No Two People Read the Same Book…

… or watch the same movie, or hear the same song, or see the same painting.

One of the things authors are usually told not to talk about is reviews. It’s generally considered acceptable to promote positive ones, and it’s fine to thank someone for a review—positive or negative.

However, complaining about a review is strictly verboten. I can see why, to a point, as we as authors do need to maintain a professional presence. Not always easy, considering we are real people with emotions and problems like everyone else. Sometimes bad reviews really hurt, and sometimes those bad reviews tear someone apart for the weirdest things.

I should make a point here, that there’s a difference between a “bad” review and a “negative” one. A negative review is just that, negative. The reader didn’t like it or the story wasn’t for them, but clearly they read the book, understood it, and their review was constructive. A bad review is one that shows the reader didn’t actually read the book or maybe tore it to shreds based on the author, rather than the story. We get these, quite a few of them in fact, and those are the reviews we most often want to talk about.

The thing we need to remember, however, is that reviews are personal. Any person who picks up a book and goes into a story, does so with an already preconceived idea. Maybe they’ve been cheated on and any perceived cheating in a story is an absolute no-no. Maybe they work in criminal justice and seeing things done wrong—the wrong language maybe—will make them cringe. I have my own things that will make me throw a book that others would look at me and go, “wut?”

On top of this, when we study English and literature in high school and college, we’re taught to read critically. For me, I’m able to set that aside for the most part when I read. But we’re taught to dismantle a story, look for the subtext, and dig into a character’s feelings and thought processes.

I was in the process of writing No Sacrifice when I got into an… interesting discussion with a beta. The main character was in the process of dealing with his bisexuality. He’d just had a dream of fucking his male costar and woke up in the middle of the dream. He goes out to the kitchen to get a drink and pulls out a carton of orange juice. My beta asked me if the orange juice was deliberate. I was completely confused for a moment. Deliberate about what? Then I realized she was talking about its consistency and I facepalmed. No, it could have been water or Coke or anything else like it. I did avoid milk—for color and consistency—but the orange juice was just orange juice.

Sometimes there is no subtext in something. Sometimes the curtains are just blue because we like that color. Sometimes orange juice is just a random drink.

But along with our personal experiences, we bring our education, and more, to a book. This easily works for movies, like it does books. I recently pointed out that even art—paintings—come with their own interpretations. What is a sad expression to one person could be thoughtful to another.

This is accurate for songs, as well. One of my all-time favorite songs is “Voodoo” from Godsmack.

Sully Erna, the lead singer and co-writer of the song, has stated the song was inspired by The Serpent and the Rainbow. The influence of witchcraft—Erna is Wiccan—was a big part of it. And yet, when I listen to the song, I don’t think about witchcraft—or the zombies in the video—or anything like it.

Voodoo makes me think of BDSM.

Yup. The lyrics at the beginning (and part of the chorus), in particular …

I’m not the one who’s so far away
When I feel the snake bite enter my veins
Never did I wanna be here again
And I don’t remember why I came

…remind me of submission. In this case the “snake bite” is the disapproval or disappointment of my Dom. It feels like poison in my veins. The idea that I’ve disappointed my Dom really does fill me. See, I’ll do it—disappoint. It happens because I’m human. But every time it happens, the “never did I wanna be here again” reminds me that I don’t, but that I will again and again.

But this is what I mean. This is clearly not what Erna intended when he wrote the song. However, it’s what I take away from it. I know some think about drugs when they hear it. Others simply take it for what he originally wrote it to mean.

We, as artists, writers, etc. can’t dictate what a reader takes from our books. We can’t control how they view the message (if there is one) or how we portray a character. All we can do is write the story that needs to be written and put it out in the world.

And keep it to ourselves when someone takes something from it we didn’t intend.

 

Voodoo ©1999 Republic Records/Universal Music Group. Written by Sully Erna and Robbie Merrill.

3 thoughts on “No Two People Read the Same Book…”

  1. Well said. I actually do enjoy a beautifully written review, although I’ve stopped writing them myself. You have a point, though. It is always personal. We do bring our perspective to it. I always thought there was going to be more of a story with Louis’s deceased brother in ‘Interview with a Vampire’. Up until ‘Memnoch the Devil’ with the visit to the underworld where I wondered, “Oh, what a twist! What if this is the army Paul is destined to lead, but he had to be dead to lead it?” Only my theory never went anywhere. Ahem, excuse me for rattling on, especially if you had no idea what I was talking about. (rueful grin) Thank you for sharing such an excellent post with the rest of us!

  2. Loved the post, Grace. I always remember a story I read years ago where an author sneaks into an English lit class about one of his books and comments that actually there was no hidden meaning in there – it was just a story. It’s always why I cringe when people pan a book – it might not be to their taste but there will others who love it. Ditto with the books they love.

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