Friday, January 21, 2011

In Which I Overuse the word 'Argument'

Sometimes I think other people's pet peeves seem stupid. Then I remember that that's why they're called pet peeves. I hate that airplane seats recline. I just don't see how it's a good idea, because unless everyone reclines, some people inevitably have the chair-back in front of them invading their personal space. I'm always tense until I figure out if the person in front of me is going to recline their head practically into my lap or not. Whenever my husband watches sports I have to make him turn the volume way down because the ambient din of the spectators makes me cranky. People who pronounce it 'nuculer' make me want to throttle something.

I find it kind of strange and alternately disturbing and amusing that when a blogger or someone on Goodreads gives a negative review of a book, some people who like the book take it really personally. It's as if they wrote the book themselves, and they take the review as a personal attack, and aren't shy about letting the reviewer know it. I get this -- when I see that one of my Goodreads friends gives something two or three stars when I've given it four or five, I feel weirdly defensive, as if I need to go back and re-evaluate my review and either justify my rating or change it. But I don't. And I generally try to refrain from insinuating that the other reviewer is morally bankrupt, hygienically suspect, of questionable birth and clearly a non-recycler just because they don't like a book as much as I did. Some people aren't so restrained -- honestly, the bitter, name-calling to-and-froing that can go on sometimes exceeds the length of the book. One reviewer responded to the query "why the open hostility" with the baffled, and rather obvious, "well, because I didn't like the book". I understand the initial impulse -- I feel protective of books I love too. I still haven't restored everyone in my book club to their former positions in my esteem after learning how much they all disliked Little, Big. But what do these people imagine is going to happen? That by questioning their sanity and intelligence in front of God and the internet, they might actually change this person's mind?

I tend to look at a book review as an artefact in its own right. If it's well-written, I admire it whether it's positive or negative. I don't write negative reviews unless I really, really dislike a book because I'm always mindful that there's an actual person who authored it. But if something is bad enough that I feel like both the author and the publisher have wasted my time, it irks me and I will express that in writing.

My pet peeve? It's when someone writes a bad review and a bunch of people jump on saying things like "oh thanks, I was trying to decide whether to read this and you've made up my mind for me". AGH! I know, I know, it makes a certain sense. Most readers have totally unmanageable to-read lists, piles of unread books everywhere, and it's easy to think that if this person is intelligent and you share their taste to some extent that you'll agree with them. But I think one of the most important thing about really good books is how divisive they can be -- the dullest book club conversations we have tend to surround the books that everyone loves. Because "oh, I loved it", "oh, I loved it too", "oh, it was wonderful".... "more wine?". We get much better debate going on books where some people love them and some people hate them, and some people can argue both ways for different parts of the same book.

The latest instance of my pet peeve occurred in the reviews for Room by Emma Donoghue. I wasn't initially anxious to read this -- the subject matter seemed sort of susceptible to exploitiveness. So am I stepping all over my own point when I say that after a couple of my Goodreads friends said it was great I grabbed it from the seven-day shelf in the library and read it in one night? Ah, what the hell, I regularly violate my own principles. Anyway, I thought it was beautiful, moving, skillfully-written, original and not exploitive in the least. The relationship between the mother and son was so intense, magnified by the fact of their captivity. Also, the different perspectives on their room and 'outside' or 'freedom' held by the mother and son were revelatory and, for me, unexpected. So I briefly got into an argument with a woman on Goodreads who had decided that the son's voice was unrealistic, contrived and 'cutesy-poo'. She's entitled to her opinion, of course, but the reasoning behind her argument -- that her own kid never talked like that, that kids she knows don't talk like that -- seemed faulty to me (presumably she's never had close contact with a child who grew up in captivity). The only reason I threw my differing view in was because of the people saying that they wouldn't bother to read the book, even if they were going to before, because of what she'd said. Naturally she was impervious to my carefully reasoned and persuasive (to anyone less willfully obtuse) arguments. I was just hoping one of her followers might see my comments and reconsider reading the book. I was respectful and non-confrontational, even though I felt like saying 'oh for god's sake you infuriating woman, having one kid doesn't make you an expert on how kids talk, saying the same thing over and over again does not constitute a valid argument and you're a poop-head!'. I didn't think I was going to change her mind. I just hope anyone who might have read the book wouldn't change theirs, based on her review.

9 comments:

Nicole said...

I'm totally going to read that!

Hee. But I was thinking about it.

You know, Allison, I have also hated reclining plane seats. What is WITH that?? And I cannot talk to anyone if the TV is turned up loud. I can't focus. And if my husband is watching golf, OMG. The announcers on GOLF? "Great shot. That's a nice chip. Oh. Oh. Seems like the wind is affecting the players somewhat." in that horrible monotone. Blergh.

Nicole said...

I'm totally going to read that!

Hee. But I was thinking about it.

You know, Allison, I have also hated reclining plane seats. What is WITH that?? And I cannot talk to anyone if the TV is turned up loud. I can't focus. And if my husband is watching golf, OMG. The announcers on GOLF? "Great shot. That's a nice chip. Oh. Oh. Seems like the wind is affecting the players somewhat." in that horrible monotone. Blergh.

Amber said...

We need to form a club or a league or something to put an end to reclining plane seats. They are the WORST.

Kelly said...

People get extremely defensive over books. I think it's because so many people equate reading/books with intellect. So -- for these people -- if you like something that someone else doesn't, your intellect is the "problem."

I personally love that you are such a voracious reader. I don't give a crap whether we agree on what's good!

Gwen said...

I ordered "Room" from the Ottawa Library. I'm 891st in line. Why can't you love a book that isn't so popular??? By the way, I finally got "Far To Go" and loved it! Thanks!

I think that we like books that touch us in one way or another. To have another person dismiss the book, it feels as though we, too, are being dismissed. I agree with Kelly. It's our intellect, and our hearts that are being "attacked" and no one deserves that. That's not to sat that we have to like all books, or that we have to SAY that we like all books. We just have to be kinder.

Lynn said...

I'm afraid of that book, Room. I have heard nothing but good things about it - great things, really - but still the subject matter makes me feel a little weak. I'm not sure I could handle it. Can you promise me a happy ending?

I try to keep an open mind about books but there is one book - The History of Love by Nicole Krauss - that is my absolutely most favourite book of all time, and I'm very protective. Oddly enough, when I meet people who just hated it I can respect that - it's the people who think it was "only okay" or "so so" or GACK didn't even bother to finish it that get blacklisted.

I should chill.

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

Now, I'm completely disappointed that I was too sick with the flu this week to have logged into GoodReads and seen this convo. I must pop over and take a peek :)

I don't think I can read the Room. Not quite yet anyway. You are not the first person who has said how much they liked the book, and yet...I can't. I KNOW that the book isn't about the sex crimes and such. I understand that's on the periphery, but still, it's too icky for me. I tend to get quite upset about that subject. In fact, I almost stopped reading The Passage because of a couple scenes of sex crimes.

Maybe I'll get over that at some point.

Lots more books to read!

Oh, and rating a book badly on GoodReads IS really stressful. I started getting responses from authors (kind responses but still) and it made it tougher to shred books with wild abandon.

Mom of the Perpetually Grounded said...

I agree it's frustrating to see people decide due to a review when everyone has different taste's and opinions. Why wouldn't you see for yourself? I'm defensive of my favorite books too. I about blow a gasket when I hand my youngest daughter a great book and she glances over it and says, "no, it doesn't "look" interesting!" Stroke ward here i come!

Mary Lynn said...

I absolutely loved Room. It was a harrowing sort of a read, but so beautiful and moving.

One of the things I adore about my book club is that we quite often have vastly different opinions of books and none of us take it personally. The one book that stands out was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which three of us loved, and the rest of the women hated with such passion that they couldn't even stand to talk about the book. We still laugh about how extreme our reactions were. I do recommend the book to some people--but I warn them it is the kind of book you will either love or hate, and I really can't guess which it'll be.