Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I May Be Judging You

I had a discussion with some friends today regarding a book you've probably heard lots about but whose name I refuse to mention because I don't want the book or author getting any more attention than what it's getting now.  But if you have watched the news, I'm sure you've heard of this fan-fic turned published book that falls into the erotica classification and is credited with the development of the term "mommy porn" ::gag::.  So anyway, the discussion got me kind of worked up.  I didn't realize how strongly I felt about this until I started discussing it. Basically, this post is going to be a diatribe.

I won't get into the issues of intellectual property and fan fiction.  I have feelings on those things, but that's not what has me worked up today.  Today I am only going to talk about the quality of writing and how it is NOT entirely subjective and it's not about being nice and non-judgmental. 

Here's the thing, Reader Friends.  Not all books are well-written and not all books are worth reading.  In regards to this particular book I have heard lots of people saying "well at least people are reading instead of watching tv".  Or, "Well it's not my style, but if people like it, I don't judge."  I judge, Reader Friends, and I judge hard.  I definitely disagree with the idea that all reading is good reading AND with that idea that reading anything somehow intellectually trumps other forms of information. 

The truth is, there is a standard for good writing.  Not all successful books meet that standard.  This book doesn't even come close.  There's a reason we learn grammar and composition in school and if you have completed a high school education you should be able to see how many problems this book has in those areas.  This doesn't mean I don't think you should read the book or that you can't enjoy it.  There's a difference between reading brain candy and liking it, while recognizing the problems, and reading drivel and not knowing it.

Let's use the last movie I saw as an example - Snow White and the Huntsman.  I sat through the whole thing, wanted to know what happened next, and was entertained.  However, I can also admit that it was a terrible movie and willingly discuss its flaws.  If I were to declare that Kristen Stewart is an amazing actress who deserves an Oscar for standing around with her mouth hanging open, you can and probably should question my ability to discern the difference between quality cinema and total crap.

So here's the thing.  When I see someone say "Unnamed Book is the best book ever and the writing is great!" I think "Bless her little heart, she's never read a book before in her life because she obviously has no idea what the basic standards of writing are."  And I think I'm entitled to think that.  I'm also not going to agree that it's better than watching tv.  Reading writing of that poor quality, especially if you can't tell it's poor quality, is not helping your brain.  Go watch some TV - you'll probably learn more from that, especially if you're watching quality TV.  At the very least you won't be un-learning the rules of grammar and composition that mark quality literature.

And if you claim to be a reader and also claim that the book is well-written, well then I'm beyond blessing your little heart.  I'm questioning your intelligence.  Yep, I said it.  I'm not hating you or angry at your or thinking you're a bad person, I'm just thinking that you must be ignorant to the actual standards that exist for quality writing.  Not just the standards for literary fiction, but the most basic, this-is-how-you-make-a-sentence standards.

So there you have it.  This is probably the only time you'll ever hear me say it, but if you can't tell the difference between something that is (in your opinion, not mine) fun and sexy but terrible art and quality writing, then please go watch some TV.  Don't read.  And don't encourage your friends to read it either in hopes that it'll somehow lead them to quality books.  It won't.  It will just confuse them.  For heaven's sake, give them Twilight if you have to because it at least has something resembling writing in it.  But do not persist in claiming that reading absolute garbage will somehow improve people's tastes or that reading something terrible is better than reading nothing at all.  And if you are going to read crap for entertainment only (which I do not judge you for, even though, seriously?  MUST you buy this book?) at least be able to recognize that it is artistically worthless.


  1. Bless you. Amen. Hallelujah. Cosigned.

  2. *sings*

    Did you ever know that you're my hero...

    Thanks for this Julie, I'm super glad I'm not alone in feeling this way.

  3. I have to agree with this diatribe, uh, post. I feel the exact same way about The Book That Shall Not Be Named. I downloaded an excerpt on my Kindle and was shocked at what I read; it wasn't the porn. It was the writing, it was absolutely terrible. Just terrible.

    I've sense lost some respect for the friends who are raving about it.

    Great post. :)

  4. I love this blog post. I want to marry it.

    If you want to read bad pseudo-fanfic, there's plenty of it online for free.

  5. Thank you!! I love your honesty and bravery in posting this. ;) The thing that gets me the most, I think, is what you said: "There's a difference between reading brain candy and liking it, while recognizing the problems, and reading drivel and not knowing it."

  6. If I wasn't already in love with you...this post would have done it. CLAPS!

  7. I stumbled upon your blog and just wanted to say, Amen. I read the unnamed book and while it was mildly entertaining, it was also total crap.

  8. Wonderful post. Thank you for speaking out!

  9. I am going to defend unnamed book and say it is the best written book of all time. Just Kidding...I think your average person who graduated high school doesn't fully understand grammar (points to self and shame on US Education); therefore, we can't say they should be aware of bad writing vs. good writing. While I can't always give you technical reasons why a book contains poor writing, I can point to style or lack there of. All that is to say, in my observation, most people equate good writing with success. To that point unnamed book would be good writing.

    Another book that comes to mind is a popular vampire series. The writing in that book is not awful, but not good either. However, the authors writing skills were capable enough to captivate millions of readers. So my question is whether we should judge writing by technical merits alone or should the success of an author also act as a gauge to their writing ability?

  10. I think you can make it an issue of the US Education system if you want to, and I'd be willing to listen to that argument, but I also think that grown adults who want to be considered intelligent have a responsibility to learn how to use our language appropriately. If you don't mind having your intelligence in matters of literature questioned, then it's not necessary. But I'm not going to tell someone they're doing math wrong and then excuse it by saying I am not educated in mathematics. If I want to argue math, I'm going to need to learn it first (and in my case I don't care to do so - I'll leave that to those who are interested in math).

    Also, success as an author is absolutely not the same as talent or skill. I think we can agree in most of the arts (and probably in all areas of life) there are people who are successful who do not do their job well at all. Thomas Kinkaid was wildly successful but you're not going to find many educated artists who think he was talented. He just catered to what those uneducated in or unconcerned with quality art wanted. Same can be said for numerous pop stars who have become wildly successful without any measure of talent.

    I'm not bedgrudging this author her success. I can't argue with the fact that she's sold a ton of books - the numbers are there in black and white. But I can and absolutely will argue that she is a terrible writer. And what I'm saying in this post is that if people can't realize she is a bad writer, I am forced to assume that those are most likely unread or that you just refuse to acknowledge that standards exist. But refusal to acknowledge that standards exist or to learn what those standards are does not make them any less real.

    So I guess to answer your closing question, I think technical ability (not just grammar but the ability to use language appropriate and evocatively) is absolutely the only way to gauge an author's writing ability. A book can be highly entertaining and successful and still be poorly written. There's nothing wrong with that, but it should be acknowledged.

    1. I am going to agree with you conditionally. I think you are too harsh but only a smidgen.

  11. I read the books. And the writing was horrific. I didn't expect great writing, but it was worse than Breaking Dawn. There were no good character developments, places she could have used awesome backstories were left hanging.

    The constant bedroom scenes were unrealistic. Bunnies don't even go at it that much.

    I am the ONLY one of all the people I know who didn't like the books. I was called prude, fine, but my beef wasn't with that, it was with the way the male character controlled EVERYTHING the female character did.

    I found it odd that all these women swoon over this dbag jerk. I had to defend myself to these people and say ok he's rich and good looking so why is this OK??

    I don't regret reading them, because I do like to see what hype is all about when it comes to books. But if there is a fourth, I won't read it.

    I did read all three and it was mainly to find out what happened to these characters at the end of the series.

    I don't understand how the original author hasn't sued yet for copying. But, when you try to find the similarities between the series, they are rather small.

    I will say that there are a lot of people who bash the books without reading them. They should give it a fair shot, but chances are they won't like the books anyway.

  12. I don't have feelings as strong as yours on this topic. However, I do have LOTS of friends who think that because I'm a reader I should read or should already have read this book. I won't bash its grammar, because I honestly haven't read or seen a single line. But, as I've said on more than one occasion, I haven't read it because I don't find myself interested in the least. That, coupled with the tales of horrific writing, are enough for me to stay away. I want to spend my reading time on books I choose because they sound immensely interesting. Or because I've heard excellent things about their writing. I think the majority of Americans don't recognize bad writing when faced with it, but I can guarantee you as a middle school reading & language arts teacher it isn't because it isn't being taught! It's simply that they put no value in it. They see grown-ups write that way on Facebook and see no reason to strive for more (not true for all, but many). There is my soapbox moment, I suppose! :)

  13. I love this post! I'm reading the series now and reviewing it because I want to see if it lives up to the hype. Regrettably, I find the books entertaining. They're fun, easy reads. Good for the summer. The writing is atrocious. When I was still reading the first book, I went out to dinner with a friend and brought it with me. We spent a good hour flipping through it, laughing over the bad metaphors, the cringe- worthy descriptions, and the unintentionally hysterical dialogue. The characters are ridiculous. I like smart, strong, heroines. The woman in this series is the opposite. The only reason I find the lead male character interesting is because I'm interested in psychology (and boy does he have some issues). These books are so bad they're good. So I'm reading them. Just like the Twilight films. They are the worst movies I've ever seen but they're too funny to resist!