I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about my form of critique. I had a friend who mentioned that I’m only blogging about books I enjoyed. Their actual comment was something along the lines of, “You like everything you read.”
That isn’t true. I’m reading something right now I’m not enjoying very much. And there is a chance I won’t review it. And not every review I’ve put on this blog has been glowing praise. Lately (the last six months or so) it has been. Some of that has been that I’ve been enjoying most of what I read and when I consider which books I want to share – well, I tend to only share the ones I’ve been enjoying.
I considered doing a more harshly critical take on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when I watched it last week (for the second time). I could. I think the movie is significantly weaker than #1, and it’s ripe for some good riffing and critique. Buuuuut…. is it worth the effort over something fun like Akata Witch& Akata Warrior getting bragged on?
I even said it in my recent review of Akata Witch & Warrior, I saw the plot points coming because I’ve seen so many young adult novels that follow the same pattern. Sometimes I don’t know if I should riff on something because I know why the person did it. It’s like a cook who chooses to salt their water when making pasta. Do I mock them for this time-honored tradition that apparently adds nothing to the making? I know why they do it. Hell, I do it as often as I don’t.
I recently saw a YouTube video on how art & video games are following a similar timeline of modern “art” and then post-modern “commentary art” with the growing trend of post-post-modern in art and how we can expect to see this in gaming. They keep saying how there is nothing new in the world. Well, literature has been saying the same thing for like a hundred years and yet… new books keep getting published!
So what makes a GREAT piece of art – or literature? Does it have to be making something entirely new? Or can it re-examine something we’ve always assumed is true (vampires hate sunlight because it kills them OR they are actually shiny diamond-people)? When it follows a trope (love triangle) where everyone knows the outcome is that necessarily wrong? I would argue maybe.
I want to write a novel where the heroine doesn’t have to choose between “powerful yet brooding and hurt” and then “fun, nerdy, bestest friend” guys. I want her to choose between powers – change the fate of nations depending on her marriage. One is selfish and she will always be treated as his rival for power but the other is stupid (like literally) and being married to him will be a battle with his advisors- because he can be swayed by a convincing turnip. So she has to choose – will she battle with one man for the power, or with all the people around the man. Doesn’t that sound like a fun twist on the love triangle? She doesn’t love them in the traditional sense. Maybe she finds them both attractive in their own ways, but either way her first love is her people- and for those people she must marry a strong king to protect them.
Anyway, got distracted there. My point is that just because it’s a trope doesn’t make it 100% “evil” or even “lesser.” Tropes serve a purpose of the human experience.
So when I write a critique (not a criticism, which is different), I try to think about who the intended audience is. I re-read Matilda a few years ago and was shocked at how much I read as an adult that was…. well disturbing to put it mildly, that never even seemed odd when I was a child. So much of that book was written to an audience who needed to hear that sometimes adults don’t care, and sometimes adults are cruel, and adults lie, and adults can be wonderful in the most unexpected times and places. To almost-thirty-year-old me…. those self-same messages made me cringe. But I also see how eight-year-old-me needed them. Needed to hear that it was ok to distrust my teachers because they were mean. It was ok to fear adults that “society” told me I should trust. Damn those are good things for kids to hear! Not so good for adults.
So when I write a critique, I am going to try going forward to focus on who I think the intended audience is, who the audience should be (whether it’s everyone or just “young adults”), and who the audience perhaps shouldn’t be (snotty people who can’t get over their own superiority of course). I have some, but not always deliberately.
And a lot of the time this blog doesn’t see the books I didn’t like because I didn’t finish the series. I only read the first or second book and I don’t review partial series (generally). I make two exceptions: When I feel like I need to warn people off from something “popular” (which if I was blogging when Twilight came out I would have!) or when there is something I want to explore (like “this character development really make me think about how I develop this type of character”). I will never rip apart another author’s work just to sound smart – I will always have a better motive. That’s my goal in writing a criticism.