Was it murder--or something serious?
Philip Marlow in Murder, My Sweet

Friday, August 8, 2014

But seriously

I recently heard one of the silliest comments ever from a fellow writer: if the reader is not engaged by my story, then the failure is mine.

Uh. Not necessarily. Speaking as someone who has many times endured the pain of hearing a twelfth grade English class taking turns reading aloud…no. Seriously. No. If the reader is not engaged, there’s a very good chance the reader may not be a very good reader.

Or it might not be the right book for this reader. Every book is not right for every reader.

Or maybe the book IS total crap. That’s always a possibility, but I really do think this tendency of authors to grovel before reader/reviewers is not good for any of us. And I say this as both a reviewer and an author.

All readers are not created equal. Any more than all writers are created equal. Or all baseball players are created equal. And loving to read is not the same as being a good reader. Any more than loving to sing means you can stay on key.

I wish I had a dollar for every time a reader posts something about my books being so much funnier or wittier or more riveting in audio. The reader puzzles over why this should be the case. But there’s no mystery to it. The book is finally being delivered correctly -- the pacing, the emphasis, the pronunciation, for heaven’s sake! are all finally right. The correct dosage is being administered to the patient.  

It’s interesting to me that while we’re all aware that reading comprehension scores have been dropping for years, we fail to see that this might affect us as writers. But of course it does.

However, what really makes me uneasy about this unfounded glorification of sometimes-unthinking and sometimes-uninformed opinion, is that it holds greater ramifications for us as a democracy. This whole idea that opinion is enough, and being informed and educated is secondary or even unnecessary in the face of strong, heartfelt opinion, is genuinely  terrifying when voting time comes around.



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