I’m asking for myself as a writer, as well as a reader.
Recently I started reading The Lost Book of the White, which is the second in The Eldest Curses spinoff series by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu. Now, I will admit, I skimmed the first chapter of the first book and chose not to continue with it. But I was legit excited about this new addition to the Shadowhunters world.
The Lost Book of the White is set after the events of The Dark Artifices, and it picks up with the original characters — Clary and Jace, Isabelle, Alec, Simon and Magnus — in their present day. So, FINALLY moving forward with the people I cared about the most.
I was very turned off by The Dark Artifices focusing on some of the most unnecessary and dull (in my opinion) characters mentioned towards the end of The Mortal Instruments. I struggled to finish the first book in that trilogy, so really had no qualms about setting it aside. Despite my — at the time — really wanting more from the Shadowhunters world.
What’s changed, then?
Last night, around page 150, I gave up on The Lost Book of the White. It was becoming painful to try to persist in slogging through anymore. The characters I loved for years were flat, not like themselves, and not what I expected. The plot was recycled from other tales in the same universe, and read pretty stale even from the beginning.
And I remembered a while ago, how I wrote a post on my jumbled feelings regarding the many Shadowhunters novels. And a post about when ongoing series should stop. I had realized that the norm for any sort of genre is to simply persist with a series basically until the author dies, and that many readers get tired of the same characters and similar plots after 6 or 7 books. I could count myself among that group, and was beginning to wonder, as a writer — how will I know when enough is enough with my own fantasy series?
White Fang and I were talking about Percy Jackson, how years later it’s still popular with middle schoolers, and how fans keep hoping for future movies or a TV show. It’s become a sort of cult classic. It seems to me that Rick Riordian did see the value in stopping, even with a big bestseller on his hands.
There’s the difference between Cassandra Clare and other YA authors, it appears. Many YA authors known for a particular title or genre often try their hand at something else, or take a break from publishing. Clare is just constantly rehashing the same old, same old, either not willing to give up a proven cash-cow, or maybe this is the only idea she has. Yes, I’m aware that sounds pretty mean, but when an author has more than a dozen titles in their bibliography that are allllllllll in essentially the same series…
As a reader, I am merciless. As a writer, I try to notice what works and what doesn’t for others, not just in terms of sales, but also in terms of process, self-care, and longevity of certain genres. As both, I’ve heard this message loud and clear: When series drag on for too long, readers stop reading.
So, this is when I get my analytical hat on. Even if I’m having a great time writing, yet again, about characters near and dear to my heart, if the plot is getting harder to make cohesive, if ideas for non-related stories keep interrupting me, would I have the guts to decide the end is nigh?
And to stick to that decision? I believe authors can get easily swayed into continuing with a series for many reasons, but not always good ones. The story is our creation, so shouldn’t we care about maintaining its integrity more than money or status?
The tricky thing is that writers really SHOULD be who decides when what finishes. But, although we mostly create our work in a solitary fashion, we are definitely NOT the only people who contribute to the books.
That includes readers. While we don’t write our stories just for the readers — meaning if people love what we wanted to write, awesome, but if they don’t, so be it — we would do well to pay attention to feedback from our audience.
I don’t for a second mean listen to the haters. All art is subjective, and some people will just never like your work, no matter how much you try to make it amazing and perfect. But when you receive constructive criticism from trusted sources — such as betas or ARC reviewers that you know are being open-minded and fair — giving their thoughts some consideration isn’t unwise.
So, just when should a series be complete?
Most stories will reach a natural conclusion, no matter how deep or complex the world-building. Maybe it’s the mindset of “too big to fail” that pushes some of us to pursue labored extensions?
Endings can be anxiety-producing, yes. But what if the lasting result is a hole too big to climb out of? Personally, that worries me more, and what I’d prefer to avoid.
And a cute anime kitten pair to start off, because, why not?
So, after not reading much of anything new for quite a while (I know, what was I doing with myself during quarantine with both kids at home?), I’ve finally been catching up on new releases or recent hits. I have to say, I’m a little surprised at how out of touch I apparently am as to what’s a big deal in publications right now — I’d never even heard of any of these titles until I was processing them at work. Well, there was one exception. But, still. Anyway, this is exactly why reviews are still important!
So, getting right to it…
A Burning was…well, I’m not sure what it was. I know it intended to be a poignant and timely read, about hatred and intolerance in India. It fell quite flat for me. The writing was so hard to follow, I spent much more of my time puzzling out what the sentences were actually trying to communicate than getting the overall tone and atmosphere. There were alternating POVs throughout the story, and the only narrative that used proper grammar and logical ways of thinking was the most unlikable character. Two of the narratives were clearly connected, but the third had nothing to do with either of them, and was obviously just the author wanting to make a commentary on the issue of LGBT discrimination within the country. And there’s nothing wrong with that, truly, but I, as an analytical reader, would like the story I thought I was reading not to be hijacked. The novel suggests in its early chapters it’s going to be the tale of a Muslim woman falsely accused of detonating a bomb at a train station. That is an interesting enough story in itself, especially in India, where Muslims do face a lot of prejudice. Instead, we got mostly reports from the trial and a rundown of how poorly the suspect was treated in a women’s prison. With convoluted metaphors and turns of phrase that most English-speaking readers wouldn’t be familiar with. Sigh.
Transcendent Kingdom was another tricky one, in terms of its presentation, and what its goal was. On the surface, it’s about an immigrant family, depression, addiction, and loss. And, yes, it does cover all of this, in a very sad and difficult, yet very well written and engaging, narrative. The main character’s mother is struggling with clinical depression years after losing her son to a drug overdose. The narrator is getting her PhD in neurology, so that she can research a possible cure for addiction, obviously inspired by her brother’s tragic end. And while none of this is particularly uplifting, these are unfortunately relevant topics to address, and so I just went with it. Here’s what bugged me the most about it: After several chapters of explaining the backstory with the brother and the narrator’s current situation in the lab, the novel plunges headlong into deep flashbacks that focus so much on bashing everything, that it has an almost gone-off-the-rails feel. The author bashes modern Christianity (and while I have my issues with that as well, not all 21st century churchgoers are hypocrites, and God as a concept or as a focus of worship is not evil or wrong). She bashes the African culture her characters emigrate from. She bashes the Ivy League campuses where many religious students do feel their beliefs are questioned or judged — but she makes it sound like every.single.Christian.teenager going “into the world” will OF COURSE face ridicule and scorn. Then, on top of all that, many unnecessary conversations about the narrator’s sex life and preferences were thrown in, and I gave up wanting that sort of graphic discussion in my enjoyment reading a while ago. So I reached the (anti-climatic) conclusion with mixed feelings.
The Vanishing Half was pretty interesting — in terms of the topics, not always the writing. The style fluctuated for me — in some chapters, it was engrossing, in others, it dragged. The premise starts at a small town in Louisiana in the 1960s, where two “Negro” girls who are in fact so light-skinned that they’re mistaken for being Caucasian, leave home and just drop off the town’s radar. The twins go into the city, to make their own way in life, and while one returns home eventually (with her own clearly black daughter), the other marries a white man and never tells anyone her true ancestral and racial roots. This story spans decades and covers a lot of what people were struggling with then on race, sexuality and gender, changing laws and unchanging attitudes. Some of the characters I just couldn’t sympathize with, but I also wondered if that was partly because I never lived in their world, with their perspective.
Where the Forest Meets the Stars could not have been more disappointing. It’s unrealistic from the start (the conversations characters have are NOT AT ALL the conversations people would have in real life), and only gets more and more unbelievable as the story progresses. I don’t think the author did a smidge of research into how child endangerment laws work, nor how social workers are told to handle cases with traumatized children, nor how super-smart 9-year-olds from terrible homes would really act. I can’t go into more detail without massive spoilers, but this tale just felt so amateurish and got more ridiculous with every page. The lovely cover LIED.
Bring Me Back was the opposite of every thriller I’ve ever tried — and granted, that isn’t many!, but I found it to be not at all thrilling! The narrator is totally bland, apart from he has anger management issues, and otherwise he’s a non-descript self-made man in the suburbs with a wonderful girlfriend…who gets caught up in the sudden resurfacing of the decade-old mystery of his ex-partner’s unexplained disappearance. And this isn’t as exciting as it sounds! The action starts almost right away, and most of the backstory is filled in via confusing flashbacks, and there’s very little character development provided for any of the folks involved. The author did give that a stab with the narrator and his current girlfriend, but it still doesn’t go deep enough for us to really connect to either of them, to begin to unravel the mystery for oneself, or to care about who lives or dies. And isn’t that the heart of the thriller genre?
Chosen Ones is the exception to only running across these books at the library; Veronica Roth’s adult fiction debut was reviewed by blogger The Orangutan Librarian last month. Back in the day, along with everyone else, I read the Divergent trilogy, and, like many, had a lot of issues with it. But I did give Carve the Mark a shot, and while I ended up not caring for the storyline, I found the author’s writing to be quite improved, and determined to keep an open mind. So when my library’s copy of Roth’s new fantasy arrived, I grabbed it.
The novel centers on 5 former “chosen ones,” who were, when they were teenagers, selected to battle an ultimate evil and save the world, and how they’re all managing, or suffering, as adults. That was a different take on the overdone trope, so I looked forward to what would hopefully be something a little fresh.
Well, it didn’t last long. Before the halfway point, the focus abruptly shifts to the resurgence of a familiar threat and…yup, that’s right, the out-of-practice-superheroes have to step up to repeat history. Siiiiiiiigh. I didn’t even finish this one after the “twist,” threw in the towel around page 150. Next time I don’t think I’ll give this author the benefit of the doubt. If you’re going to dust off a stereotype and take it in another direction…then stay the course. Don’t fall back into the cliches. Your audience will thank you for going down the road less traveled.
The one thing this last selection did for me was point me firmly back towards fantasy (after reading a LOT of contemporary). It reminded me that no matter how much I’ve been let down by recent fantasy titles, for me there is always the possibility of a new approach, unique characters, a plotline that isn’t totally worn out. I will keep coming back to this genre without fail.
Here, to finish this post off, have another cute animated cat.
I’ve been watching a lot of CinemaSins on YouTube lately (warning: that channel is for mature audiences only), hence the title of this post. For anyone who has no idea what I’m referencing, CinemaSins is a small group of independent movie critics who provide a snarky, often humorous spin on our favorite films, or the films we love to hate. The caption for each of their videos begins “Everything wrong with…” and insert the title of the movie.
Last week, I decided to check out from the library a juvenile series called “The Wildwood Chronicles” that I’ve seen multiple times while carrying out my shelving duties. The covers alone drew me in, and overrode my slight misgivings about the length of the books. (Each one has a total of more than 500 pages. And, yes, someone expects middle-schoolers to be reading this.) Anyway, I hauled the stack home, and dove in.
A few pages in, I realized I’d read the first book before. But I had very little recollection of what happened, so I kept going. I wondered why some things came back to me right away (like the startling opening where the protagonist tries to chase down a bunch of crows that have just literally grabbed her baby brother and flown off), but others (most of the secondary characters, for example) weren’t familiar.
I read on, growing increasingly confused, as A) the plot makes very little sense, and B) I couldn’t ever recall seeing “Wildwood” anywhere on blogs or reviews. Wouldn’t an MG fantasy touted by the marketing as “the American Narnia” have received a lot of attention?
The premise of “Wildwood” is that 12-year-old Prue loses her baby brother to the aforementioned crows, and immediately develops a plan to retrieve the child, while keeping his sudden disappearance a secret from their parents. On the one hand, we can all understand Prue’s motivations; but on the other, I highly doubt that most 7th-graders would have the fortitude to carry out such actions, no less on their own. At that age, most kids, having just experienced something so traumatic, would simply run home to their parents and sob out the terrible truth.
There’s also the fact this story is set in the very real city of Portland, Oregon, which is a significant population center, and most of it rather urban and modern. However, Meloy, the author (a Portland native) chose to put a huge, dark, looming forest — called The Impassable Wilderness — on the outskirts of the city limits. Now, I’m all for artistic license, but this…just doesn’t jive. I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest, but I can certainly look at an atlas, and see that there is no such area right next to Portland.
So, we start off with a wobbly foundation for a very long novel. It only gets worse as we proceed further.
As Prue travels through the “Impassable Wilderness” — which turns out to be a civilization unto itself, with humans who live about as we did in the 1940s or so, and animals who talk, walk upright, and wear clothes — she gets waylaid by several subplots that have little to nothing to do with her brother’s plight. This means the reader is being constantly introduced to new characters, locations, and motivations, and it’s really hard to keep track, and stay invested.
Here we reach the moment CinemaSins would warn, “Spoilers! (Duh!)”
You’ve all heard me whine before about irresponsible, or downright stupid, parents in YA/MG. And I’ve come across some pretty bad ones, but it has to be said that “Wildwood” takes the cake. Prue’s parents are portrayed as former hippies on steroids, who feel it’s totally fine to let their daughter be a self-proclaimed vegetarian, babysit her little brother all day long, without any help, and apparently not go to school for weeks at a time because the talking animals need her (insert massive eye roll here). About halfway through, Prue feels defeated in her quest to rescue the baby, and goes home and comes clean with her parents. Her mother and father have, at least, posted missing flyers for their children and are appropriately distraught. But they go on to tell Prue a far-fetched tale about how they made a fertility bargain with a magical figure from the I.W., and how apparently the baby wasn’t ever theirs rightfully, and Prue shouldn’t risk her life going back to Wildwood, they can be a happy family, just the three of them…right?
No, I’m not kidding.
For some reason, I did keep reading (maybe self-inflicted torture was the only option on the menu that weekend?), and when I finally crossed the finish line…I realized I was going to read the other two. Not because the book suddenly got much better. No, simply to see how bad it could get.
The sequel is called “Under Wildwood,” and is even more meandering. It carries on the pattern of numerous subplots and trope characters that I wasn’t interested in. And it adds in another POV; the first installment was told from Prue’s perspective, or that of her classmate Curtis, who (for some unknown but slightly stalker-ly reason) follows her into the Impassable Wilderness and they get separated early on (of course). But the second book also includes the POV of Curtis’ younger sisters, AND, at times, of a strange man running the orphanage Curtis’ sisters have been taken to “temporarily.”
Yes, that makes about as much sense as you’d think it would. The idea is that, after Prue (with a saved baby in tow, don’t worry) makes her way home from the I.W., Curtis remains there, and his parents believe he’s gone missing, and they decide to travel the world (yup), to try to find him. Instead of leaving his sisters with grandparents or neighbors or family friends, they put the girls in an orphanage (yuuuup). And of course the people who run the establishment are terrible and yadah, yadah, yadah.
Meanwhile, political regime conspiracies in Wildwood have overtaken most of the main plotline; Prue is suddenly painted as a sort of savior for this world, which takes a page straight out of Narnia, and seems to give it the bird. Prue isn’t an ordinary kid who stumbles into this magical place that she’s destined to help; she’s the most mature and responsible 12-year-old ever, who suddenly has incredible powers that she learns how to use in about a day. If you (Meloy) don’t like The Chronicles of Narnia, fine, you don’t have to. But there is something seriously pretentious — and offensive — about ripping it off, to “make it better,” and then shove that in your audience’s face. It isn’t just arrogant and off-putting in general; it’s disrespectful at a level most readers (and writers) would find unacceptable.
Don’t ask me why I kept going. I guess I was a glutton for punishment. Maybe curiosity killed the cat. But, yes, I wasted one more night on the final book, “Wildwood Imperium.”
Anyway, I managed to grasp the resolutions of the main plot — but, wow, did the author make me work for it. Between the not-at-all-subtle political messages, the many and varying subplots, and my ongoing frustration with the majority of the adult characters being totally dumb, it was a struggle.
In the end (spoilers! duh!), Prue stops a Big Bad Woman (strongly resembling the White Witch of Narnia) from taking over both Wildwood and the outside world using Plant Magic (yupper), but it means she’s almost wiped out (dun, dun, dun), and has to be buried in the local foliage to hopefully survive. Which she does, coming back as a tree in her parents’ backyard. Ahh, yeah, you did read that right. Sorry. Then the tree turns back into a person and her family’s reunited, and, er, yay, I guess.
Curtis finds his sisters and they all go home and are reunited with their dumb-ass parents, and, supposedly, yay and happy stuff.
Except I’m not buying it. Any of it, really.
Not a SINGLE explanation is given for why Prue was so special in Wildwood, how she even had powers, or why the natives let her just waltz in and become their messiah. I’m genuinely not sure how the stupid, nasty man who ran the orphanage fit into that whole subplot, as it was so dull and overdramatic I’ll admit I skipped big chunks of it. The notion of Prue and Curtis going missing for long periods of time and their families NOT being investigated for committing a nefarious crime just isn’t realistic.
The residents of Wildwood are gullible, elitist, and too mysterious for their own good. They indicate having a poor opinion of “Outsiders,” but there’s never anything included in the text to suggest why. Were people from Portland really mean to the I.W. natives? Did Portland even know what was really out there, hence the blocking off the area and calling it dangerous? Or vice versa?
The Plant Magic doesn’t make much sense, and its origins and operations are hinted at being more the basis for a religion in Wildwood rather than as a magic system. We’re left utterly scratching our heads as to how it connected with Prue, the “normal” kid.
We receive very little background before being dropped straight into the story — we have no idea what Prue’s parents do for a living, if she has any friends or hobbies (apart from the fleeting comment she might like to draw birds). Curtis is the “nerd” in her class, who everyone wants to avoid, but they somehow wind up close friends. As the story goes on, we do get a little more information about Curtis’ family, but most of what we’re told about Prue’s is little, insignificant details — they like to go to farmer’s markets, her dad hates to take out the trash, her mom is bad at knitting. None of it MATTERS in the context of what’s intended to be this sweeping fantasy epic.
This is a series that reminds me — painfully — why middle-schoolers say reading is boring.
And this could also be why I’ve never come across this trilogy anywhere in the blogisphere. Most reviewers are adults — or at least in their late teens — and many of us who read MG fiction want something that appeals to people of all ages. If a book or series is so tedious that even an adult, with greater levels of patience and tolerance, doesn’t want to sit through it all, how in the world can we get 6th-graders excited about it?
Usually I leave it up to you, my readers, to determine whether you’d enjoy a particular title. But I can honestly say, when it comes to “The Wildwood Chronicles,” I don’t recommend even that.
Good morning! Welcome to another dose of whinging about subpar reading experiences!
I remember saying not all that long ago that I really wanted not to harp on the negative too much in my blog posts; how I was okay with writing negative reviews if the target — I mean, title really warranted it, but I didn’t want to find myself wallowing in the gripe.
I can still see the point of that. (Really, I can.) However, I’m also realizing that there are benefits to evaluating why a style (or genre) tends to become so disappointing, and learning how to make (hopefully) better choices next time as a reader.
(It’s all part of this pandemic-instigated self-reflection I’ve been, er, wallowing in lately.)
Criteria #1: Just because I didn’t finish it then, doesn’t mean I have to finish it now.
Reasoning: I used to be the queen of DNF. It was far too easy to check a dozen books out of the library, read 20 pages, toss it aside, and return it to the drop box. Eventually, I got fed up with feeling, well, fed up. So, I vowed to change my pattern. If it hasn’t caught me before page 100, then I assume it won’t. But, until then, let’s give the story a chance.
Counter-reasoning: If I’ve spent at least an hour/reached page 100 without becoming involved, chances are…I never will, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about throwing in the towel.
Example #1: Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis
This is the start of a juvenile fantasy series I’d walked past many times while shelving. So I finally picked up the trilogy, and began reading the first book almost right away. Before I was very far in, it hit me: I’d read this before.
Why did I remember so little of it, though?
So, I kept going. Well before my benchmark of 100 pages, my question was answered: I must not have finished it…because it’s boring and nonsensical as hell.
The action begins in the very first paragraphs of the first chapter, with the protagonist and the major conflict introduced in basically the same breath — 12-year-old Prue is watching her baby brother being carried away by a group of crows. Just…what?? On the one hand, it’s such a startling opening, that you feel you have to keep reading to find out the whys and the wherefores.
On the other, though…as you proceed and the nonsense just builds up, without being dispersed… You will forgive yourself for selecting the “step away” option.
And “Wildwood” really checks all the boxes for me in this regard. While I’m not opposed to action starting early in a story, if this action isn’t tempered with at least some background or more information about the characters or setting, then I get easily frustrated and pushing forward doesn’t really feel worth it.
This novel is absolutely the latter. As the 500+-page story progresses, we get more and more names and faces and places thrown at us, but very little explanation as to just how this world works or why many of these secondary characters are important. As I kept reading, finding very little illumination, and discovering my wrists were hurting (yes, 500+ pages!), my desire to complete this tome waned.
I did make it to the last page…but I do feel it wasn’t worth my time and effort.
So, yes, it IS still okay to DNF.
Criteria #2: The cover is so intriguing/beautiful/unique, the story inside must be just magical/amazing/awesome.
Reasoning: Some of my favorite books became faves purely by having a cover that I couldn’t ignore.
Counter-reasoning: Marketing lies.
Example #2: “The Watchmaker of Filigree Street” by Natasha Pulley
This is an adult fiction that tries to blend history with…I guess a kind of mysticism, and the overall effect is…confusion that also creates dullness. Which feels odd, because the blurb makes one think it’s supposed to be about time travel and Victorian London and blending immigrant culture with the natives, and it all just sounds…well, not dull.
But the writing tends to simply wander, and take a while to make relevant points, which meant I was quickly losing interest, anyway. And the hardcover’s font is thin and small and hard to read (especially when you live in a house with lighting from the mid 20th century), and this just adds to the “what the what?!” atmosphere.
I gave this…experiment till page 150, and when I at last opted to let go, there wasn’t an ounce of guilt.
It’s important to recognize when something just isn’t to your taste and move on, not feel the need to apologize for it. Not with something as subjective as art.
Criteria #3: Even if I didn’t care for several books by a particular author, if I REALLY liked some of their earlier work, I should leave the door open for liking their newest release.
Reasoning: Pretty clear.
Counter-reasoning: None, really.
Example #3: “The Eldest Curses” series by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu
Back in the day, I LOVED “The Mortal Instruments” series by Cassandra Clare. The fifth and sixth books in the original canon fell flat for me, and I still disagree with the directions taken towards the end, but overall the story has a special place in my heart. The “Infernal Devices” prequel and “Dark Artifices” spinoff did literally nothing but bore me, which was a punch to the gut after my enjoyment of the early tales.
So imagine my excitement when I found out the latest Shadowhunters addition, “The Eldest Curses,” centers on the original characters; and while book 1 was sort of a prequel (set during “The Mortal Instruments”), the second installment picks up where the characters are NOW. We FINALLY get a proper sequel to the tale of Clary and Jace, Isabelle and Alec and Simon, and I am psyched to start on it! Reading this book will feel like coming home, I already know it.
It’s not that I specifically held out hope for this exact premise being executed and published within my lifetime, but… I won’t lie, it does feel kind of like a fiction miracle.
While I’ve had many more misses than hits in my recent reading history, I hold out hope that the scales will tip back in my favor.
On a totally separate note, I just discovered that the “new WordPress editor” is a thing.
Pardon me for a second while I run around screaming.
Okay, it turns out that the program itself isn’t awful to use. (So far, it seems…) It’s just that I have a very strong aversion to sudden change out of my control. That’s why I really like to control change when I can.
Hey, that ended up leading very well into the topic of this post.
A long while ago, I wrote a post about how our expectations or hopes for what we get from reading can — and often do — change either with our age or after certain experiences in our lives. I definitely feel I’m coming up to a new stage in this area.
After I also wrote a post about how it’s totally acceptable for adults to read YA fiction…here I am, wondering if I can really carry on reading YA fantasy.
And, yes, I do believe this has to do with the fact I’m now over 40. Because, although I write YA-appropriate fantasy myself, I am growing increasingly frustrated and/or bored by plotlines that revolve around love triangles during the fall of the oppressive empire.
But, I still get frustrated and/or bored by adult fiction that focuses too much on gory murder mysteries unrealistically solved within two days, or fluffy insta-romances between physically perfect people with dream jobs and all the latest tech.
So, the question doesn’t just become, What do I read next?, but also, What am I really looking for in a book?
Since the pandemic meant I was without access to a library for at least 2 months, I was forced to re-evaluate my reading habits earlier this year. I found affordable bargains on series I’d started but never finished, for whatever reason, and worked my way through them. And when I came to the end of that journey, I realized that my reading tastes have really altered.
I used to be a big content avoider. Trigger warnings were my speciality. I didn’t want to read depictions of abuse, graphic violence, or explicit explanations of trauma. But just this week, I finished “Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi, a novel that centered heavily on the narrator’s loss of a sibling due to drug overdose and her mother’s depression. It’s a heavy read, not much comic relief, and there are several long passages of deep reflection in each chapter. It takes determination to finish. And yet, I don’t regret reading it.
I’m also becoming more willing to try “timely topic” novels, which in the past I have avoided like the plague, because I don’t want an agenda (of any sort) shoved down my throat while I’m trying to enjoy a story. But I did find “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett very interesting, despite its long-winded digressions throughout many of the chapters, creating a number of subplots in what, on the surface, is supposed to be about a light-skinned black woman who decides to pass for white in the 1970s. Whereas before I’d be skimming or outright skipping large chunks of such a novel, to get back to the “actual premise,” in this case, I thought the subplots were more engaging — and they were big on conversations about race and gender and how different things were in the mid 20th century from now. Very “hot button,” and I wasn’t instantly turned off.
I also seem to have developed more tolerance for books that meander and don’t get to the point right away. Even 6 weeks ago, if I couldn’t get into a title before page 25, I tended to just put it down and not bother again. Lately, I’ve really been stopping myself from DNF-ing. Partly because I have actually discovered the value in pushing forward and enjoying at least half of the book. But also because I want to spend my reading time as something relaxing, to be savored, no goals to meet, no rushing.
I’m also realizing I care less and less about what new releases are tapped to be super hot. It’s almost the reverse of jumping into the hype. I’ve been terribly disappointed by almost every single “you have to read this!!!” title I’ve picked up since 2018. Either the characters were all stereotypes, the plot recycled from other books/movies that did it better, or I just didn’t care for the writing style (purple prose, all show and no tell, and dozens of pages of unnecessary text are my worst enemies). And these trends have seemed to run rampant in publishing (at least in the genres I prefer) recently. So now, even if millions of other people are raving about it, I’m just going to be, “you do you, folks,” and not count on said title blowing me away.
Right on the heels of that is the fact I’m no longer putting much stock in others’ recommendations. Not that I want people to stop sharing their new favorites and promoting them — not at all! But I’ve accepted that I just am a finnicky reader, and while I’ll certainly continue to read others’ reviews, I’m not going to add every single new hyped release to my TBR. This attitude is actually quite freeing (for my wallet, too!).
But the downside to this is that I could quickly run out of new possibilities. So I’ve promised myself not to be too hard on authors I tried once and didn’t really hit it off with. I won’t shell out unlimited opportunities, but if their first book didn’t do it for me, maybe their second — or even third! — will. Even our favorite authors sometimes produce a work that misses our personal mark. So, I figure only allowing an acclaimed writer an hour of my time isn’t quite fair.
Well, that does it for me this time around! What about you? Have you noticed your reading preferences and goals change over time?
Good morning! For those of you hoping for a light and fluffy blog read – sorry, today, this isn’t it. There’s been a lot on my mind lately that I feel we, book bloggers, readers, and writers, need to talk about, and not all of it is pleasant.
In my traditional fashion, I will be discussing some hot button topics, throwing in random cute animal pictures in between, so that we can soften the blow, while still getting to the heart of very important matters.
Can’t say I didn’t warn you. So, here we go.
When I was younger, I read several novels tackling racism and civil rights, on breaking down the walls and how to start building bridges. I’m afraid my younger self has forgotten a lot of titles and authors; but I do remember the focus was on tolerance, leading to empathy, on all sides. Not just on demanding white people pay for what their ancestors had done to people of color. Sometimes the conversation only got as far as recognizing racism was real, and that it was wrong; maybe that was as far as those characters could go, based on the setting or the premise. But I still think that was a necessary step.
Developing empathy for suffering endured by people that you can’t completely relate to is crucial to increasing understanding and inclusion. I don’t see it as pity, nor is it condescending. Empathy makes us better human beings.
Here’s the vital other side of that coin: Too many people don’t seem to understand that ALL forms of prejudice are wrong. Too many people are still screaming about injustice, without admitting to their own faulty views.
Would you march in a Black Lives Matter protest, but feel very strange if your son or daughter brought home a significant other of a different race? Do you push for people who look just like you to read “important” books on racism — but only the titles written by someone who shares your exact perspective on the topic? Do you scream about rights for all, but wouldn’t give up your spot in the grocery store line to a disabled person?
I may be in the majority race in my country, come from a “respectable” background, economically and class-wise, have a college degree and work in a profession requiring some intellectual effort. HOWEVER, I have absolutely experienced prejudice. Because I’m autistic — meaning I’m “different” from many people — what’s a natural state of being to me may make others feel odd — for no reason other than it’s unfamiliar or out of their realm of experience.
So, the groundwork being laid, let’s get to the heart of this post:
Uncomfortable Truth #1: People of color can be racist, too.
In Misty Copeland’s autobiography (Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina), she relates having a stepfather, a black man, who held very discriminatory views on Hispanics and Asian-Americans and Caucasians. She relates how she was aware of the subconscious racism in ballet, as she struggled to be awarded roles that were almost always performed by white women. But she also didn’t hesitate to give credit to the white people who appreciated her talent and helped further her career. And there is a definite tone in this memoir of recognizing that no one had the right perspective in this matter, and that views on race, color, and culture within this melting pot country are complex, and continuing to grow and change.
This is more true than the current gatekeepers on the discussion of racial relations want to admit. I’m really tired of reading novels and non-fiction that promote the theory that every single white person must be racist in some form, whether they’re aware of it or not. I shouldn’t have to be afraid of giving a diverse book a bad review because I genuinely thought it was poorly written. I didn’t like The Hate U Give, purely due to what I felt was a flawed execution of the plot itself, nothing to do with the tough theme it covered. The author’s second novel, On The Come Up, I thought was great, and gave it a glowing review according to my standards of character development and story cohesion.
Uncomfortable Truth #2: Cancel culture is more dangerous than the thing it’s trying to cancel.
Just because an author is white, writing about white people, DOES NOT mean this author is racist. Jumping on social media and screaming that certain people need to be “cancelled” without having any proof that their point of view is problematic does more harm than good. And we really need to stop pushing the idea that it isn’t okay for natives of whatever group to celebrate their own culture.
In her amazing non-fiction title, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?, Dr. Beverly Tatum points out that “race shaming” won’t solve anything. She also touches on the often-overlooked fact that there are more than two races, and trying to paint all whites as racist, or all blacks as violent, all Asians as computer nerds, all Hispanics as drug addicts, etc., are equally harmful stereotypes — whether the stereotype comes from outside, or from within, your own community.
She also brings up the willingly-ignored truth that people need to be around their racial and cultural peers, and that not only is there nothing wrong with having a spouse, friends, acquaintances of your own ancestry group, doing so actually encourages a sense of pride in where you come from. To purposefully shut out other groups, or believe them to be inferior, is discriminatory. But if you’re, for example, a WASP who knows lots of other WASPs, that on its own isn’t the problem.
I shouldn’t have to apologize for being most familiar with British and European culture and history, since it’s also my own. This doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative of or cool with other cultures. Do I read books/watch movies and TV shows with diverse casts? Yes, totally. Is that all I read? No, because I like to mix it up.
Doesn’t a healthy combination sound more…well, inclusive?
Uncomfortable Truth #3: Forcing diversity is inauthentic, and promotes division, not the opposite.
We’ve all heard the complaint — “Oh, look, it’s the token minority character.” Deliberately shoehorning in POC or disabled or LGBT characters does holler, “See how politically correct we are!” And it turns out this approach has backfired. Since many of us do have diverse relationships in our lives, we’d much prefer more natural and authentic representation. And we pretty much resent the notion that we “need” a group of (let’s be honest, mostly white, straight, abled, wealthy) powers-that-be telling us that “hate is stupid.”
I generally write middle-class white characters, but this is just because I know this culture firsthand, so I’m presenting a honest point of view. I do include characters outside of this group as well, and not to seem “woke,” but because it makes sense — I’m writing about an organization with international ties and members who are either immigrants or bi-racial. That simple.
Why aren’t we encouraging more Own Voices to increase everybody’s education on various ethnic groups? I’d never presume to “hijack” the story of a religion or nationality that I haven’t lived personally.
Nor would I want someone else to do the same to my own tale.
As far as we’ve come in this conversation, there’s still a long way to go.
I don’t like to talk about my age. It’s not that I feel old. It’s that I don’t want to feel old if I accidentally reveal too many details that concretely set me in a particular decade of origin.
But at the moment, I’m making an exception, because yesterday I became The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
Yes, that’s right, I turned…42.
Now, I’m aware that the notion I might suddenly be imbued with some amazing powers, status, or secret knowledge based solely on bearing this number is a fanciful one. But, hey, haven’t we all had enough reality for a while?! So let’s indulge in some daydreaming.
So, since I am ruling all for the next 12 months, what’s on my wish list? And of course, being a bookdragon, I will have very specific demands — er, “requests” regarding the bookish world.
Shall we get to it?
No stickers on the dust jackets of hardcovers. Like, ever again. I know, I know, some of them are supposed to peel off easily, but too many of us have suffered tragedies as a result of 95% of stickers not coming off well. So, they shall be abolished!
There will be a limit on how high books can be priced. I feel the complaints about the cost of new titles with my soul. There are SO MANY interesting publications that I a) can’t get from the library and b) can’t afford to buy myself. From now on, bookstores won’t charge more than $20 for a hardcover and no more than $12 for a paperback. Yes, that includes online retailers!
Summaries on the back or the inside cover will no longer be misleading. This is absolutely a trend in recent years. It’s frustrating. It means I go into a book expecting something completely different to what I end up reading. So, be on notice misleading-blurb-creators!
Novels will adhere to a strict limit of 400 pages or less. No one has the time, or the energy, to read those great whalloping doorstops anymore. And if people are forced to get to the point already in their storytelling, they’ll actually have to leave out all those extraneous subplots and purple prose and 15 paragraphs describing the bathroom antiques. Onward to a more satisfying reading experience!
Overused tropes will become a thing of the past. Look, I love the archetypes as much as the next well-read creature. HOWEVER, we’ve all had to suffer through faaaaaar too many Chosen Ones, Special Snowflakes, Mary Sues (female and male), love triangles (even love squares?!), inner circle betrayals, and enemies-turned-friends. It’s time for some NEW stuff.
Diversity will just be part of the deal. No need for agendas shoved in our faces, or bandwagon topics shoehorned into a story that could actually do without them. Biracial kids or non-traditional families or a range of disabled characters will just exist, in the way the author intended.
Authors are finally using more unique or uncommon names for characters – let’s keep this up. All through the early 2000s, character lists read like The Biggest Baby Names of that decade. No wonder we couldn’t tell anybody apart. Nowadays, though, protagonists — especially in YA fantasy — are a lot more likely to be called Maisie and Judd, rather than Bella and Finn. I wholeheartedly support this.
On the other side of this, fantasy names will be PRONOUNCEABLE. Thousands of wonderful fantasy premises have been ruined by the authors insisting their characters bear monikers that only Klingons can pronounce. While I’m at the helm, this is getting locked in a closet (and the key being melted down).
Romance can take a break. Yes, romance is a big part of many people’s lives, and for many readers, the romance in fiction can be very escapist and satisfying. BUT there are more things to life than romance — including close friendships, sibling bonds, and extended relatives that feel like nuclear family. And many of us experience these, too, and would like to see more of them in novels. So, here’s my edict that authors will focus more on friendships than first loves or rebounds for a while.
Covers will only be appropriate, beautiful and/or amazing, and relevant to the story underneath. No shirtless dudes or swooning women with more clevage than sense. No collages of primary colors that tell us zero details about the plot or themes. And no hard-to-read fonts that mean we thought the title was “This Nebulous Sea Serpent” but turns out to be “This Nefarious Seashell Poppet.”
Happy endings will be much easier to come by. I once wrote an entire post about how I can’t stand the intense negativity and grimdark elements in almost everything anymore. It is possible for characters with a rough backstory or a hard struggle on page to still get the girl or boy, run off to a serene little farm and raise wombats. Here’s to peaceful conclusions!
History, whether it’s nice or not, shall be accurately presented. Sorry-not-sorry, folks, but attempting to rewrite history is in fact dangerous. We have to remember all the bad stuff, so that we can ensure it doesn’t happen again. I’m all for alternative histories, or alternative futures — I’d like to read more of both, actually — but we can’t determine that erasing the past makes the future better. So we’re maintaining warts and all.
We’re promoting graphic novels as real books. They already are real, I know this, but too many snobs still pshaw graphic novels. They’re a fantastic medium for kids learning to read, or those who struggle with reading (this goes for teens and adults, too).
Series that should have ended a while back…will be done. As much as I love some of these long-running tales, they can seriously wrap up and ride off to that lovely little wombat farm. We all have our favorites that just feel…stale now, and I think we can all agree that endings don’t have to be sad, or unnaturally prolonged. We can say goodbye, and survive afterwards.
All right, this does it for my proclamations! What would you add to this list for the year you turn 42 and have all-powerful bookish status for a year?
At the risk of sounding old: I remember when TV shows made sense.
I remember when the crime was committed on camera in the first scene, just without showing who-dun-it, and the director nicely found subtle ways to point out to the audience what clues the super-smart detective was finding. At the end of the episode, said detective would explain everything leading up to how he figured out who the criminal was, and the audience would either go, “I knew it!” or, “Wow, did not see that coming!”. Either way, it was satisfying.
Unfortunately, a while ago, TV went too far the other way, where the characters explained every single little detail, in painfully tedious and unrealistic dialogue, so that the audience wouldn’t be left behind. After we’d been yelling for a while that we were still perfectly capable of following along on our own, programs swung the pendulum too far the opposite direction. Now, so that they don’t tell us “too much,” we have television that’s visually stunning, but none of us knows what the hell is going on — nor do we care.
For me, this is the latest offender:
After bingeing the first season of Umbrella Academy, I have SO MANY QUESTIONS. The big guy in the middle of this promo shot really sums up how I feel right now. Just confusion on top of bewilderment and stuffed with sides of why-should-I-give-a-damn. There’s a new season premering quite soon, but I fear for my sanity if I tune in.
The premise is that a rich eccentric inventor takes in children born under mysterious circumstances — who also have superpowers — and trains them to basically be the X-Men. On the surface, it sounds great. But, by episode 3, I had numerous questions, that were left unanswered as the season progressed.
Why did Reginald Hargreeves decide these kids needed to become superheroes? No background is given on how this guy made his fortune or why he cared enough about the world is enlist random children to save it.
Why did the children’s biological families allow this? So Hargreeves paid them — even with unexpected births, many people don’t just hand over their baby to some weirdo stranger waving around a big check.
The public knew that Hargreeves was using kids to fight crime — serious crime, like bank robberies — and somehow no one ever raised the issue of ethics? Child labor laws? Something about the way these minors were treated? What the heck?!
Why did these kids have powers? How? Where did they come from? It’s never explored.
The kids are raised by Hargreeves and Grace, an android mother (yes, you read that right), and an ape butler, who walks upright and wears clothes and talks. A-hem. Doesn’t anybody have any concerns or curiosity about that? Animal cruelty, anyone?! Along with general what-in-the-world-ness?
The season 1 plot focuses mostly on what happens when these adoptive siblings join together again after years of separation. They end up trying to prevent the end of the world, but — predictably — stuff goes awry. Even with such a familiar approach, there are still plenty of ways to make it engaging; but Umbrella Academy just misses the mark.
There’s such a lack of character development, I never got invested in seeing the protagonists succeed. I actually found myself wishing the apocalypse would kick their butts, and not vice versa.
And I could not put aside my issues with the amorality. A big one was the inappropriate relationships (either on camera or implied), between pairs with an age difference of at least 30 years. Right behind that was the number of murders committed by Number Five, who’s portrayed as a 13-year-old boy. The fact the Commission is playing God and no one — except the incredibly outnumbered Hargreeves siblings — is trying to stop them. At first it’s just annoying; by the end of the season, it’s disturbing.
Even when the concept is farfetched, there still have to be some ground rules, so that the fictional world makes sense. Umbrella Academy just doesn’t.
It’s the little things, that add up to major head-scratchers. For starters, in a story set in 2019 (says one of the characters!), why are there no cell phones and computers?
How were the kids world famous, but then suddenly forgotten about? Where are their connections? Military? Police? The closest we get is Diego’s (“Number Two”) half-hearted attempt to get back together with his detective ex-girlfriend.
We aren’t given any information about why they all left home and went their separate ways for a decade. We get very few details about what they’ve been up to in those 10 years. There are so many gaps in their history. At some point, Ben (“Number Six”) died, but we’re never told how, or when. We assume they must have all gone to school somehow, but the logistics of that remain a mystery. Various “missions” are alluded to, and the details of what happened on them never divulged.
The characters’ motivations aren’t logical. Allison keeps saying she needs to leave, to get back to her estranged daughter, but…then never leaves. Number Five “came back to stop the apocalypse,” but spends much of the season only making the end of the world more likely to occur. The “bad guy” is a red herring. The Commission and their goons — obsessed with chasing down Number Five for reasons never made crystal clear — just infuriated me.
All of this combined to leave my poor brains scrambled, and my heart very sour indeed.
We can’t have all “show” and no “tell.” We don’t have telepathy, we can’t read the minds of the writers and directors. We need clues. We need explanations.
We aren’t superheroes; we’re human, and we like to be entertained. By something that doesn’t tie us up in knots. Or leave us wanting so much more.
Okay, nothing like striking while the iron is hot! A few days ago, I posted on all the division that’s erupted in the Harry Potter fandom as a result of recent real world events regarding its author. As I was writing that post, I realized that, despite being a fan myself, I’ve never put together a comprehensive review of the series. But after touching on this topic during the weekend, the relevant points for this post started to come together.
I loved Harry Potter. Most of the plot, characters, humor, the more serious themes, and certainly the world-building. It takes all the familiar archetypes — the special orphan/chosen one, the wise mentor, the bumbling but loyal sidekick, the smart one, the pure evil villain with a Grand Scheme — and puts them into a world we recognize. Struggling with difficult teachers and classes, hanging out with your friends, playing a sport, fighting with your siblings, worrying you don’t really know loved ones, even sneaking out to do something you’re told not to do — take away the magic and fantastical creatures, and this is an ordinary child’s life. It’s why these books will live on, for quite a while, no matter the general public opinion of the author in Real Life.
Now, I will definitely admit there are certain plot holes, character arcs that could (should?) have gone in a different direction, and other aspects that bug me. Some of them can be shrugged off and don’t really impede my enjoyment of the particular novel or series itself; others start to irk me when I go back to them.
Get yourself a comfy sofa and a snack; this is going to be a long one.
One: The over-expansive world development that ultimately falls flat.
Something downright amazing about books 1-3 is the world-building. We start with an orphan who has no idea of a magical legacy, and are taken on this incredible journey where we, along with Harry, learn about a whole world that’s as fantastic as it is dangerous. To begin with, most of the focus is on Hogwarts, but soon we get into Wizarding families, like the Weasleys; hear more about the divisions within this community and what allowed Voldemort’s rise to power; and some of the wonderful or worrisome mythical beasts and beings that also populate this realm.
In book 4, due to the Quidditch World Cup and TriWizard Tournament, this universe just explodes. What was already a pretty big premise gets rather enormous.
But this is also, sadly, where the series sets itself up to trip — and tumble down the stairs, landing in a heap of tangled hair and untied shoelaces. The fourth novel is when the page count significantly increases, when we get an idea of just how intense the conspiracy is to bring Voldemort back, and when the subplots begin to nearly overtake the main one. What was once primarily the tale of an unexpected boy wizard began switching to a world on the brink of civil war. It isn’t simply an ambitious shift; it’s almost impossible to pull off without any mistakes.
Many of us were beginning to miss the simplicity of the early books. Sure enough, The Order of the Phoenix confirms that the boy wizard is now being prepared to defend not only his own survival, but that of the entire community around him. And that’s where my enjoyment starts to fade.
Not completely. But The Half-Blood Prince hardly felt to me like the rest of the series. Too many new minor characters overshadowed the regular secondarys we’d grown attached to. Harry went from wanting to be a normal kid, despite his Chosen one status, to willingly spying for Dumbledore. And the twist ending that destroyed his mentor of the past several years — and set the whole series on a vastly alternate track — disappointed me, and made me slightly nervous about what awaited in The Deathly Hallows.
Here’s one of my most despised tropes in high fantasy: The meandering, long-lasting, booooooooorrrrrrrrrrring QUEST. It has very nearly ruined the entire genre of high fantasy for me, and I avoid it like the plague.
Cue Book 7 being 75% the above trope.
Is that me you hear screaming? Why, yes, yes, it is.
Not only was it disappointing, it felt like a copout. It made me wonder if Rowling was so tired of being badgered by fans that she was going to finish the series as quickly as possible, regardless of the fitting-ness — or not — of the ending.
All that incredible world-building from before just sort of drifted into oblivion. The fates of so many characters were thrown to the winds; we had literally no idea what happened to them during those 8 or so months Harry was in the woods.
Two: Deaths I will never get over.
Three: Character developments that make no sense to me.
Ron Weasley. Starting out as the bumbling but loyal sidekick, Ron progressed into a selfish, petty, jealous jerk. Harry forgave him time and time again, despite it being pretty clear by book 6 he was growing pretty tired of breaking up the constant fights between Ron and Hermione, of having to defend his friendship with Ron to other students, and wondering if Ron could be trusted. I didn’t understand why Harry wanted Ron to come on The Quest — and indeed, Ron abandoned them the minute the going got tough. Ron and Hermione as a couple I didn’t get, either; there’s no romantic tension between them on page until well into book 6, and isn’t substantial enough for us to believe they got married later on.
Severus Snape. He’s the bad guy — right? While I never thought Snape was actually evil, he wouldn’t ever be mistaken for a nice person. But in books 5 and 6, when we learn that Snape is “only a bully because he was bullied as a child”, I have to say, it feels…false. Bullying is wrong, period; how James Potter and his friends behaved towards young Severus wasn’t okay, and we should recognize they made a poor choice. As adults, Lupin and Sirius do appear to show remorse for that, though they agree they won’t ever be friends with Snape — who is a big jerk. Yes, it was commendable that after all of that, Snape did save Harry’s life on a number of occasions. Yet, his really awful behavior (and there’s a ton of it) means we shouldn’t really sympathize with Snape.
Albus Dumbledore. Not the most disappointing for me, but the most shocking. Dumbledore is the guy, who has such strong intuition into everything that he’s always 37 steps ahead of everybody else. He’s directly responsible for Harry staying alive through the course of the series. So, why, then, does Dumbledore suddenly change in book 6, from wanting to protect Harry at all costs, to making him a spy and unwitting soldier in a war that was never his to fight? It’s immoral, unethical, and makes me question sooooo much about Rowling’s motivations behind everything in The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows.
Remus Lupin. This is my most disappointing. Lupin the practical, the stalwart, the level-headed in a crisis becomes…Lupin the whiny, the angsty, the grumpy. What?! How?! So he fell in love and had a son — doesn’t that usually make tragic cursed individuals HAPPY? Grateful? And he hardly seems affected by Sirius’ death, and considering how long those two were friends, that’s just bizarre.
Four: Parts in the universe that leave me scratching my head.
Why do all the professors need to live at Hogwarts? Seriously, why aren’t they allowed to have little houses in Hogsmeade, with their own spouses and kids and pets? This makes the idea of signing a contract to teach here akin to joining a religious order where none of the participants are permitted to marry and reproduce. Odd, very, very odd.
It’s not at all realistic that everyone marries someone they went to high school with. In smaller, close-knit communities, people who have been acquainted for years through relatives or friends often do end up marrying. HOWEVER, the idea that 90% of Hogwarts alumni pair off together is just RIDICULOUS. Lily and James Potter were students together, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, the parents of most of Harry’s friends, etc., etc. And in the epilogue, we find that Harry’s generation did the same exact thing. Just…no.
SO MANY IMPORTANT CHARACTERS DYING OFF PAGE in the last book. The battle for Hogwarts takes up, like 100 pages. WHY is Harry absent for so much of it?! He doesn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to some of his dearest friends, like Lupin. WHY is his POV the only one during these incredibly busy and vitally necessary scenes?!
The last minute twist about Neville Longbottom possibly being The Chosen One. Just…WHAT?!?! And HOW did it never come up before that Harry and Neville shared a birthday, that Voldemort went after both families, that there was a prophecy?! Does this Big Reveal in The Order of the Phoenix mean EVERY TIME Harry asked someone why him, what made him so special, HE WAS LIED TO?! Deatheaters, Aurors, the Ministry of Magic, AND DUMBLEDORE knew about the prophecy. So…just…GAH.
It’s reasons like this that I just stop myself from thinking too hard about this world nowadays. Holding onto my joy for this series is becoming more difficult as time goes by.
Honestly, I believe that Rowling was an inexperienced writer who had a great idea, and was given a chance to run with it; then her fame went nuclear, and her editors and publisher let her do whatever she wanted. And the series suffered for it. If someone had jumped in about halfway through book 5 and insisted on a complete turnaround from what we got, I wonder if many of us would feel very differently now about Harry Potter.
I’m concerned about a lot of things when it comes to the current state of fandoms in the bookish community. I’m concerned as an author, and as a reader.
Basically, the last several weeks have led to two things. One: Everybody who’s decided they still like Harry Potter is being demonized for not wanting to give up a beloved fantasy series they have fond memories of. Two: Everyone who’s decided JK Rowling is an absolutely terrible person, and they’re done with a beloved fantasy series they have fond memories of based solely on their new opinion of the author, are bashing and bullying the folks who took Option One.
Here’s why this state of affairs bothers me a lot: While people are completely entitled to their own perspective — especially when it comes to something so subjective as literature — I don’t like to see an entire body of work, and the readers who loved/love it being treated like total garbage because of the unwise words of said work’s creator.
The weird truth about any sort of art is that it does exist in a sort of separate world from its creators. Honestly, there are many books I’ve enjoyed whose authors I don’t believe I’d meet for coffee — or, in fact, want to get anywhere near in real life. But I can set my feelings about the person aside from my feelings about the work. Maybe most folks can’t do that, I guess?
When it comes to the raging debate over the actual words of JK Rowling, I do think her remarks were generally offensive, but that she didn’t consider them such. Being brutally honest, I truly think she’s so arrogant as to believe she’s an expert on something she knows little about (and don’t ask me how she made that determination).
Do I feel deeply for readers who are aching at what they see as the destruction of one of their favorite series? Yes, I do. Can I also agree with those who are deciding to firmly keep the books and the author in those different realms of existence? Yeah, I can.
I loved Harry Potter. I’ve read all 7 books and seen all 8 movies. There were, of course, some I liked more than others. But although, after seeing a few interviews with Rowling, I didn’t necessarily care for her as a personality, nothing about her writing irked me enough to make a difference.
But a few years ago, as my copies of the novels were wearing out, and we’d seen each of the films at least twice, I decided to pass on getting fancy new editions, or on collecting the DVDs. It wasn’t just that I knew the story start to finish and there was nothing new to discover; I realized that the parts I didn’t care for were really starting to nag at me.
I could write an entire review on which things fell short for me on this series. (Maybe one day I will.) But for now, let’s suffice it to say that I was only satisfied with about 25% of the last book. I remain disappointed on several plot points and character arcs, and I’m allowed to be.
However, I don’t have the right to tell others they need to share my exact views of the series, and it certainly isn’t my responsibility, obligation, or even prerogative to force those same people to concur the author is a massive jerk.
Nor is it all right for me to tell those same people that if they can’t see she’s a massive jerk, they can go crawl in a hole and die.
This has been the defining aspect of many fandoms in recent years: which have the most division within. Harry Potter is high on that list — and now it’s been made even worse.
Realistically, the fandom as a whole is doomed. Thinking about it, though, I don’t believe that’s quite a bad thing.
As long as people keep buying them, the books will live on. But the intense in-fighting, the vicious online battle royales, will fade away. People who now stand against the author will continue to make their point known (as they should be able to). Those who don’t know or don’t care about the grievious offenses (and, yeah, I know that’s problematic, but also a discussion for another day) will carry on in liking the series, or not bothering either way.
Overall, though, we may actually go back to a bookish world where people simply read books and share their enjoyment of them. HP was one of the hugest phenoms in entertainment in the early 21st century, and it was the catalyst for a massive niche culture, there’s no denying it. We all sorted ourselves into our Hogwarts houses, found our patronuses, fit multiple references to HP into our own (utterly unrelated) WIPs. We knew whether we’d choose an owl, a toad, or a cat, what sort of wand we wanted, if we’d more likely fail Potions or Magical History. It was a big deal.
Some of us haven’t actively engaged in this part of it for a while, though, and we’re already not missing it. Maybe we’re missing it a little, but are okay with that. Others are grieving right now, and that’s permitted, too.
In the end, I’ll look back and still say I enjoyed Harry Potter. I’m going to keep my views on the books and the author separate. And I’ll support anyone who goes the opposite direction.
Though, from this moment in bookish time onward, I will appreciate if the fandom craziness of the past decade starts to quiet. Sincerely, I miss when we’d all just flail over our favorite characters in a popular series, and look forward to what came next. There’s so much disunity in the world right now, I’d really like to maintain a few spots of peace and happiness.
Maybe fandoms are something we can learn to do without.