Saturday, June 30, 2012

CALL ME HUN

Hello, World. I've been thinking how for years book reviewers called Stephen King's novels 'trash.' King has described facing those critics: "I publish a book and I feel like a trapper caught by the Iroquois. They line up with tomahawks and I run the gamut while they whack me in my head, my back, my balls." Of course, by now most critics have acknowledged King as 'ahead of his time, something of a genius.' Still, I expect those tomahawk scars remain.

Is THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION trash? THE GREEN MILE? They are magnificent works, classics now, about the heart and soul of man, his eternal quest for truth and freedom. Each time I read them, I have wept. If they are 'trash,' then so is MOBY DICK, my favorite darling of all novels. Yet when MOBY DICK was first published, book reviewers called it a "depressing over-long tale about misfit sailors and a fish." Oh, my.

 In their early years of writing, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, were ghettoized as writers of 'sci-fi trash' by book reviewers. Ditto, Eric Ambler, a 'writer of thriller trash,'who is now considered the founding father of brilliant espionage novels. Yet in their later years, each writer was inundated with literary accolades, declaring them geniuses. The wisdom of hindsight? Well, what about foresight? Who is to say what 'trash' and what is 'literature'?

Here is a brilliant description of book reviewers. "They are the ones who approach the battlefield in full body-armor, then stand on the side lines. And when the battle is over, they walk around shooting all the wounded." Lovely. For, how many book reviewers have labored for years over a novel? How many have lived below the poverty line while trying to convey the achings of their minds, their hearts, their souls? Not many. In fairness, sometimes reviewers change their minds. Ten years later they might deign to take a second look at a novel, see it with 'fresh eyes' and give it a semi-rave review. Of course by then, the author has died stark raving mad, after eating his children.

In the past, I have respected certain book reviewers. They gave us guidelines, they were the sentries at the gates, warding off 'mediocre works of low culture,' and of 'trash.' Alas! I see them now as an endangered species, fading into yesteryear along with so much of the traditional publishing industry. Why? Because book reviewers now have a very short shelf life. Their prestigious newspapers and magazines have a short shelf life. Compare that to the chatter about a book on the Internet.

Millions of readers now browse digitally delivered reader-reviews on Amazon and other venues, where uber-clusters of conversation sizzle back and forth between readers and readers, and between authors and their readers. This global digital populace is radically transforming the reviewing of fiction, and simultaneously the recommendations of other books, and promoting the purchasing of those books. In short, they have effected a whole new revolution in book marketing. To use an already hackneyed phrase...the playing field has been leveled. Book readers are now the arbiters of taste.

Readers are omnivores. We are now adept at switch-hitting with the push of a button from 'high lit' to 'low lit' from ebook to audio to print. What we look for in a book is what other readers look for: some kind of primal narrative engagement that makes us feel less alone, some little truth or assurance that characters in novels are as lonely, as insecure, as we are. We want to pick up a book that does not insult us, that makes us grow a little, and maybe end up a little wiser, a little kinder. And we want to express our appreciation(or condemnation) in our OWN online reviews.

Perhaps what we read is not a perfect book, but we give it a 3 or 4 star review because it speaks to us, and because we want to encourage the author, give him or her more time to grow and hone their talent. Reading, like writing, is a leap into the unknown, which makes it terribly exciting. Of course, not all books are great. Some are less than good. But I believe any book written with the naked drive of the writer's heart and soul deserves a chance.

Life is messy, so why should books not be messy and a little awkward? And as for reader reviews, some are amateur, even embarrassing, but like writers themselves, I believe that the more readers review books, the more accomplished they will become at judging what is good and what is mediocre, and how better to express that.

One could call this the Democratization of reading, writing, and reviewing. I call it a REVOLUTION in book marketing. I call it a long overdue recognition of the intelligence and taste of our READERS.

For the old-line critics and book reviewers, the 'keepers of the literary flame,' it must seem a scary time. Vulgarians are destroying their Ivory Towers. The Huns are storming the gates. As an author, and avid reader, and online book-reviewer, how do I feel about this shattering of old-time 'ethics,' this revolutionary and brave new world?

Call me Hun.

1 comment:

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