Opening a new book is something like entering a house for the first time.
I wonder if I’ll feel comfortable or unsettled in its ambience, like or disapprove of the people who live there, revel in their insights or be bored by their lackluster conversation.
I confess I walked out of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections because I didn’t like its inhabitants and didn’t want to live with them for the time it would take me to explore their household—I mean, read the novel.
In addition to checking out first impressions, I look at the details in both a book and a house—the color scheme (pastel florals? monochromatic slate?),
the art on the walls (impressionists? kids’ finger-painting?). I try out the furnishings (contemporary? Shaker?) I listen to its music (jazz? classical?) and taste its oozy pizza or sturdy potatoes.
As writers, we read not just for story but also in multiple ways and for many purposes. We examine whether the arc follows a classic path, whether the voice fits the tale’s mood and setting, whether the ending was presaged in the beginning, then cleverly tweaked. As we read, we inevitably analyze and critique.
On this Wednesday’s EMU’s Debut, you’ll have the chance to read a guest-post by EMLA client Erin Moulton on what it’s like to read reviews, including a very slightly critical one, of her debut novel.
My husband, an academic writer, almost (note the “almost”) doesn’t mind critical reviews of his books. “As long as they spell the name right,” he says, “reviews are good for sales.” In an academic setting, criticism, though not welcome, can indicate that the reviewer at least took the work and its ideas seriously.
My own reviews, should I be fortunate enough to get any, are many months in the future. Unlike my husband, I am not looking forward to seriously critical reviews, regardless of how they spell the name. Actually, I’d like the negative ones to spell my name Sinthia Robinson.
Thinking about literature as houses and about reviews of them led me to ponder book reviews as realtors’ descriptions. What if readers responded to our books as succinctly and, yet, as tellingly as ads in the Homes section of the Classifieds?
· “Brand new construction” suggests a unique approach—an inventive story, say, or off-beat setting or quirky characters.
· “Recently remodeled” might refer to an updated tale—Little Red Riding Hood in Miami (just think of all the grandmas there; you heard it here first!) or on the moon.
· “Handyman’s special” might have needed more editing before it was published; or, maybe it’s an interactive story on an e-reader, in which the reader gets to determine its development.
· “Tear-down.” Uh oh.
Try this yourself. Would you like your book to be described as “New England charmer?” “mega-mansion?” “lots of closet space?”
What would you like your readers to settle into? Will they like living there?