Thursday, August 26, 2010

Loving a book to death

Internet, we have a problem: I am sick to death of a book that came out on Tuesday. A book I won't even get a chance to read until next week. If I even read it, because after another two days of this I'm going to start developing hives whenever I see the book.

I understand that Twitter and Facebook have made our sharing of what we're doing instantaneous, but there several problems with the way a lot of people are behaving this week. I'm not talking about revealing plot details in a public space. It should go without saying that's a crime against your fellow readers.

With social media, a lot of people want to make reading a social activity. Reading isn't a social activity. It's something that happens before you can participate in the social activity of discussion.

You can't have a discussion about a text with someone who hasn't read it. You can tell them about the text and they can comment on what you've told them, but that's just a secondary reaction. Any opinion they express is based on your bias.

When thousands of people join in to talk at other people about a text, it's nothing short of propaganda. These past two days the collective tweetbrain has been bludgeoned into feeling guilty if they aren't reading a certain novel. It would be different if this novel was part of new 1t1b campaign. It's not. It's mob-mentality loving a book to death.

I'm open about the fact that I've read the two previous novels in this trilogy and thought they were a bit flawed. I also feel any relevant discussion they offer—and they do offer a lot of socially relevant discussion—is usually overshadowed by shipping arguments of one pairing versus another.

To paraphrase a friend: This is why we can't have nice things, Fandom.

My frustration isn't over the popularity of the novels. I want you to read. I want you to love books. I don't care if they happen to be books that I don't feel the same way about. We're different people. We're allowed to love different things.

No, I'm annoyed because reading is a personal relationship—an intimate connection between a text and a single reader. It's a sacred bond that authors and their publishers work for years to create.

When a person tweets/statuses their emotional reaction to a book with specific page numbers, they ruin everyone else's ability to approach that text with no preconceptions. It's a spoiler to know that on page XXX someone's heart was breaking for this character, because now I know that around page XXX something sad is going to happen.

Maybe that person thinks she's creating anticipation, but she's only creating expectation. She's influencing the emotional response other people will have. Would you like someone to tell you how you're supposed to feel about your personal relationships?

Part of why I don't LOVE these novels is because other people created such immense expectations for them. I was told for so long that these were the GREATEST BOOKS EVER WRITTEN, so when I finally read them I was rather disappointed. Then I was made to feel guilty for believing them to only be decent, thought-provoking novels that are worth the time it takes to read them. That's not a criticism; just like it's not a criticism to say I don't enjoy them as much as another series. It's an opinion.

We all have opinions, and we all have the right to share them. But there's a huge difference between a single "OMG, YOU GUYS THIS BOOK IS SO AWESOME" while you're reading—with a follow-up confirming that the book was indeed AWESOME all the way to the end—and a constant parade of your emotional reactions with page notations.

The first behavior is respectful to your fellow readers. It suggests it was more important to finish reading the book than tweet about it. That's the kind of book I want: One that I can't put down long enough to reach for my phone.

The second behavior is exhibitionist. It's not about the book at all. It's about you.

I realize that Twitter is turning us all into narcissists, but could we at least try to put up a fight for what remains of civility and consideration of others? Honestly, isn't that part of what our beloved trilogy is about?


Leigh said...

Yes, Chandra, I completely agree with you, esp. about "this book." Everyone on FB is reading it and telling us how they feel about reading it. I really enjoyed the first one, haven't had time to read the second one, and don't know if I'll ever get to the third. I'm hoping by the time I do get there, I'll have forgotten my high expectations.

Chandra Rooney said...

Is it because we're over 25, Leigh? Is that why we have a different opinion of what a relationship to a text is?

I wonder how many of these people publicly "feeling" their way through the text are writers.