I recently had an e-mail conversation with an author whose opinions I value highly about the way I write about books I don’t enjoy, and how some particularly terrible novels were a running joke on the website. And the latter was something she didn’t get, had never gotten. I’ll admit up front that I’m an asshole, and I tend to drive a point into the ground, so I could see why she wouldn’t think me joking about A Certain Author’s Novels representing the Asymptote of Bad Books was especially amusingâ€”that it constituted a species of harassment, in fact, against the author. I didn’t agree with her, but I could see how people could get that impression.
Then she said, and I’m paraphrasing with wild abandon here, “We get that you don’t like her books, but you know what? Other people do. You think her books are terrible, and that other people shouldn’t enjoy them, and her publishers shouldn’t publish them.”
And that’s when I realized that people often read a whole world of motivation and intent into my words, despite the fact that by and large, I lay it all out there for people to see and read. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not especially good at keeping my opinions hidden.
So here’s one thing I want to make clear, once and for all:
I don’t want people to stop reading the things they love, even when I think they’re absolutely terrible. Why would I? They love it. That’s excellent. I may shit all over the book you love, but that doesn’t mean I want to deprive you of the right to read it and enjoy it. In fact, I want you to engage me about why you enjoyed it, and disagree with me about the points I’m making. I loves me some vigorous, informed argument. I may think you have terrible taste (depending on how bad the book is), but I promise you that I won’t think you’re stupid based solely on the fact that you enjoy something I don’t, or that you’re wrong for liking what you like. I’m a reader of romance novels, ferchrissakes; this means far too many people who don’t know me assume I’m stupid based solely on a genre I read. I’m not about to inflict that particular brand of assholishness on other people. (There are so many other superior varieties to choose from.)
Which brings me to my next point: I have encountered people who say things like “One of my friends just loves The Worst Author Ever, and I don’t know why those Smart Bitches have to be so mean about those books, because my friend who reads them is a perfectly nice person.”
See, to me, those statements have nothing to do with anything. My dislike of a book and consequent assessment of the author’s skill have absolutely no bearing on the character or moral fiber of the reader. I wish people would stop making the leap from “This book is awful, and if you love it, you have bad taste” to “This book is awful, and if you love it, you’re stupid” or “This book is awful, and if you love it, you’re a bad person” or “This book is awful, and if you love it, I won’t like you any more.” Similarly, I wish authors wouldn’t make the leap from “This book is awful, which means you failed at writing a good novel” to “This book is awful, which means you failed at being a good human being.”
And then there’s also the issue of good books vs. bad books vs. books you love, which is something I’ve struggled with for a while; unlike the absolute relativists (how d’you like THAT particular turn of phrase, eh?), I do think there’s such a thing as objective measures for how good or bad a book is, and that sometimes, you love something absolutely terrible, and other times, you dislike something that’s actually good.
And yes, that means you are guilty of the crime of suffering from the occasional bout of bad taste. You know what? We’re all guilty of it. I say, embrace it. Poor aesthetic judgment is not a measure of your intelligence, nor is it a moral failing. Own your bad taste. Hell, own your mediocre taste. Proclaim it to the skies.
Dara Joy’s books are absolutely terrible. They’re clunkily written, the heroines are annoying as all hell, the heroes are utterly ridiculous, the poor excuse for science fiction plots make me cringe, and their liberal use of SF Gobbledegook makes me cringe even harder. But I love them so.
Those old Mills and Boon novels, in which the hero (who’s usually about 35) at some point grabs the heroine (who’s usually about 19) and gives her a punishing kiss? So. Bad. They’re clumsily written, and awful in all sorts of waysâ€”the repugnant gender politics alone made me seethe with rage, and this was back when I was 11, mind you, when all I could articulate about what I didn’t like about those books was that “they weren’t fair to the heroine and the hero got to win way too often.” You know what? I still found them compelling, and I read them by the boatload.
I could happily go for a week eating nothing but Spam sandwiches. Thinking about it makes me want one now. And very few foods have as little to redeem it as Spam: its nutritional profile is atrocious, and its flavor is this eerie mÃ©lange of blandness, saltiness and overcooked meat. I mean, at least foods like natto are so foul, saying you like it gives you a sort of cachetâ€”you’re hardcore, man, you eat natto. Spam? Just indicates your tolerance for sodium and sketchy meat is probably higher than it should be.
Remember Temptation Island? Holy shit, I loved that TV show. I watched every episode with unalloyed glee.
And Joe Millionaire? Yeah. I have no excuse for that one.
Let’s not even get started on how I used to compulsively watch Blind Date. I’m glad I no longer use my TV to watch anything other than DVDs these days.
Come on. You do it, too. “I love this particular book despite how bad it is. Shit, I love it because of how bad it is.” Say it out loud, you got no taste and you’re proud.
(All kidding aside, ultimately, I think these snap judgments and conflations regarding good taste = good moral character have to do with cultural shorthand about your socioeconomic class (“Oh there you go, bringing class into it again!”), but I don’t have the time or energy to delve into it right now. Have at it in the comments, though. Come out with your Marxist/post-colonialist /post-structuralist/ post-post-post-post-post-modern/ nth-wave feminist fists swingin’.)