Monday, January 11, 2010

Why I'm Not a Critic

". . . just try and enjoy instead of being critical you might find you like it better that way."

This was the advice a fan gave to a critic, and it nearly made me snort milk out my nose. As a staunch non-critic, I agree that the sentiment makes sense, but good grief, what a silly thing to say to a critic. Critics do not get paid to like stuff. Critics do not get sent Advanced Reader's Copies for free so that they can enjoy them privately.

Critics are there to review the merits and drawbacks of whatever they're looking at and then communicate their opinions to others. How they do this differs greatly. Connie reviews her experience of reading the work in very conversational language. You can tell what ticked her off, what she really enjoyed, what she looked forward to, what met or disappointed her expectations, and what she's trying to be fair-minded about. Other reviewers give a brief, simplified summary of the contents and then some criticism about what was done well and not so well. Some use formal language. Some are vicious.  Some use ratings systems.  Some judge on set criteria.  (There are so many ways to review and critique!)

Some critics seem to live to hate everything, an understandable mindset when they have to keep cranking out reviews even when the last thing they feel like doing is reading another book. I'm sure if I even had to critically examine everything I read, I, too, would start to notice patterns and see similarities and long above all else for originality.  Since I don't have to review, and since I read so eclectically and widely and uncritically, I don't remember much of anything, so originality doesn't mean much to me. And if I don't want to read something, I don't have to.

My nephew can happily hear the same story every night and love it every night even as his parents go crazy and have it all memorized. (He's two.) How many times have I read my favorite books? It doesn't matter! I still love them!

I am not a critic. I don't like being a critic unless I don't like the book, and then it's nice to engage Critic Mode, so I can try to at least learn something from what I didn't like, thus giving it some sort of useful, redeeming value since it probably didn't have much entertainment value.

If I like something, I want to just like it. I want to focus on what was good, better, and best. I want to revel in the ways it brought me joy or pathos or whatever it brought me. I want to live in the moment where that one-liner was delivered perfectly.  Or that awful missed opportunity.  Or that scene with that twist!  I love being a fan!

I am not in school for this. I don't need to make the things I love justify themselves. If I did, I would kill them all. Reading would become a chore. I would hate that more than most anything else that could happen to me. I don't want that. Therefore, I make the conscious decision not to be a critic.

This resolution does not mean
  • I don't see the point of critics.
  • I brainlessly love everything about the books I read and like.
  • I can't hold a reasonable conversation about books I love (if we have it soon enough after I finish).
  • I never analyze at all for craft tips on pacing, setting, characterization, plot, or whatever. (Writers are thieves and plunderers, even when we are completely unconscious about it.  It's a spinal reflex.)

My decision not to be a critic means that I first read to enjoy. Anything else that happens is a bonus, an extra return for extra effort if I choose to make it. The glorious thing is that I don't have to make it, and I still get wonderful returns for my "effort."

This is why my dream job is reading books, not reviewing them or criticizing them, just reading books in a comfortable place somewhere. Of course, this idea is truly the literal definition of dream job because who would pay me to simply enjoy myself? No one. I don't have to be a professional fan. In fact, I pay for the privilege of being a fan. Ah, the freedom . . .

It's kind of a rush.

How about you? Fan or critic? Both? At different times?

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