One of the points of never-ending contention among literary scholars is whether to privilege the author’s intent or the reader’s interpretation. The question of perspective is important because the way a work is perceived changes depending on its audience. A book does not necessarily mean the same thing to an Elizabethan audience as it does to a contemporary one, nor to an audience in one country or city versus another. These considerations do not only apply to the broader question of audience in academia; they also affect us on a personal level. No two people approach a book in the same way. The words on the page are constant, but the way we experience them, the way we read them, is as individual as the reader herself. While this is undoubtedly one of the joys of reading for both the academic and the bibliophile, it also makes it difficult to rely on others’ interpretations as a guide to seeking new reading material. Thus for the casual reader scouring the Internet for reviews because all she wants is a good book, the question becomes “What kind of reader is the reviewer?” and perhaps even more importantly, “What kind of reader am I?”
I often have difficulty trusting book reviews because the reviewers differ so much from me as a reader that their recommendations lead me astray. So while I cannot help you with the soul-searching necessary to answer that second question, I will address the first in the interest of full-disclosure and with the hope that it will keep you from experiencing the same distrust that I have.
So, what kind of reader am I?
As you may have gathered from the first paragraph, I am an academic and the daughter of academics. I have a bachelors degree in English and Japanese literature from Vassar College and a masters degree and three years of PhD work in modern Japanese literature and drama from the University of Illinois. I have literally spent my entire life on college campuses and have a tendency to speak as if I am writing, not to mention an unholy obsession with metatheatre and metaliterature (plays within/about plays and books about/within books).
I am also an unrepentant bibliophile and one of the biggest geeks you will ever meet.
I’m the girl who annoyed her friends and classmates by refusing to speak in anything but quotes from The Tempest during recess in sixth grade. The girl who did everything backwards, reading the classics in elementary school before devouring fantasy and science fiction.
But I am also the girl who wanted to be Legolas so badly she tried to get her friends and her sister’s friends to reenact The Lord of the Rings at recess the same semester as the Tempest incident despite the fact that only one of them had read or heard of the book.
I can step away from a book to view it with a critical eye without diminishing my love for it, switching between the analytical scholar and the book-mad geek at will, but both sides coexist peacefully: They are both me and they both inform the way I read and the way I talk about what I read. And I talk about what I read quite a lot. Were it not for the sad truth that half the time no one I know has read whatever books I’ve just finished, I would likely not shut up about them until I lost my voice or my friends and family took pity and concussed me with the Riverside Shakespeare. As it is, my only recourse is to devote even more time to reading new books while I go quietly out of my mind waiting for someone to get round to the ones I’ve already finished.
I reread books until the bindings fall apart in my hands. Then I tape them back together and read them again.
I love books. All books. Except romance and horror. I will not read romance or horror, so don’t expect to find any reviews of, or recommendations in, either of those genres here.* I’m also not overly keen on non-fiction and frankly seldom read what I shall call “real-world” fiction for lack of a more elegant phrase. I am hopelessly in love with Shakespeare, poetry, and the theatre. I enjoy the classics, but my heart belongs to fantasy. The vast majority of books reviewed and recommended in this blog will likely be fantasy or science fiction.
I do not believe in putting age labels on books. I think a book is a book and if it interests you and you are capable of reading it, then who cares what anyone else thinks. I usually prefer YA to adult fantasy because until recent years it has always been the place to experiment, where authors could let their imaginations stray beyond the constrains of generic tropes.** In my experience adult fantasy has a tendency to be too formulaic and often reads like a Harlequin romance novel with swords.*** That said, many of my favorite books have been shelved as adult fantasy and do not fall into the traps I’ve described. I will read anything that appeals to me, never mind where it’s shelved.
I prefer books that are character driven to those that are plot driven. I love novels that are psychologically and emotionally complex. I want humor mixed with drama and I gravitate towards witty dialogue. I am not overly fond of romantic plot lines. That is not to say that I am incapable of enjoying them when they are well written or that I don’t root for my favorite couples like anyone else. It is just that I prefer friendship or for the romance to be secondary or even tertiary to the central plot/story. I cannot stand love at first sight. I do not believe in it in life or in literature and it frustrates me beyond belief in the books I read. I love lyrical prose. I have a patience for long expository passages that many do not share (I will warn you if I review a book I suspect falls into that category).
I have spent so much of my life between the pages of novels that there is no end to the things I could tell you about who I am as a reader. If you continue to read this blog I think you will discover where I stand. For now, what you need to know is this:
There is nothing I love more than books. My life revolves around literature and I would not have it any other way.
And so, I write this blog.
*I have nothing against others enjoying either of these genres. They are simply not my cup of tea (to be fair, neither is tea). I have a vivid imagination and am prone to nightmares and thus avoid both horror and particularly graphic fantasy. I cannot stand romance novels for a number of reasons that I shall undoubtedly expound upon elsewhere.
**Now that the YA section (at least as represented by Barnes & Noble) is going the same way as adult fantasy, I often despair, but haven’t lost hope. This is something else I shall likely rant about later.
***I would like to note that I only know what Harlequin sounds like because my friends in college liked to perform dramatic readings in our living room while I covered my ears and begged them to stop.