thing, though: “Why don’t you review those books? Doesn’t your silence on them indicate that they really are guilty pleasures? Just put them down, it’s for the best.” I like to think that I don’t review them because I have nothing to say about them that will contribute to their discussion. And how does one discuss an erotic romance? [“Passably-written exposition but good dialogue, interesting characters though little conflict, and man, was my boyfriend happy when I put it down!”?] I like to think I managed to give faithful impressions when I talked about Beth Kery’s book. But what about Lorelei James, who really rocks my world? But what about Delilah Devlin, who puzzles me sometimes?
Bah. I am telling you all this because I know there is no right or wrong attitude to this. Camille and I are still discussing this,I just need your feedback. I’m still thinking about this myself–and yes, I am thinking if I should take Camille’s advice (she means well, okay?) and revamp that list, just change the numbers (so people will know I’ve read a book that isn’t “relevant” to this book blog). I need to know what the rest of you think. Like, say, if you judge me for knowing that I read erotica, okay then. If you judge me for posting those erotic novels that I read and never ever ever ever return to this blog, even if you’d somehow heard that I discovered the true cause of Austen’s death by devouring all of her books? Now, that just confuses me.
So, people–a little help here?
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What makes a “bad” book? As if the writing of this post, Teresa of Shelf Love has posted her own Sunday Salon on “bad” books, called, uh, “Bad Books?” I bring this to your attention because I wrote a long-ass comment on that entry, which I will copy here:
I’ve been thinking about this too. But peripherally. :] So, this little comment is exploratory, at best.
When I was reading Little Children by Tom Perrotta, I really wanted to like that book, but, my problem became, as my post about it tried to explain–Perrotta’s novel was not Revolutionary Road. Yates has taken over the sub-genre, that it’s become the yardstick to any novel attempting to portray dissatisfied suburbia–even if I recognized that Perrotta was attacking the subject in a different (more satirical) manner. And I know now, as I knew then, that it was a good book. But it didn’t satisfy me, not the way I wanted it to.
So, is the blame to be put on Yates’ lap for writing a “too-good” novel? Since it has latched itself on to my expectations, as another voice in my head when I sit down with a book?
As someone who has resolved to not even attempt “journalistic” or “academic” book reviews–the blog I keep is very personal, and I have no qualms with that, not anymore–my subjectivity is a big factor when talking about books. Some people try to be as professional about it as they can, and “taste” becomes secondary. I can’t do that. Also, when I find that I can’t read a book because school is hitting me pretty hard, or the book just put me to sleep, I say so, but I try to make sure that I explore why I felt like this book was a “bad” book.
I appreciate “negative” reviews. It’s proof that this odd thing called personal taste is still floating out there. However, I believe in reasons, in explanations–there is a responsibility to yourself, to your readers, and that book you just held, after all. So if I say, “Man, that was terrible,” I try to follow it up with, “Because the language baffled me / Because I wanted to hit Character A / Because the song reminded me of a Beach Boys song, and that never sits well with me / Because it wasn’t *insert good book* here.”
When I read romance novels, I’ll say, “It made me swoon,”–people tend to forget the affective quality of the book, one that (IMO) should go hand in hand with the technicalities, the form. If I read, say, Flowers for Algernon and write, “It didn’t make me cry”–does that give me a black, black heart? [But I cried, haha. I think that it means the story seeped into me, and took hold of me. It’s what books do.]
That’s my two cents. It’s a long two cents. Gahk, I took over the comment box. :O
PS – Thank you for that Updike link. Although I have accepted the fact that I can’t do [traditional] reviews, that quote you gave will help guide my hand when I type my impressions up.
Still with me? Anyway, to the three of you still here (thanks for the support, Mom)–as you’d read, that wasn’t a very well-informed comment, it was me taking over the post with my own explorations on the subject. But, still. You should head on over there, to see what’s happening, to give in your own impressions. I still need to concretize mine. Expository Writing 101 would’ve been so ashamed of me.
Y’all have a great week now, y’hear?