My Experience Is Not Your Experience

I walk into the supermarket. I know exactly where I’m going. I head to the shelves of books for sale and start flicking through them, trying to ignore the glare of the neon lights that fills my peripheral vision. And as I flick through I come to a conclusion: they all sound exactly the same. I call it the deadpan first person present. You know what I mean. Short sentences. The occasional long lyrical one thrown in to prove the author can do it. It’s pitifully easy to write. And quick to read. And I absolutely loathe it.

Gah! Yuck! Awful! Where on earth has it come from and why has it taken over mass market fiction so completely? This year I’ve had a lot of this sort of contemporary fiction sent to me and I’ve found myself increasingly unable to read it. It puts my teeth on edge, like vinyl wallpaper and crepe dress fabric. It’s a very particular and personal response, though, as I’ve never come across anyone else expressing the reservations I feel. After a lot of thought, I realise that what I dislike is the lack of musicality in language like this; which essentially means no affect to the words – no deep-rooted emotion. Oh it says a lot of stuff, and often it’s used in thrillers to talk endlessly about the crisis the female protagonist is going through, but it’s language which is dead behind the eyes.

Well, for me it is. As I was thinking about why I disliked it so, I realised that the world has changed enormously when it comes to reader response. When I read up about it in college, it was stuck in the realm of theory, because no one really knew what readers en masse thought. Nowadays, with millions of blogs and sites like Goodreads we’re awash with the opinions of readers of every shape and size. And what becomes clear is how bizarrely picky we are.

Not long ago, I was at an author event where Sophie Hannah was speaking. She told us about a reader who had come up to her and tackled her about a detail of one of her books. In it, the protagonist had driven a car three weeks after a caesarian section. Given that no one could possibly drive for at least six weeks after such an operation, the woman said, it had put her right off the book. Oh, Sophie Hannah had replied, really? I drove two weeks after mine.

If I ever visit Goodreads, it fills me with terror for the human race, for much the same sort of reaction. I remember reading a review of Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Sisterland on it. The reviewer had had a complete tantrum over the fact that a character engaged in a sexual act fervently wishes her partner would hurry up. Whoever would do such a thing? the reader fumed. How impossibly rude! She had hated the book after that, given up on it and put it aside as a badly written novel. It was an extraordinary response in many ways, not least because the character in the book is committing adultery at the time, and whilst she enters into it willingly, she is assailed by guilt as the scene progresses. All the context for this event had been removed when the reader read the passage; some idiosyncratic trigger had been sprung and irrational but powerful feelings had taken over.

I think to some degree or other, no reader can really escape this sort of reaction. It’s very human – and equally human to blame the book rather than our own crazy emotions. The greatest incidence of such trigger responses seems to be around this issue of likable or sympathetic characters. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read reviews that bewail ‘horrible’ people in books that haven’t struck me as horrible in the least. And I’ve read enough books myself with characters endlessly justifying their behaviors (which annoys me) or responding in ways I think are odd, to know I do the same thing.

What it boils down to is, I think, that understanding my experience is not your experience remains one of the hardest laws of reality that we ever have to get our heads around, right up there with getting the fact that people can only give love in their own fashion, not in the way we might want to receive it. When characters in books react in ways that are alien to us, or in ways we think are wrong, or in ways that awaken old memories of hurts and slights, or in ways that are simply not borne out by our own experience, we become distanced from them. They are – quite literally – not sympathetic any more.

Margaret Heffernan in her brilliant book Wilful Blindness, goes deep into the psychological research around this desire for the familiar. We marry people who are like us, we are friends with people who are like us, we search out views and opinions that confirm our own. And mostly, we hate to think this might be true. ‘Human beings want to feel good about themselves and to feel safe, and being surrounded by familiarity and similarity satisfies those needs very efficiently,’ she writes. In one experiment, subjects were led to believe that they shared a birthday with Rasputin, and subsequently they ‘were far more lenient in judging the mad monk than those who had nothing in common with him.’ Trivialities matter. Since 1998, over 4.5 million people have taken Implicit Association Tests that measure bias, and especially the sort of bias we aren’t conscious of having, the kind that makes white doctors friendlier towards white patients than black ones. No point in being complacent – more than 80 percent of us are biased against the elderly. Nobody comes out of this particularly well, even if, as Heffernan insists, we all want very earnestly not to feel these ways.

Well, our book reviews are pretty clear that we are all full of foibles and prejudices, and that we are pretty hard on fictional characters who don’t match up to the internal yardstick. It’s an intriguing thought that books give us one representation of human nature, and book reviews give us another, more revealing, one. Reading is a trick way of looking into a mirror, because we read in the most private part of our minds, well away from witnesses and onlookers. Stories tell us as much about ourselves as they do about the lives in their pages. And what does my own irrational dislike of some innocent writing style say? I’m not entirely sure. But I do know I still have residual fear towards people whose emotions I can’t read, or who are saying one thing while feeling another. I love reading because stories do go beneath the surface, on the whole, they do show you the whole picture. I think I’m irritated beyond all proportion by stories that don’t have emotional depth, while this currently fashionable style is a way of depicting women in crisis who don’t make the reader feel like they’re ‘whining’ or ‘moaning’, which gets a very bad press. But that’s only my reading of the situation… and we all know that’s just personal.

79 thoughts on “My Experience Is Not Your Experience

  1. As usual an excellent and thoughtful post.
    I’ve been unable to ‘reply’ here for ages, while continuing to read.
    Here’s hoping this flies.

  2. What a totally fascinating articulation of a very real reaction readers have to books – on both sides. I can well remember having my own reaction, and wincing at others’.
    I too hate that “flat” way of storytelling, but for me my reaction is based on a dislike of the situations those types of books generally portray – women who feel slightly out of control of their lives, slightly helpless, and the overall effect of the book is intended to come across as “deep”, hence the lazy choppiness of the writing. Judging by many of the reviews of this type of book, they generally succeed:-/
    If I ever manage to get off the treadmill of work/salary/work (although I don’t know how this will ever happen) I would love to do an MA investigating readers’ interpretations of authenticity and how it relates to the fictive dream.

    • Yes, that’s very interesting what you say about the content of those books. They do share a similar situation, often, and I’m no fan of that either! I was thinking when I wrote this how much I hoped someone was researching reader reactions to novels, now that they are so readily available – I would so be cheering you on to do that MA!

  3. I think my reactions to supermarket books would be *exactly* the same as yours! I can’t bear the modern, empty, thin prose that’s in so many new books, the lack of plot and originality, the fact that they’re cliche ridden and have to fit into a particular genre. – gah! I could rant on but I won’t.

    Yes, we all react differently and in a very personal way to books, but as a rule I try not to be ultra-critical because people do have different tastes – but sometimes I wonder what people are actually reading modern books for…..

    • I’ve had a… not great year with contemporary novels, though I think that must be sheer chance, as last year I read some fantastic ones. But when I’ve been disappointed, it’s usually been because of the writing style, the lack of depth in the storytelling, and the characterisation. There are too many ‘types’ in contemporary fiction that have become the acceptable versions, and there can be strong editorial pressure on writers not to step outside acceptable lines. I don’t really blame authors as they are often strongly guided! And yes, knowing we do all have our tastes and they don’t coincide is always a sane way of looking at things!

  4. This is a brilliant article! There’s so much here to talk about, but the Flat Prose Problem (the first thing that leaps out at me) is, i think, tiresome because there is so much of it. Mainstream fiction, even litfic, is really suffering now from a very “dead behind the eyes” (as you say) manner of writing. Sometimes it even pretends to be poetic, which is actually far worse. There’s a great deal of competent writing being published now, and, from my brief stints in a literary agency, I can understand why: so many of the MSs that people submit are genuinely incompetently written that when you get one that’s more or less ok, stylistically, it looks like a work of genius by comparison. Agents settle, so publishers have to settle, so readers end up settling. It pisses me off. This is why I want to work in publishing–there’s got to be a better way to provide people with really worthwhile books!

  5. I think I feel the same about those books but I can accept it better in English. Some of the recent thrillers I read in English, wouldn’t last ten minutes in French or German. So, I guess my English musicality isn’t yours.🙂
    It’s awful what authors have to put up with . . . But the again, I’ve heard people rave about books I didn’t like and just to hear their enthusiasm was uplifting. The authors hear that too.🙂

    • Oh I know just what you mean. Reading in French I’m much less bothered by stylistic nuance and have read more widely in that language as a result. As for rave reviews, I’m beginning to think they are the worst things an author can have. They encourage other readers to approach a book with unrealistic expectations, and readers are at their most harsh when disappointed, I find! I’m going to tell all my writer friends to be very grateful for the encouraging review that doesn’t oversell!

  6. I don’t even look at the books on sale at the supermarket because I know I won’t want to read any of them not especially because of the prose but because they are generally of the lurid romance or lightweight fluff of some kind. But I know the kind of prose you are talking about, it appears in all sorts of books these days. I don’t mind plain prose as long as the story is good and has depth. The plainness can be a useful trick to hide all sorts of things in a story. But if the plain prose goes along with a plain story, nope, can’t do it.

    I’ve never understood why readers get so wrapped up in whether or not they like a character or can identify with them. One reason I enjoy reading so much is to be able to explore people and lives that are different than mine. But I suppose is has much to do with what Heffernan suggests and all of us have a varying level of tolerance for uncertainty.

    • Well as you know, I think about this sympathetic character thing a lot. I’m starting to feel that the toughest job for an author is to put across an otherwise ordinary person who may have a different value system to the reader. I think we manage fine with really different characters, but it’s the ones who are like us but not like us enough that become irritating. Well, that’s my working hypothesis! I used to like a supermarket book every now and then as an undemanding read, but at least this is weaning me off them!🙂

  7. I always doubt myself a little on the whole “The State of Literature Today” thing because I know it’s common in all eras for people to complain, and that the books that are still read from previous decades were surrounded by a sea of disposables at the time. And I’ve never been drawn to all the theories about how we’re too postmodern to sustain the novel. But I have the same feeling you describe when looking at books and seeing exactly the same unengaging style in all of them, and I really do feel like no one has much to say at the moment. There are books that sound intriguing initially but I’ve learned to stop bothering with them because the contents don’t deliver on the atmosphere or situation I was hoping to hear more about. I can’t even get a fix of frothy escapism and that’s supposed to be what commercial fiction is all about. I don’t know why that might be.

    The individuality of reader response is why I’m so interested in book reviews and book blogs, but that’s why I am picky in turn about which readers I want to hear from. Often when I’m looking through someone’s reviews I begin to get a really uncomfortable sense of being constricted by all these arbitrary but very judgemental standards that reader applies to all the books they read. It’s a little like dealing in real life with the kind of person who is never satisfied with you unless you’ve submitted to all their judgements and can always tell if you’re holding out on them and don’t really agree or admit their position as the person who is always right.

    • That’s exactly how I feel – I’ve nothing against frothy escapism every once in a while. It can be a real pleasure. But yes, the atmosphere is all wrong; the feel-good is thin, the thrill is clearly artificially manufactured, it’s hard to care. I also know exactly what you mean about feeling constricted within another reader’s value system. Thank you – you put your finger on some very useful refinements there!

  8. This is absolutely brilliant…and IMO, I think that as people become increasingly disconnected from one another, it’s exponentially important to them to connect with simulacra of people in entertainment. This accounts, I believe, for the increasing tendency to judge books not even by their covers, but by their relatability.

  9. Fascinating post! I tend to avoid ‘supermarket books’ so perhaps I’ve been lucky and avoided the flat prose style you describe. Interestingly, Andrew Miller’s new novel, The Crossing, is written in a deadpan, staccato, almost hypnotic style but that’s a deliberate stylistic choice, I’m sure, which suits the novel and works well.
    I agree that we all want different things from fiction. I find it very dull to read fiction that reflects my own experience but others may find it comforting. Some reviewers do seem to be extraordinarily emphatic in their views, though. But that’s the internet for you!

    • My working theory at the moment is that it’s ‘easier’ (not sure that’s the right word) to read about people who are very different because we don’t seek to relate as if they were potential friends. So maybe readers who like to read about different situations and experiences find themselves bumping up against these problems less often? As I say, it’s a work in progress! Interesting what you say about The Crossing, though. Perhaps the flat prose thing is have outreach effects!

  10. I react to supermarket books the same way you do, but I have to wonder, am I just trying to surround myself with “like” views and people by reading literary fiction? As much as readers may want to read flat writing to prove they aren’t unlikeable/whiny whatever, I probably want to read literary writing to prove that I’m not basic/one of the great unwashed, you know?

    “Reading is a trick way of looking into a mirror, because we read in the most private part of our minds, well away from witnesses and onlookers.”

    Love this, though us bloggers/vloggers etc do have witnesses and onlookers to some degree, whether it’s book hauls or tweeting as you read, but you’re right, the actual *reading* is still, always, private.

    • Yes, absolutely, reading is always inevitably private. I think that may be why it’s a bit of shock to come across a review that reacts in an entirely different way to a book we’ve read. I tend to think that reading literary fiction is essentially about being willing to have experience slowed down and put under the microscope a bit. So I do think it shows up contemplative people, and readers who are willing to believe in the paradoxical depths of life (things are so rarely as they seem). If you can’t think that way, literary fiction would be hard to enjoy, I think. But as ever, I’m still trying to figure all this out as I go along!

  11. Just occasionally you will spot a work of genius on the supermarket shelves – and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters is currently there! There is so much formulaic drivel in the world of commercial fiction.

    It is funny though that a single small detail in a book can derail you – whether you’re right or wrong it can ferment and prevent your enjoyment.

    I love your central premise to this article though – and we should all remember it.

    • My Tescos used to be good at stocking the Booker shortlist and so on – can only hope we return to those good ways this autumn! And I do agree about the power of the small detail – if the author is rude to academics, I’m out of there. Even though I don’t work in a university any more! It’s just one of those things I don’t care for, and it wouldn’t bother the vast majority of other readers.

      • I completely agree with you about the small details spoiling something otherwise good but what seems to be emerging is an almost personal fury against the book/author for the existence of those details, which seems frankly bizarre.

  12. It is personal, and my experience is not your experience, it’s just that I happen to agree with you! I love lyrical language that evokes emotion. It’s just the way I am … .

  13. If I have a visceral hatred of a character I try to figure out why before I review the book so I can acknowledge where it is coming from and not just slam the book. It is usually a case of it being more my problem than the author’s.

  14. This is a very interesting post, and has given me a lot to think about. That the same book can arouse such different reactions from people always stimulates good discussion. Also my own reactions when I retread years later.

    • Yes, that’s something I didn’t think to mention – the strangeness of reading a book many years later and finding the new reality very different to the old. Isn’t that weird when it happens?

  15. What a brilliant, thoughtful, thought-provoking post. It has made me question a lot about my reading habits (not least why I am drawn to books about 1920s housewives…)

  16. Hello, I tried to post earlier but a kitten stomped on the keyboard and deleted my lovingly crafted reply. But this is a fabulous post and I so agree with what you say. I feel I challenged myself much more in my reading habits when I was younger, but now I definitely read what I believe I’ll enjoy rather than taking a risk. Time to change that!

    I do have some sympathy with the caesarian lady – if your suspension of disbelief is shattered – even through your own misapprehension – it can be impossible to rebuild it. Happily I’m so ignorant that I rarely notice anything ‘wrong’.🙂 I also have some sympathy with those who only want to read about likeable people; I don’t share that proclivity but I think it’s on the same continuum as my unwillingness to read graphic violence, it makes me feel physically sick. In each case we don’t want to spend time with something unpleasant. I don’t blame the book for this, though.

    As for crappity writing, I’m with you there! It’s just a fashion though, it will pass. Go and read a bit of Henry James…

    • Yes, I have been a victim of the kitten stomp myself in the past. It can be quite something. And if a book is rude to academia, I find myself putting it down, even though that really would not bother the vast majority of readers at all, so I think we all have our foibles and that they are not avoidable! I also remember passing on to my Dad a crime novel that featured older types of printing, knowing this to be an interest of his. Wrong move! It turned out the book had described these processes with lots of mistakes, so my Dad couldn’t get into it at all. Naturally, all this had completely passed me by. It can be useful to have no knowledge of history sometimes. What intrigues me is how readers’ ideas of what makes a character sympathetic vary. We can all agree on what graphic violence looks like (though I write this remembering a friend who was judging a movie for violence levels saying, well there’s only one beheading and you really don’t see much… and realising our standards were a tad different), but there can be a surprising difference over who is loveable in the fictional world.

      I also think I read much more widely when I was younger. But I’m completely behind the process of becoming more aware of what we really enjoy as we get older. I do sort of glance nostalgically at books that I wonder if I should try, but on the whole, it’s good to know what will make us happy!🙂

  17. Wonderful post, as usual, friend. There are definitely areas where I’m particularly sensitive — I’ve reached a point now where I’ll immediately give up on a book if an evil child protection worker shows up. I’m done with that trope! I’m done with it! I’ve encountered it too many times and social workers aren’t evil! (said the social worker’s daughter)

    • I did not know about the evil child protection worker trope, but I’ll do my best to avoid it! Me, I put down anything that’s rude to academia, even though I don’t work there any more. I guess that’s a family-feeling thing, too!

  18. This post causes profound rumination in me. Where to start with my reactions, since you tackle several different topics?
    1) The flat, choppy style: you raise an interesting point, that it’s perhaps intended to come across as ‘no whinge or whine allowed’. Which is why it was such a relief to let rip with Elena Ferrante’s rich smoulder of passion in ‘Days of Abandonment’.
    2) That we seek ourselves in fiction – or people like ourselves, or people we can relate to or would like to be friends with. This is almost certainly true, even if I don’t quite understand it myself. I seek to ‘escape’ my boring self and the constraints of my own mind and life. I don’t personally have to like the main protagonist to appreciate a book – which is why I enjoyed Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs – another woman who does not hold back! And I rather like a diversity of responses to experiences – as my own responses would be unbearably cautious and dull.
    3) But of course I have biases of my own. Too many to enumerate… Purple prose, for one, or lean mean Hemingway emulators, or self-pitying ‘woe is me’ narrative (which seems a contradiction to what I said earlier, but there’s a difference between letting emotions rip intelligently and just sounding like a drip) etc. etc.
    4) And seeing how different readers respond to the same book is part of the joy of the book blogging community!

    • I’m really enjoying everyone’s comments here! Yes, I don’t last long with purple prose either, and there is a fine line between emotional prose and pity prose. Isn’t that intriguing? It’s fascinating to see who can write with all-out emotion and make that really work (and you remind me I must get to Elena Ferrante). I also enjoyed The Woman Upstairs – I’m good with a sharp protagonist, and don’t mind edge at all. Much rather that than a self-conscious paragon!

  19. Now I’m feeling guilty for a review I wrote last night of a book that didn’t “work” for me despite being widely hailed. Really interesting points. As a reading teacher, I try really hard to stock my room with books I wouldn’t read, knowing that my students won’t all share my tastes.

    • No need to feel guilty – it’s impossible to read and love everything, and I’ve nothing against critical reviews. My mother always used to be of the opinion that whatever you wanted to say, you could say it politely. And a critical review that discusses its criticisms intelligently makes for very interesting reading. As for your book stocking, I’m sure your students are very grateful for the variety!

  20. Such an interesting discussion. I think it can be very easy to dismiss a book because of something we’ve not liked, but if you judge it objectively because of that subjective opinion it displays a lack of awareness I think. I suppose there probably are books that are just bad, but a lot of the time they just don’t match what I like in a book (complex characters and well written prose).

    • Absolutely, I like those things too. I can perfectly understand the urge to put a book down because it isn’t pleasing – that happens all the time. But I agree most of them aren’t ‘bad’. It’s intriguing me that this flat prose style IS striking me as bad – I think I must be becoming more intolerant as I get older!🙂

  21. Great post. I’m generally now much more aware of my own response when reading. I don’t normally read thrillers for example but occasionally I enjoy them for what they are. They are not suited to emotional depth but there’s still a lot of skill there. And they make for an easy read.
    Do you think you’re more irritated now because authors send you their books to review and you might feel guilty about ignoring them?

    • Ha love that! I most certainly do fear hurting an author’s feelings. I’m much closer to the writers now in the review process, because of SNB, and I would definitely feel dreadful if I wrote something that upset them (I hate done that in the past, and it was not fun!). Yes, I do like that perspective. Stop writing those kinds of books, people, because I can’t praise you if you do that!🙂

  22. As you probably already know, I enjoy subjectivity. I would never think of your reaction as “just” personal, but as coming from someone who usually explains her point of view well enough that I can take a look at the book from her perspective.

  23. What a great post! You are so right. A book may resonate with one person while infuriating another – sometimes we read other people’s reviews and wonder if we’ve read the same book! But that’s just the thing – we haven’t. My reading is so colored by my own experiences that it’s completely unique to me. This is why I love to read both good and bad reviews – it’s so interesting to see how someone else responds to something that you’ve read.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    • I confess, I have often been drawn in the past to controversial books that divide opinion because I’m so curious to see what’s provoked such a disparity of views! I like what you say about the fact that we never read the same book – that’s so true.

  24. What a thought-provoking post, litlove, enough stimulations for a unit in a course of literary appreciation. Anyway, this quote ‘Human beings want to feel good about themselves and to feel safe, and being surrounded by familiarity and similarity satisfies those needs very efficiently,’ I think applies more to behaviour (higher risks) than reading (no risk). For me, reading brings me to worlds that I’d never step foot on, or get to know people whom I’ll likely not want to meet in real life. e.g. criminals, the deviant, those not in my social circle, and simply, the unfamiliar as the quote says. But through reading, I can safely hear their stories and explore their perspectives. Recently I finished listening to Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun about the extraordinary life of Beryl Markham. While I felt McLain had sort of sensationalized her subject BM, I had a look into the colonial British upper crust in Africa during the early 20th C. What more, the book aroused interest in me to explore more about BM, leading me to read Mary S. Lovell’s biography of her: Straight on Till Morning. Too long a comment, but you post sure has sparked numerous thoughts in me.😉

    • I’ve heard about that new Paula McLain novel (and the Mary Lovell bio) and I’m interested to know that you liked it. I’ll bet she was a fascinating woman. I’ve got this theory going on that it’s easier for readers to enjoy books if we like characters who are very different to us and/or engaged in very different experiences. I think the hardest job an author has is in portraying an ‘ordinary’ person with unusual values. How many of us would react well to a middle-class mother who is shown to neglect her children, for instance? So that quote from Wilful Blindness is more to my mind about reading a character who might share our own circumstances and be like us in many ways, but may have a very different perspective, or motivation, or desire. I think that’s the trickiest reader-character relationship to write – but this is just a work in progress still! I’m very intrigued about why we respond to books the way we do, and I’m pretty sure the answers are complex.

  25. I certainly do NOT seek out characters in fiction who have my foibles, strengths or weaknesses and I am, as you are, amazed beyond belief that people complain that they don’t “like” or are not sympathetic to characters in novels.

    • I’m wondering how you would react to reading about a physicist working in a university who differed notably in his values and desires to you? I’m sort of thinking that the toughest job a novelist has is not to portray someone entirely different, but someone completely familiar, but not similar enough. This is just a work in progress, mind! Reading through all these comments, I’m interested how many of us actively seek out very different experiences to our own and enjoy that – and I’m wondering whether we set ourselves up for more readily enjoyable reading experiences because of that…

      • That is of of course a good question. However we physicists are a pretty boring lot in terms of our scientific values as we are all bought into a very rigid system in many ways. Some people will try to help colleagues, some will try to squish them and a few will actually cheat by faking data. All of those will be interesting to read about I suspect. As to desires, that’s a different kettle of fish – have you read “Small World” …

        You are right about portraying a different but “realistic” persona being challenging.

  26. This is a really interesting post – I think you’ve put your finger on a general zeitgeist, rather than something just connected to reading, that I’m certainly becoming more and more aware of. (I remember reader response theory! It all seems so innocent now.)

    The ‘trigger response’ you write of seems to becoming more and more prevalent these days. It’s as if some cultural brake has been removed since the arrival of social media. People aren’t just saying that they didn’t care for such and such a character or that they found them unsympathetic – there’s an active fury that such a person should have been written/express an opinion/exist at all, which is new.

    I’d argue that ‘distance’ is the wrong word – what these readers are completely unable to achieve *is* distance – that this is merely a character in a book they don’t happen to like. I don’t know if you’ve read Baggini’s ‘Welcome to Everytown’ which was written about 2005 but he makes a number of points on how difference is seen as unacceptable, which, ten years on, seems to have become something to be attacked.

    ‘Lack of musicality.’ – very much so. A post reblogged at Plumtopia http://www.honoriaplum.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/defending-the-chamois makes this point very well too.

    • Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head here, talking about the removal of a cultural brake. That is exactly the sort of response that bothers me, the one that is enfuriated that such a different perspective should exist. It’s a common human feeling, but not one that it’s been okay to air in the past, and for very good reason. It’s somewhat regressive. I haven’t read Baggini’s Welcome to Everytown, but I’m going to look it up right now! Thank you also for the link to the post – yes, exactly!

  27. ‘Regressive’ – that’s a very good word. It does seem to describe what’s happening, not just in reading but in the world in general – a return to an undeveloped state of emotional control that’s no longer confined to a few and, more disturbingly, a social acceptance of that state.

    A really thought-provoking post that’s prompted an interesting debate!

  28. I liked the bit about a reader challenging an author on driving after surgery. Years ago the SF Chronicle Sunday paper used to publish a feature called “The Grab Bag,” made up of random facts, often surprising or startling. People typically complained about its veracity.

    When its compiler decided to retire, in his last collection he included the average temperature on the side of the planet Mercury that faces the sun. He said he included that item for someone (whom he identified by name and city of residence) who claimed that he personally verified every item published.

    I loved it.

    • Ha, that’s great! Love that story. It reminds me in turn of when I worked in the bookshop in Cambridge, and had to remove the maps of the moon from the travel section… Someone had been a little premature!

  29. It us apt you were in a grocery store because the book writing is terrible in that it reads like a grocery list. There is no meat or mystery to unravel in the prose; it’s just a Gatling gun if step-by-step action, or worse, inner dialogue.

    And the reviews are ridiculous given they are not reviews. They are complaints or praise for the surface bits. Once in a while I’ll stumble across an actual review, but rarely do I find a proper analysis of the quality one finds here.

    Thank you so much for your skill and integrity.

  30. Pingback: Next Stop Procrastination #8 || The Worm Hole

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