The Worst Book Ever. Or Not.

“Coldplay sucks!”

I had my car window open (as required between blizzards by Colorado law). Mylo Xyloto was playing on a recently-purchased stereo that had doubled* the value of my 2000 Jetta.

I didn’t see who shouted it. Probably not the elderly woman on the sidewalk who was attached by a taut pink leash to a matching taut pink poodle. And surely not the five-year-old doing donuts on his Big Wheel in the driveway across the street.

It’s a pretty safe bet the Chris Martin hate came from someone in the huddle of teenagers admiring their generation’s ironic muscle car, a tricked out Scion tC.

I ignored the shout and passed through the Norman Rockwell scene with a vehicular shrug. (The Jetta’s suspension needs work.) But a block later I turned the volume down from 25 to 18. I told myself this was because I didn’t want to cause [further] damage to my eardrums. I even imagined calling over my shoulder, “Thanks, random hoodie-wearing teenager. I will embrace your astute observation as free healthcare.”

There’s no such thing as free healthcare. And I wasn’t concerned about my eardrums.

like listening to Mylo Xyloto with the volume at 25. Yet after hearing “Coldplay sucks!” apparently I felt 28 percent less confident of this.

I have friends who love the Twilight books. If the Twilight books were people, these friends would marry them. Or at least stalk them obsessively. Now let’s face it, you don’t have to drive down many streets before hearing shouts of “Twilight sucks!” This makes me wonder, do people who like the Twilight books** ever turn down the volume because of the shouting? What if the shout comes from a trusted friend? Or a trusted stranger who goes by the pretentious nom de plume, “noveldoctor”?

I haven’t yelled “Twilight sucks!” on this blog, but I might have made an oblique reference or two about my lack of personal love for Bella and Ed’s Excellent Adventure. (Like that, for instance.) If I’ve caused any of you to turn down the volume, I apologize. I believe strongly in value of literary (and musical) criticism, but yelling “Twilight sucks!” is not criticism. That’s just being rude.

My taste in music and books is different from yours. I’m okay with that. In fact, I celebrate it. If everyone loved the things I loved, you’d all be my soulmates. I live in a small apartment. I only have room for one soulmate. (I know she’s out there somewhere, though the restraining order remains an obstacle.)

I can’t always tell you why I don’t like something. Maybe it’s repetitive themes. Or predictable chord progressions. Maybe it’s paper thin characters or a reed thin voice. Given ample time and motivation I think I could wear the tweed jacket and smoke the tobaccoed pipe of a reasonably skilled critic and explain in more detail. But I don’t look good in tweed.

can tell you why I like Coldplay. Or books by Alice Hoffman. Or the color and smell and mystery of actual twilight, if not the book. I like these things because they remind me of a secret language I only remember when someone leads me to it. I like them because they break me into pieces or put me back together. I like them for the space between the words and for the unresolved chords.

I like these things because they linger.

That doesn’t make me a good judge of what you should or shouldn’t like. It just makes me…me.

There’s only one opinion that matters when you read, listen, watch. Yours. If you enjoy artful criticism, go ahead and soak up all you want. Then heed it or don’t.

But when you find something you love, keep the volume at 25. Don’t let someone make you feel “less” just because they don’t agree with you.

And then be thankful for the guy who can’t get enough of ABBA. Don’t shout “ABBA sucks!” Let him play it at 25.

Because honestly, do you really want that guy to be your soulmate?

 

*The stereo cost under $200. You do the math.

**I’m not just talking about Twilight. You did know that, right?


10 thoughts on “The Worst Book Ever. Or Not.

  1. I always love hearing what you have to say and look forward to your approach. My question though is whether or not you’re making a concession that there is NO bad ______ (creative endeavor)?

    I think there’s bad art and it isn’t simply a matter of opinion. Then again, I’m kind of a jerk. Otherwise, I agree with you, that taste is subjective and that the only voice that matters is our own. Way to be.

    1. Do I think there’s such a thing as bad art? Yes. If you engage me in conversation about a book or a band or a flavor of Mtn. Dew I don’t like, I’ll tell you what I think and why. Or if you catch me behind closed doors, you might hear a rant. But even as I explain or rant, someone somewhere will be happily turning that thing up to 25. Is it my job to redirect them toward something more beautiful? Not unless they invite me to.

      Uninvited, however, I’ll freely tell you about the things that move me or inspire me or offer evidence of God. That’s just how I like to do things.

  2. Okay. Simply said… your humor made this post just plain out fun to read. And then, the way you painted what you said… made it a point perfectly said! Thanks so much for sharing! Whatever I chose to listen to, I promise it’s gonna be turned up to VERY LOUD volume!!!

  3. don’t wear tweed.

    don’t ever wear tweed unless you are actually in scotland in a fine misty rain. that’s what it is designed for.

    for sheep to look at.

  4. I hate it when people say you can’t dispute personal taste because it’s one of my favorite things to do. However, I am kept humble by the fact that my first record (and a favorite for a long time) was by TACO (a real festival of jazz-hand noise). I try not to tread on other people’s enjoyment of things unless they happen to love a good useless argument as much as I do.

  5. The other day I was going to work on setting up my blog, but I have wondered elsewhere instead and came across reviews of soon-to-be-released books. Among others, there were a dozen or so reviews for a previously published author. Someone you know. All reviews were stellar and his new book was said to be like those written by Twain.

    My strength left me. I sank in my chair as the stellar review glared at me off the screen. “What’s the point?” I thought, “you must be nuts trying to get your story published. It’s not Twain-like. It’s crap! The test group that read it must be nuts too because they believed in it. And in you.”

    The next day I have moused over to somewhere else altogether. It was someone’s blog and the praised author of the day before happened to be a guest blogger. I read the short story he wrote and then sat still, staring at it on the screen. “Wow!” I thought after it hit me. “It’s him. It’s his writing.” I could not believe it. There it was. A sample of his Twain-like writing.

    To me, however, his story wasn’t that good. He has recycled a well-known theme. A predictable theme with an obvious ending. He only changed the beginning. Nothing else. I told my brother about it. He read it and laughed at me. “You worry too much,” he said. “I told you your story is good.”

    I know the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Or in the ears of the listener as it’s more appropriate to story telling. And no, I’m not comparing myself to anyone else, especially an established writer. Nor am I putting others down to feel good about myself. It’s about writing that is good. Publishable. And even captivating. Never mind Twain-like.

    It was good to hear my brother’s words. This weekend I’ll be getting back to setting up my blog. Again.

  6. It’s an interesting problem. Twilight aside (all I’ll say is I lasted precisely three pages which is one and a half more than Dan Brown’s epic got) I try to avoid commenting negatively on something unless I really love it, especially if it’s a small band or obscure author. Though I do feel that constructively noting flaws in huge, bandwagon, media events (I mean, The Hunger Games, Twilight et al are surely way past the point of being mere books by now?) is a bit of a civic duty.

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