Hello! I am at the Willamette Writer’s Conference for the day, but I still have a post for you. Oh yes.
Last week, I wrote about why I think stories about true love or fated love are boring and unfulfilling. Unsurprisingly, some people disagree. This post also happened to coincide with the re-invigoration of the debate around a rather divisive book franchise. Whenever clashes of opinion like this occur, it’s invariably said that one can’t judge a book one has not read, or a genre in which one has not read widely.
This is true. One really shouldn’t. But if one–oh alright, if I might be pragmatic–there are only so many hours a person can reasonably devote to reading before they start feeding you intravenously and making you walk three miles on a treadmill.
We all have criteria by which we decide how to prioritize all the books the publishing industry wants us to buy and read and talk about so that others will buy and read and talk about them. And I think, in the abstract, we’re all perfectly okay with the concept that even if we find a particular trope annoying, someone else can’t get enough of it, and the book we happen to be disappointed in was therefore written for that other person, not us.
Which is okay, because there are also books that were written for us and not that other person.
I think it’s great to discuss the relative merits of this type of love story versus that type of love story; in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s essential to maintaining a diverse literary pool. But then, I majored in discussing the relative merits of this trope versus that trope, so my student loan debt says I have to encourage it.
It’s important as readers and writers not to take things personally, and it’s also important not to make things personal. This is a message that gets passed around a lot, I know, but I’m okay repeating it because it’s a hard one to internalize (I, for one, am still not as enlightened as I’d like to be in this). We have to recognize the difference between subjective and objective critiques.
Subjective critiques can be tricky because they don’t always use the “I” statements we were taught in grade school. “I think fated love reduces the individual agency of the partners” becomes “Fated love reduces the individual agency of the partners” and it sounds a lot more forceful and arrogant that way. Medium is important here. In the case of last week’s post, it’s here on my personal website, which means basically that it’s only my opinion (unless I’m citing a bunch of examples, which, in the case of book tropes, would make it also a demonstrable trend). If, however, your creative writing professor is the one saying “Fated love reduces agency” and giving you a lower grade just for writing about soulmates? That’s an issue.
Objective critiques are ones we basically have to admit are right. Sometimes we want to say that such and such a book only has too many adverbs because that person just hates adverbs…but sometimes the book really does have too many adverbs. Sometimes, a book really does perpetuate harmful stereotypes about genders, races, disabilities, or lifestyles. These things are worth critique; and I can only assume that those who respond to such critiques with “If you don’t like it then just don’t read it/watch it/talk about it, people can like whatever they want” aren’t willing to see that there ARE problems with the book in question, and don’t understand that one can enjoy a book while being aware of and engaging with the problems it presents.
As the poet said, “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one.” That’s never going to change, especially not in our industry. So let’s all make sure we know what kind of assholes we’re responding to.