Reflecting on Reader Baggage (mine included)
One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of publishing a novel in this day and age is the number of reader reviews and reactions an author has access to. Like most newbie authors, I have a Google Alert set for my name and for Forget-Her-Nots. So I guess I'm not missing much of what is said about my book, at least not publicly. A few weeks ago I had two reviews back to back on two different blogs within a 24 hour period. The first review discussed how sad and moving the novel could be with Laurel mourning her mom. The blogger had lost her own mom too young and was close to tears at several points in the novel. She said it wasn't really her type of book -- she prefers paranormals - but that she really enjoyed it and connected to my main character, because of its emotional resonance.The second review posted a picture of a sparkly pink cupcake and said my novel was just like that: pretty, sweet, easy going down, and without much nutritional value after you read it.Wow. I had to laugh. Here are two readers who had read my novel (for which I am grateful) but had vastly different experiences of the exact same book.This occurrence pounded home the fact that a book is not just words on a page. It's not just what the author intended. A book is also about the life experiences the reader brings to it. We bring so much of ourselves along as baggage when we read. Obviously, the second reader (aka cupcake) hadn't related any of her own life losses to that of my main character.When J.D. Salinger died, a librarian friend of mine posted a question on Facebook. She asked those of us who had read Catcher in the Rye as teens if we'd also read it as adults and whether or not our experience of the novel had changed. Mine definitely had. As a teen, I was attracted to Holden. I found him fascinating and kind of noble in his quest against phoniness and desire for something real and authentic. Later, as a mom to two teen boys, I wanted to adopt Holden and show him what was good about the adult world. I wanted to show him that just because you grow up that doesn't mean you give up your dreams or trying to be authentically your best self. I am a very idealistic adult.And my own baggage? Jay Asher's novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, has been sitting on my bedstand for about 7 months now, waiting to be read. I just can't. I know it's masterful, I know I'll love it on some level, but I also know I can't put myself through that vicarious pain and loss right now. I've never been able to read The Lovely Bones either. Maybe next year.