The Reader Responsibility to Author Direction
Shuzluva reviewed “Unholy Ghosts” by Stacia Kane. The protagonist is an unrepentant drug addict. It’s not clear from the blurb that this is the case but as one commenter to Shuzluva’s review pointed out, Kane wrote about this and gave a warning:
The back cover copy tells you very clearly that the book is about a drug addict. That is true. She is. Drugs are used in the book(s), quite a bit. If that’s a problem for you don’t buy the book, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. I don’t want you to buy a book you’re not going to like, or that will upset you or make you uncomfortable! I want you to be happy with it, and enjoy it
And while I expected some people to be turned off, I didn’t expect the Puritanical vitriol I’ve gotten from a small minority who seem to think addiction, or writing about addiction, is a moral crime on a par with baby murdering, and that to even buy a book with an addict character is akin to standing in the corner and cheering while that baby is murdered. I guess fiction is not after all a place to explore different lives and situations; buying a novel is a political and moral act, and buying a book about an addict is a moral wrong. Ohh-kay. Perhaps it would be better if we just shot our addicts? Especially the functional ones? Maybe from there we’ll move to people who take antidepressants; after all, that’s a daily pill to make you feel better, and if you stop taking it you’ll go through very uncomfortable withdrawals, and it does have (IMO) more dangerous side affects than most opiates-
This reminded me of Laura Kinsale’s comments to the positive dual review of her book, Lessons in French by Sarah and Robin here at Dear Author. Sarah F used the word melancholy to describe the book. Kinsale objected vehemently to this.
It is NOT a gloomy, melancholy book. Fer pete’s sake. Quite a few people think it’s laugh out loud funny (though humor is totally subjective so I can only hope for that).
I’m enjoying the discussion, and I’m fine with “poignant,” but “melancholy”-no.
Just. No. Anybody who picks up this book expecting a tragic tear-jerker will be misled. A romp, slapstick, silly, stupid, fine.
But the author is going to behave badly and draw the line at melancholy.
I stay away from author’s message boards and blogs, for the most part, because I don’t want to be influenced by their intentions for their story. I like to have a pure reader response. I might go and check out what they have to say after the book is done but I hardly ever seek out their opinion of their work before hand. Why? Because the author’s intentions should be read through the words in the book, not by explanations from extraneous sources. Other people have different conclusions. At least one reader in the review thread believed that it was wrong for Shuzluva to have reviewed a book that might have a hot button issue for her. I’ve read other comments of readers and authors stating that if a reader doesn’t like X, she shouldn’t be picking up that book to read. The flip side is that if Shuzluva had stated she wasn’t enthused about drug addict characters but ended up loving the protagonist in Unholy Ghosts, no one would have told her in the comments she shouldn’t have read the book in the first place.
Yet, when reading and writing about authors in the past, we are often looking at extraneous texts to determine the meaning. We consider the time in which they lived, their political and religious affiliations. We look at their personal lives and how those might have affected their writings.
So to what extent should we allow an author’s direction to influence our reading?