How You Write and How You Read

January 30th, 2009

Elsewhere on the Internet there has been a huge dust-up which started with one reader commenting on the racism she experienced in a book, and, alas, turned into a mire of fingerpointing, raised phosphor-voices, and much hurt feelings on both sides.  Which is a shame, because the underlying discussion could have been a really useful and helpful one to the reading and writing community.

Some good things have come out of this, though: some very thoughtful, intelligent posts, many of them by bloggers whose words I would not otherwise have discovered. One of these was Mary Dell’s New Criticism vs. Post-Modernism, with a Side of Privilege. It got me thinking about the great reader/writer relationship.  Go read it: I’ll wait.

Back?  Good.  Okay, here’s the thing.

When I read, partly because I was trained this way, I can be very interested in the author’s world view, place in history, all the things that informed the writing of the book. I can be interested, or at least aware of, critical response (by critics, or just by friends who’ve discussed the same work).

When I write, I am somewhat aware of my own influences (largely because, when I’m working in an historical or fantasy milieu I’m trying to defeat some of those influences in pursuit of a sense of other.  And I try to be aware of my readers’ influences as well: I don’t use the historically accurate word “dude” in the Regency because, well, dude.  No one would believe it.

But when I’m reading (because I wasn’t raised as a post-modernist, I suppose) I am often completely unaware of my own influences, my privilege, my prejudices.  If I react negatively to a written work I tend to think it’s the work’s fault: usually because it was predictable or boring or ill written or didactic.  But now I’m wondering if I don’t put those labels on a book that might have offended me for some other reason: it was predictable because it was sexist.  It was ill-written because it was anti-semitic.  When some of these values are subtle, I might not see them at all.

So my new New Year’s Resolution (because it’s still January, I figure I can make New Year’s Resolutions) is to try to be a little more aware of what I hadn’t been seeing, and a little more aware of what I’m bringing to the table.  It’s only fair.

5 Responses to “How You Write and How You Read”

  1. Lois Tiltonon 31 Jan 2009 at 11:25 pm

    I find that I view with even greater suspicion a work that takes “my side” with excessive partisanship. It’s important not to let our own sentiments and sympathies override objective judgment. I don’t want to overlook the flaws in a work that shares my own enthusiasms, and I want to be able to acknowledge the virtues of a work whose assumptions are abhorrent to me.

  2. Madeleine Robinson 01 Feb 2009 at 11:52 am

    I agree. I’m usually pretty aware of work that lodges too easily and too conveniently on my side or under the wing of my preferences. It’s the work where the partisanship (on either side of a question) is subtle enough so that I may not notice it on first read, that can influence me. I’m trying to train myself to read more acutely for just that. Without losing the pleasure of reading itself.

  3. […] How You Write and How You Read at DeepGenre: think "feedback loops" (tagged: writing reading creativity ) […]

  4. Linkdump for February 2nd | Game Blogon 05 Mar 2009 at 6:53 pm

    […] How You Write and How You Read at DeepGenre: think "feedback loops" (tagged: writing reading creativity ) […]

  5. Gabbyon 10 Mar 2009 at 2:40 am

    I found this post (and it’s linked post) quite interesting.

    As I’ve never (or at least as little as possible) paid attention to labels, I have no clue as to the way I “see” things falls into, but here goes. *steps off the cliff’s edge willingly*

    I am a cross-genre reader and have read books in most genres at least once.

    I do not – consciously – read a book with any expectations, nor do I say “I don’t like it” just to say that. If I do have that reaction to a book, I put it aside and let it rattle around ye olde noggin for a bit to see if a specific reason emerges.

    Another “thing” I try to do is look not only into the context of the book’s characters but also the author’s context (where does s/he come from, etc.). That, to me, is simply sense. Or at least, my kind of sense. (I don’t walk to the beat of a different drummer, I follow the saxophone player.)

    Whether it’s because of this or some other factor, I’ve been able to recommend books to friends and family who have different reading tastes from each other.

    I am (so far) also an amateur writer and my reading preferences (or lack thereof) follows into my writing. Most of my characters are in some form or fashion historically based and I try to stay true to the character’s cultural background (i.e., if a character has a background that gives a nod to the Rus, Viking, desert nomad, etc., then I make sure that the character stays true to that background).

    I don’t know if any of this rambling diatribe makes sense, but is my own ha’penny worth.