Today is the last day of Armchair BEA, and we end off with a topic of choice. I’ve been meaning to discuss a phenomenon among book reviewers that bothers me a bit. I’m not going to say it is wrong, but I am going to suggest we might need a change of perspective.
I’ve noticed that often, negative reviews are given to books and then reasons given are that there were “too many loose ends” or that “the story didn’t make sense”.
For example, I recently read Riot by Sarah Mussi. The premise of this novel is mandatory sterilisation for young people without a guaranteed future, against which (obviously) the youth riot. A few reviewers are really upset that the reason for the Law wasn’t explained thoroughly. I think it would have been overkill – we already know that the world is overpopulated. We already know that governments have in the past come up with silly irrational laws to “solve problems” when really it serves their own needs or belief systems. How much more of an explanation for a wacked-out law do we need? Riot is not a story about the methodology of a government in trying to curb population growth. It is a story of the youth’s response to this law, and what happens when rioting gets out of control.
Some more examples of annoying expecting-to-be-spoon-fed-ness:
Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis: “Why was there no back story about how the water disappeared?!”
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes: “But where does the House come from? What are the rules? It’s not realistic!” (No shit. It’s a sci-fi novel.)
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: this book has a lot of musical references. And a lot of reviewers complain that there are too many musical references that they didn’t understand. I don’t get it: don’t we read, at least to some extent, to broaden our horizons? I didn’t understand many of the musical references either (it’s been too long since I did classical music training). But when I worried that not getting it might hinder my enjoyment of the book, I Googled the musicians. Isn’t technology wonderful?
Railsea by China Mieville: This book has the weirdest setting, a sea of railways, and most of the story occurs on trains. It’s fabulous and so different, but the complaint I read most often was [ad lib], “I feel like I’ve been dumped in a scary unknown world and I want more backstory.” Thing is, the main character is discovering the scary unknown world for the first time. As the reader, you are joining him in his discovery.
Look, I’m all for letting everyone read and review what they want and how they want to, and to have their own opinions about books. I swear. It’s just… Authors are not our mothers. ‘kay?
World-building is great. But part of the reason I love reading more than I love movies is because I get to use my own imagination. That’s why we don’t want to know the exact height of male characters and why I don’t care to know whether a female character is skinny or plump.
This is the same reason I don’t read novellas. I see there is a novella about Divergent’s Four as an initiate, and no, I don’t want to read it. Why? Because I like imagining what he was like as a scared transfer myself. I like imagining how he survived his fear landscapes. Maybe you don’t feel that way, and that’s okay.
I don’t want Mieville to spell out how the world became overrun by railways. The truth is, if you read carefully, he does drop hints about it throughout the novel. He just doesn’t share it all upfront. I don’t want to know how the world lost its water in Not a Drop to Drink, because I can guess how it happened by extrapolating from current events.
It doesn’t matter where the House in Shining Girls comes from. Make up a story for yourself. It’s not really central to the plot. The freakin’ crazy serial killer and his shining girls are. And the crossing lines of time. The House is a device.
And I actually LIKED YouTubing the various musical pieces from Revolution.
Currently, I am reading The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman. The beginning is deliciously confusing. The reader is chucked into the plot as if he belongs there: no explanation – here are the characters. Get to know them. Figure it out. And as you persevere, you get hints of what happened. It is basically a skillful trick by the author to ensure you ARE PAYING DAMN ATTENTION. “No skim-reading here, yo!”
This isn’t a spoiler because it’s in the blurb: in the book, there is a plague, and it kills you before you’re a proper adult. And I still don’t know what the plague is. Maybe I won’t by the end of the book either. So what? I’ve decided for my own purposes that it’s a slow-replicating HI-virus, mostly because the tell-tale rash, “posies” looks and sounds like Kaposi’s Sarcoma.
So I guess what I’m saying is: some books you can sit back and soak up. Some books the author feeds you the world they want you to see.
But some books require some focus and some imagination. That’s not a flaw. Maybe it’s not the easiest way of reading, but I highly recommend trying it.