Have you ever been called a "novel-wimp" in a comment?

Today I received my first ever discourteous comment - in which someone called me a "novel-wimp".

I couldn't stop laughing when I first read it. Come on - novel-wimp! That is hilarious and I intend to use it at some appropriate point in the future (only about myself of course).

I feel a little bad for Josh (the commenter). When I read his comment my first reaction was to laugh, and my second was to wonder whether he is actually somehow related to the author and when he felt that his family member/friend was being unjustly criticised he jumped to her defence.

Having had time to reflect, I think that Josh just really loved Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, because it is this book that he left the following comment on:

This review's conclusion is silly. I don't agree at all. I don't read a lot but, I wanted this novel to be twice as long. In fact, I wanted it to be 6 feet cubed so I could open it up and climb into it. This is a book for people who actually enjoy reading. Don't be racing your way through this book for your book-club. The footnotes and word-geekery only made for a richer experience. Don't be impatient and don't be a novel-wimp or you will never be able to properly enjoy the best kinds of novels. I'll be re-reading it as soon as my memory has finally stopped harassing me with Clarke's imaginings.
I admit that I got a bit carried away in my response, but what can I say? Maybe his passion rubbed off on me? Here it is:

Wow Josh, don't hold back. My conclusion is silly, I'm impatient and a "novel-wimp", tell me what you really think! Although I have had people disagree with my opinion about a book, I have never had anyone be so forthright.

Sometimes, I have to admit, I have a look at someones blog and see that they have reviewed entirely paranormal fantasy books, and I wonder to myself about their taste (sorry, I don't mean to offend anyone), but I have never gone so far as to actually leave them a comment accusing them of being someone who doesn't "actually enjoy reading" or a "novel-wimp" or someone who "will never be able to properly enjoy the best kinds of novels".

Sometimes, I even disagree with a reviewers conclusion, but I have never left them a message telling them that their "conclusion is silly".

Do you know why? Because it's kind of rude. So, either you are rude OR you are extremely passionate about the book that all other considerations have become secondary to the defence of your most beloved novel. Given all the wonderful praise you have lavished on the book, I hope that it is safe to assume that it is the latter.

I really wanted to enjoy this book as much as you did, and I thoroughly expected too. Unfortunately I didn't. It sounds to me like the things that you loved about the book, are the things that didn't really do anything for me.

This doesn't mean that you enjoy reading more than me; it doesn't mean that my conclusion is silly or that I will never be able to properly enjoy the best kind of novels. It also doesn't mean those same things in relation to other people who didn't enjoy it as much as you did.

It simply means that we each had a different, but equally valid, reaction to the story.

I hate to be cliché and use a quote here, but I can't help it. No doubt it's the silliness in me coming out. In Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote "…a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind…" Each of us is an individual, with unique life experiences, and with that comes different interpretations of, or reactions to, the same book.

Thanks for your comment, but perhaps next time you could express your own passion without being so judgmental?

I don't mean to embarrass Josh by posting his comment in an entirely separate post. I am being honest when I say that it is nice to see people feel so passionately about a book. Hopefully more people can be just as passionate about reading books, as opposed to watching reality tv and other such crap on television these days.

I just thought that you might all enjoy reading the comment as much as I did. "Novel-wimp" is a great phrase and rest if the comment is just so brazenly vitriolic that I couldn't help but share it with you.

So, to all of those novel wimps out there - what do you think? Do we lack an enjoyment of reading if we don't like the same book that someone else does? Are our conclusions silly if someone else doesn't agree with them?

More importantly, will we never be able to appreciate the best kind of novels if we don't enjoy Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell?

Over to you! 

PS. If anyone thinks that I have gone too far with this post, please let me know and I think about taking it down.

Book club discussions where the author is present: is an honest discussion possible?

From Leadership Connextions
I have been to two book club meetings in the past where the author has been present and it has made me wonder: are book club discussions where the author is present as open and honest as they are when the author is not?

The two books and their authors were Kirsten Tranter author of The Legacy and Fiona McGregor author of Indelible Ink. Both books I thought were… ok. They weren't terrible, but then they weren't great either. Both books I had several distinct annoyances.

The Books

In The Legacy, my three biggest disappointments were these: the ending was extremely disappointing, the chapters all ended too suddenly and Tranter keep trying to build up suspense around certain people in a way that turned out to be very misleading.

In Indelible Ink, my three biggest disappointments were these: lack of plot, an unbelievable premise (a middle aged north shore Sydneysider becoming a tattoo addict) and so much dialogue about real estate that I was incredibly bored half way through the book.

The Book Club Discussion

The annoying thing was, that with the authors there I didn't feel as though I could completely honest about what I thought about their books.

In the book club discussion of The Legacy, I did ask Kirsten Tranter why she built up tension and suspense around certain characters and their actions that ultimately lead nowhere and she gave me an entirely unsatisfactory response to my question (which was specific to those two characters so I won't bore you with the details).

Although I asked the question, I didn't feel like I could express my views about how this aspect of the book didn't work for me. I also didn't feel like I could raise the other areas of the book that fell short for me.

Similarly, in the book club discussion for Indelible Ink I found myself again feeling too uncomfortable to express my true thoughts about the book in front of the author Fiona McGregor. I remember Fiona McGregor talking about the book as a book about middle class Australia. Now, (this may only have significant meaning for people from Sydney) – Indelible Ink was centred around a family who had a harbour front mansion near Mosman, views of the Harbour Bridge etc, which was worth $6.5 million Aussie dollars. Let me ask you – does this sound middle class to you? Because if that is middle class – then what the bleep is upper class? I really took issue to the fact that the characters were described as middle class rather than upper class BUT I did not feel as though I could express these feelings in the presence of the author.

What difference does it make if the author is there, and should it make a difference at all?

Objectively, I know that I could have expressed my views if I had really wanted to. Authors probably appreciate that fact that someone has thought about their books and had a certain reaction to it.

But when that reaction is negative one, and isn't necessarily going to be well argued (I'm only a reader after all – I know nothing about literature itself and can't necessarily form a wonderful argument to support my view), it is really hard to say what you really think.

This in turn as made me question whether other people in the room are holding back? What thoughts did they have about the book that they might not be sharing? Am I alone in feeling overall disappointed about the book or are there others like me in the room? Did we like the same things? Did we dislike the same things?

The problem is - I now no longer know if those discussions that took place were open and honest. It may be that everyone sounded positive about the books because everyone like me was too nervous about speaking their mind in front of the author. Maybe people even said some things that they didn't really think.

The point is, I can't know and that can't be a good thing when the point of a book club surely is to have an open and honest discussion about a common book.

I now avoid book clubs where the author is going to be present, because I would rather know that I can express my opinion, be it bad or good, without worrying about what the author thinks.

What do you think? Have you been to a book club with the author of the book being discussed? How was it different, if at all?

04.11.2011: This post receives a lot of traffic each week but rarely received a comment. Don't forget that its never too late to leave your thoughts, they are always welcome.

Kindling by Darren Groth (Australian)

There isn’t really anything to say about Kindling that I haven’t already said in my review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (“TCIDNT”).

Kindling was an enjoyable and quick read. It kept me interested in the plot and t provided me with an insight into the life of a child with Autism.

Unfortunately though, there was nothing new or unique in it for me. Having already read TCIDNT, I had seen all those things in a book before. The unusual font style was even common to both books.

I am not in any way suggesting that Groth copied TCIDNT or anything like that. I have no idea when either author wrote their book, which I accept could have been at an entirely different time to the time at which it was published.

It’s just that I feel like I had read the story before. Yes, the setting had changed and the plot was different, but the content was the same. The same difficulties in interpreting the world experienced by the autistic child. The same difficulties faced by the parent of the child. In both books the parent of the child was a single father who was also coping with being single. The same issues related to the schooling of autistic children.

I enjoyed it, I just can’t get enthusiastic about it.

5 / 8 
Good and worth reading if you have the opportunity, but there's no need to prioritise it.

I would be very interested to know what you thought of this book if you have read it, especially if you have read TCIDNT as well.