I was discussing a book with a friend and commented that I still read like a 12-year-old. Then realized that comment might need a bit of explanation!
For me, that means that my reading experience – even after all these years and all the books- is one of total immersion, utter commitment to the characters and story. I believe in the characters – they are people to me – and I enter the space they inhabit for the duration of the story. I see authors and their work, or really any creator/creative act, whether it’s creating a story, a painting, a piece of music, a song, as having a similar relationship as a parent might have in creating a child. Sure, you’ve created it. And yes, you have significant responsibilities towards it, and a deep connection with it. But it is not you. You do not own it. It has the right to self actualize in the best way it can. Your job as a creator is to enable it to be the best it can be. Not just on your terms, though your role is a significant one, but to achieve the three part balance: of what you have to offer, what the creation itself needs, and what is needed to enable it to survive in “the world.” So to all the author/creators that incorporate helpful feedback, sometimes painful to hear, a giant thank you for your dedication to making your “child” the best it can be. For setting aside your ego for the sake of the work. And the same in my experience goes for editors: for not bringing personal preferences and agendas to the experience, but appreciating that your shared role is to enable that “child” to be the best it can be and face a challenging world with strength, self confidence, and the ability to withstand “The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks That Flesh is heir to” (to quote Hamlet). There should be a balance that is ego free for parent/creator, for editor/teacher, to be open to delivering, hearing and incorporating what is best for the child/work. This perception has helped me understand and believe in the value of the role of an intelligent external opinion in the development of a work, and thus the external party’s ‘right’ to challenge the creator’s vision if it doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel like it is best serving the work. But my understanding of my reading style has also has helped me understand my own often quite passionate dislike of a story! Yes, I am sorry to say the offending work is often a very well reviewed, award-winning literary ‘masterpiece.’ I realize that in ‘literary’ or groundbreaking stories authors can have a goal, a point of view, something they wish to illustrate or challenge. And they have chosen the compelling medium of storytelling to express that point. Their characters and plot serve the author’s vision. The character’s lives, their actions and reactions, the events that occur in the story may at any point in time be subordinated to that Vision. Manipulated to do their creator’s bidding. The character’s integrity, consistency, their very selves are just a pawn to the author’s desire to present an idea, to illustrate a point, to surprise, to break new ground. I know my horror and sense of betrayal is…well, perhaps naive. One could argue that the author created these characters; surely he or she can do whatever she likes to them? But for me, those characters are real, and they are not being respected. It’s like watching parents force their musical child to play competitive sports, or harp on marriage for career minded one, or vice versa! Luckily some stories deliver on both, offering profound insights, breaking new ground, opening minds and hearts to a new perception though the humanity and vivid evocation of their characters and the believability of their story. Those are the stories I treasure. So just saying my recent foray into Pulitzer prize-winning fiction has not been a very successful reading experience for me! But this realization has also helped me understand why a good friend can totally adore a story that I have found emotionally bankrupt, and enabled me to stop thinking that my friend is an idiot! I now realize that we read differently and derive sustenance and delight from different things. And that’s not a bad thing.