Nope, not talking about the awesome program from the ’80s/’90s where you read a certain amount of books and got to go Pizza Hut (I think that was it) and make your own little personal pan pizza. I loved that program. Combine reading with food and I’m there.
What this week’s musing is inspired by is something I attend once a month: A book club. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a book club but it was something I always wanted to. Thanks to the internet I was able to find more than one. I tried a couple of others before settling on the one I regularly attend.
I really enjoy my book club. Our focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, or horror books. This isn’t unusual since most book clubs are centered on a particular theme. The people are fairly smart, someone brings baked goods (again food + book = good times), people’s t-shirts are interesting, and it’s just neat being around a group of people where we have at least one thing in common. I enjoy listening to other people’s thoughts about the book regardless of if I agree with people’s opinions or not. I enjoy the thought provoking questions asked by the group’s leader which usually revolve around issues today.
Yet for all the positives I get out of it, lately I’m beginning to wonder, as a writer, if it is good for me. I think it’s just my own neurosis but when I listen to what the average reader thinks of the story, the characters, the writing style, what have you, I start to wonder. Wonder about people’s critical thinking skills and if some people really, truly cannot grasp the idea of something must be impossible because it doesn’t jive with how they understand the world and therefore it’s a failure of the author. Heaven forbid the reader take some responsibility to think a little harder or admit “Hey, I just don’t get it.” I’ll readily admit I don’t get what authors are doing sometimes.
I guess as a writer and knowing authors I get a little bit defensive. Especially when I hear a reader criticizing a male author for trying something new like having a female main character and not writing her ‘feminine enough’ and that he should stick to what he knows. Or people not understanding that when the story shifts to a different character that the writing style should naturally change. What I mean by this is the grammar of the character changes, speaking and thought style, and how the character views their world. Some people apparently can’t appreciate this and quickly launch into how the author is a bad writer for doing this. I guess they prefer all their characters to sound exactly the same regardless of life experiences and origins.
At times this mentality gets to me as I’ll sometimes examine my own work and my own ideas and wonder if the average reader will ‘get’ it. Should I trust a story with ugly, unlikeable characters as the focus when it feels that so many average readers don’t like that? Will a reader truly understand the aim at realism which means the good, the bad, the ugly, and the uncomfortable? Does the average reader care about subtext and depth a good story should have?
Granted some of this is dependent upon genre and the expected tropes but I see online people up in arms over an author who dares to defy those tropes! Again, I think a lot of these thoughts and worries are a byproduct of my naturally anxious nature. It’s one of those things where I know intellectually to stay true to the story and the characters and the audience will be there for my work (hopefully). Or to not care if everyone gets it because not everyone will. I certainly don’t as a reader. Yet emotionally, and because of the chemicals which make up my personality, I want people to completely understand and appreciate nuances a writer has puts into a work. When someone doesn’t, it irritates me.
So are book clubs a good thing for a writer to attend? Those writers with thicker skins and who can separate the reader you vs. writer you, then yes. If you can’t, then perhaps not. For me I need to work more on just enjoying the discussions as a reader and leave the writer on the pages it is needed on.