answers from Diana

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Apr 17 17:30:26 EDT 2001


On Sat, 14 Apr 2001 15:28:31 +0100, Hallie O'Donovan wrote:

>I'm still startled at Ven and Melissa describing Tanya Huff's book(s) 
>as light weight.  Not that there was any expectation that DWJ would 
>only be reading extremely heavy, ponderous stuff, but "light" still 
> took me aback, for some reason.  

and Ven added:

>Oops. I actually tried to think of a better description than "light 
>weight", I didn't intend anything disparaging but that implication is 
>sort of there.

I agree, and this is why I don't have this discussion with friends, because
that apparent disparagement tends to spill over into aspersions on other
people's intelligence.  :)  I think it's because seriousness is so highly
valued--drama is more "important" than comedy, for example.  So obviously
the "lighter" a book is, the less important it is.  But I think that's just
plain wrong.  To me, a "light" book is simply one that I can read when I'm
ill or tired without losing any enjoyment.  To illustrate how that's not a
judgment on the quality of a book, I need only add that ALL mystery novels
are "light" to me.  (Want to know why?  It's because I never even try to
solve the mystery.  I'm terrible at it, and I'd rather just go along for the
ride.  So my brain never even enters first gear.)

My problem is that I *do* tend to equate quality with seriousness.  But in
this case, "quality" means "how much my life was changed by reading this
book."  I read lots of different kinds of books, and I enjoy everything I
read (because I have a highly developed Crap Sensor that usually goes off
before I pick up something I'll hate).  But what I'm really looking for are
the books that are going to be so overwhelmingly incredible that I will be
unable to imagine having *not* read them.  By my definition, "light" books
aren't those worldshattering things because they lack the weight (sorry, the
mass) to have a lasting impact.  They're entertaining and enjoyable and
entirely worthwhile, but not lifechanging...and so what?  Maybe I need
wholewheat bread to survive, but that doesn't mean the bag of Barbeque
Cheddar Ruffles Flavor Rush potato chips I ate yesterday didn't taste oh so
good.  (I didn't eat the whole bag, if that's what you're wondering.  I
considered it.  But I have some modicum of self control.  I left at least
fifteen chips for Jacob.)

Another problem with "quality = seriousness" is that there's a very large
element of individual taste that goes into the equation.  This element is
often downplayed or rewritten as objective reality ("I hated _Hexwood_,
therefore everyone will hate it") (NO I do NOT hate _Hexwood_, but some
people didn't get it, and disliked it, and thought everyone else should
too).  Much as I like to share my personal ratings of books, I try to
remember that being Always Right does not extend to criticizing other
people's reactions.  :)

So I call Tanya Huff's books "light" because they aren't very complicated,
they don't move me greatly, and I can't say I'm permanently the better for
having read them.  This sounds like harsh judgment, but only if you assume
that books are only worth reading if they are complicated, deeply moving,
and lifechanging.  I laughed my butt off reading _Summon the Keeper_.  Isn't
that worth something?

And yes, Bujold is in some measure "light reading" to me--at the very border
between light and serious, but still on the wrong side.  And I can attest
that there are very few people in the world who are bigger fans of her books
than I am.  Light reading equals low quality?  I don't think so.  It's just
that I can generally pick up any of her books, in any mood, at any time, and
read it with as much enjoyment as I did the first time.  I can't say that
about very many books.

Ven mentioned her off-the-cuff scale of book seriousness from 1 to 10.  I
have a similar scale, but it's a little more complex.  I rank books on four
main qualities and average those numbers for an overall book score.  (Not
literally, I don't read with a calculator in my hand, but in a general
sense, my overall score for a book comes from how well or poorly it does on
those four things.)  Specifically, I care about:

theme--that elusive Wisdom of a book
mental challenge--how hard I have to stretch
craft--my fallible and snooty evaluation of the writer's technical ability
emotional impact--how much it meant to me

Numbers two and four are entirely subjective.  Number one is probably the
most "objective," insofar as it represents how easy it would be to write a
critical essay about the book.  Number three is sort of objective--you can
cite rules about what makes good writing--but those rules vary in importance
depending on who you talk to and what genre you're reading.

In the interest of not starting a religious war, I won't name names, but you
can probably guess that DWJ's books always get very high scores based on
these rules.

Melissa Proffitt
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