Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dropping The Veil

I met Rosie for lunch over the weekend where we chatted about life, going to RWA this summer (Squee!) and, of course, books.  One thing that came up in our conversation is my belief that what makes a book a keeper has as much to do with the time and place the reader is currently occupying, as it does with good writing, characterization and plotting.  Yes, the author can have all the "mechanics" of writing a good story down cold, but so much of what makes for an exquisite read is how that book hits the reader on an emotional level.  And as readers?  None of us live cookie-cutter lives.  We all come from different backgrounds, different experiences, and we all have our own "baggage" to lug around with us.  We bring all of that with us when we crack open a book.

Unless there are paranormal abilities involved, no author can predict any of this.  The best they can shoot for is to hit on some sort of "truth" through their characters.  One of the reasons that some of Megan Hart's books have worked so well for me is because she gives me some "truth" through the eyes of her characters.  At a recent So. Cal. Blogger gathering, Lori, Renee and I were talking about just that and I mentioned the reason Dirty worked so well for me was because I knew that heroine.  I'm pretty damn sure I went to college with her.  Maybe not as emotionally eff-ed up as Elle, but I knew women who could wield sex like a weapon.  Why they chose to do this certainly had everything to do with their own personal "baggage" - but yeah.  I could "relate" to Hart's character on that level.  It hit me in the gut.

One of the things I like to do when grading the books I read is to ask myself the question, "Do I want to drop everything and reread this right now?"  If the answer is yes, then the book gets an A.  Period.  End of story.  Despite the fact that I rarely reread thanks to crushing TBR Guilt.  However, it begs the question - can a book that hits you on that sort of level have the same impact the second, third, fourth etc. time around?

Some say no, I say yes.  As long as the reader is willing to "drop the veil."  The veil that takes you back in time to where you were when you read the story for the first time.  What your life was like.  Who the people in your life were.  What sort of emotional state you may have been in.

I seem to be able to "drop the veil" and this allows me to read books with a different set of expectations.  Right or wrong, if I pull out an old bodice ripper from the TBR, I'm probably not going to read it the same way as a book published last month.  Why?  Well, in a bodice ripper I expect purple prose out the ying-yang and "forced seduction."  I expect the heroine to be half flogged to death by the author as she heaps more and more abuse on her.  To a certain extent, I expect some absurd over-the-top-ness.  In a more contemporary release?  Yeah, all that gets on my last good nerve.  Give me purple prose and "forced seduction" in a current release and I'm likely to start frothing at the mouth. Hypocritical?  OK, sure.  But it is what it is.  I'm not the same girl I was at 16, thank the good Lord above.  Likewise, in another 10 years, where will I be?

At my core, I'm a nostalgic sack of mush.  I want to remember not only the keepers fondly, but also the emotional jolt they gave me.  Fiction, done well, does that for me.  It hits me in the gut.  It stays with me, maybe gives me a new way of looking at something or someone.  I keep those memories locked away, just as I keep my "keepers" sealed up tight in a Rubbermaid tote.  And when I open that tote I remember what I felt and what I was feeling during that time in my life.  That time when I first opened that book and I learned some sort of truth.


Greytfriend said...

You're right! Mood, timing, and even expectations all play a role. And those things can change day-to-day or year-to-year. I try to keep that in mind when I rate books too, to be fair. If my mood is the problem then maybe I'll skip it for now and come back to it later. I'll at least make it clear in the review what was impacting the rating.

For me, a 5 star/A is a book I want to read again, get happy just seeing on the shelf, and desperately want everyone I know to read as well (right this minute so that we can talk about it!). I don't give many out either.

Anonymous said...

No, for me it's the wordsmithery that draws me to re-read, just as it's the wordsmithery that makes me set a book aside. The story told doesn't much matter as long it's well-written.

Wendy said...

Grey: I'm not too much of a moody reader....yet. My friends tell me they didn't use to be either, but the older they get, the more mood comes into play. Usually when I can't get into a story there's some other factor. Maybe clunky writing or a character that's driving me batshit.....

Anon: Are you a writer? I hear a lot of writers express this opinion. It's not so much about emotion for them as it is how well-written a story is.

For me, writing does play a factor, but it's further down on my list. I can overlook some clunkiness if the story is good and I'm drawn to the characters. And sometimes good writing will elevate a story I'm ho-hum about it (this happens quite a bit actually).

Amber (aka BBB) said...

I'm 100% a character reader. I like good prose, too, but if I can't connect with a character or don't emotionally invest? It's never going to be a keeper read.

And it's not hypocritical to be ok with elements from old school that you won't tolerate in new releases. It's putting stuff in historical context. Which, for me, is fair.
(so speaks the historian in me at any rate).

CindyS said...

At first I was all yep, yep, yep, exactly.

But then I remembered the Julie Garwood's on my keeper shelf. Honestly there is a bittersweet feeling for me when reading a keeper from years ago. I'm not sure if it's thinking about how many books I used to be able to read at such a young age or the feeling that I might not catch that love again for a new author or book. Then there is the feeling I get when I remember that there are many authors who were once my favs who are not even close to being on my to notice list today.

I do know that mood for me does affect a book. If I'm in no mood for something silly, then I'm sure to roll my eyes the minute I read an historical with the hero's 14 names on the first page. Meh. But when in the mood for something lighter than usual then I barely notice the name and probably just block it out.

The good news is I usually know when it's me and not the book. I also don't normally finish a book if my mood is not right for it so I don't end up reviewing. However, if I didn't finish the book because I was bored, has a been there done that feel then I have no problem telling people about my opinion.

Course, now I can't tell if I'm on point with the post ;)


Wendy said...

Amber: Yeah, that's how I look at it - as historical context. While I certainly have issues with some of the old "bodice ripper" elements, I can appreciate them as part of the evolution of the genre.

Cindy: It's all about putting those Garwoods in your own historical context ;) Holly mentioned that when she reread A Knight In Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux she was irritated no end. But when she first read it years ago? Yeah, loved it. Same here. I loved it when I read it as a (OMG!) teen, but now if I reread it my "appreciation" of it would definitely have to be viewed through rose-colored-remember-when-you-were-a-teenager-Wendy? glasses.