Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How I Confront the Novel

I purposely avoid book reviews before picking up a title. Sure, I'll maybe skim the first paragraph and the last sentence of a review of a book I'm interested in to get a general feel of the reviewer's assessment--if there's a scathing cautionary conclusion ("Do not venture into this wasteland of dreck...") I might think twice . But I do not want to know much about the subject or the plot going into my private experience of reading a novel.

My knowledge of a book will start and end with a past experience with the author's other works, or the 'must-read' lists that are the bread & butter of internet newspapers and magazines and blogs, and/or, finally, the tweets of enthusiasts, who might be made up of the book's publisher and friendly publicists. (It's a gorgeous little world, twitterville.) So after the mini-hype but with none of the details, I enter the discrete textual world that an author has crafted seemingly out of thin air.

I give authors a lot of leeway when I am reading and thinking about their books. After having been involved in publishing small novels and poetry collections and memoirs for a brief but verdant period of the terrible 2000s, I know first hand how much work goes into a novel, from conception to completion. It's a hard, hard row for everyone. Think it, write it, convince someone it's worth publishing, then go through the struggle of editing, layout, cover design, marketing, and finally the publisher gets an email from a reader saying she didn't appreciate the cursing in the author's story and wants her money back.

From all angles, the publication of a book is a labor of love and dedication to a niche endeavor. That's why it's difficult for me to dislike a book. And yet, I often am disappointed despite wanting to give it every advantage and benefit of doubt. That must be the price of a reader's greed.

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