Monday, April 2, 2012

another reminder that I should not comment on books I haven't read

Someone repeated a quote to me about the Twilight books.  It was something about how the Harry Potter books are about friendship, good and evil, and other important, weighty themes, and Twilight is about the importance of having a boyfriend.  I reflected upon it and days later decided on the following responses.
  • If one hasn't read books, one should probably not pass judgment on them.  This one is hard for me.  I got an MFA part time over six years, and I've interacted with a lot of lit majors in my time.  I am excellent at the game where you talk intelligently about books and authors you've never read.  Heck, I passed a CLEP test by reading a Norton's Table of Contents.  It's much easier to sneer and dismiss something I haven't read because it sort of precludes discussion, which is maybe the point if I don't want someone to call my bluff, but I love books enough that I shouldn't let myself be lazy and dishonest like this.
  • Be careful where you throw your stones if you live in breakable houses.  This quote makes it sound as though Harry Potter is "real" or "good" (or at least better) "literature" (and Twilight is not).  This makes me laugh because there are so many people who happily look down their noses at Harry Potter and dismiss it as trash and only children's literature.  I mean, every genre seems to have another genre or subgenre it looks down on.  It's perhaps the way of the world.  But to those outside, it just looks silly. 
  • The themes of Twilight have less to do with boyfriends than they do with the meaning and importance of love and commitment, sacrifice, good versus evil, morality, self-control/willpower, the danger of believing uncritically what you're told, trust, the meaning of family, what it means to protect, and other themes that can't be so easily dismissed as trashy.  I'm not saying it's "highbrow literature," but it's a compelling read that can provoke thought and discussion if one lets it, and I don't think it should be bashed quite as freely as it is, especially by people who haven't read it.  
  • People who read a book only to bash it and not give it a fair chance should probably not say anything, either.  Nicholas Condon commented on a great John Scalzi post, 'There seems to me to be a very clear and obvious distinction between, “I did not like or appreciate the work in question,” and, “The work in question is bad and only a fool or a liar would say otherwise;" many critics write as if this distinction doesn’t exist.'  I think what he's saying applies here, too.
Not that I am claiming that the Twilight books are masterpieces of literature on par with Joyce or Tolstoy; I don't think anyone is because that's not what they're trying to be.  And I'm not claiming the books are without fault even in their own genre (not to be crude, but there are certain physiological functions leading to pregnancy that cannot occur without a working circulatory system).  I am just saying that if I haven't read a book and given it a fair shake, I should keep my mouth shut.  I really, really should.  Hold me to that, please.  : ) 

Ask the question, "Have you read it," and keep asking it even if I hem and haw, and if my answer is ultimately, "No," then call me on it and end the discussion unless you've read it and have something to say about it.  Thank you in advance!

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