Saturday, September 06, 2008

Shannon Hale Teaches How To Be A Reader

There's a really interesting discussion going on over at Shannon Hale's blog (author of Goose Girl and Princess Academy). Shannon was disturbed when readers were angry with author Stephenie Meyer after they read and disliked her latest novel, Breaking Dawn. This got her thinking about whether the reader or the author is responsible when someone dislikes a book. Shannon's argument is that the reader and author are equally responsible makes a lot of sense.

You can read about the first part of her discussion on readers responsibilities here and part 2 on author's responsibilities here.

To basically sum it up, she says, " So, I write to my internal reader--you read to see if my internal reader and your internal reader are kindred spirits. If they're not, we go our separate ways."

All of this reminded me of hearing Lois Lowry speak a few years ago. She was particularly touched at a book signing when a little girl walked up to her clutching a copy of one of her books. The girl told her, "I love this book. It fits me just right." Now, I think of that story often when I hear a child say that they don't like to read. They probably would like to read if someone helps them discover books that fit them just right. Shannon Hale says that we have to be responsible for our own reading experiences and if we find a book boring, put it down and find one that you like, one that fits you just right.

I think I sat through about a million discussions in graduate school on how each reader will have a unique experience when they read a book because they bring to the story their own experiences, likes, dislikes, prejudices, etc. so everyone has a different reaction. For example, I really don't like the book The Little Prince, but I know several people who say that is their favorite book (and please don't send me hate mail because I don't like it). That said, I think we've all read a book with an interesting plot, that we couldn't enjoy because of poor writing and that's a reflection of the power an author yields, not the reader.

The whole argument is pretty important to the world of kid lit blogging and reviewing, because it brings up the question of how much of your review is based on what you brought to the book as a reader and how much of it is strictly due to the author. If your review is solely based on your "internal reader"and not specifics from the book, it might misguide readers to or away from a book that they could have a completely different reaction to. When I review a book, I try to keep in mind what parts of what I liked and disliked the author is responsible for, but a lot of it is probably due to my personal preferences and experiences (or "internal reader" as Shannon calls it). Any reaction caused by my "internal reader" I try to specifically note or leave out so I'm not passing on unfair reviews, but it's really difficult to separate the two.


Krystal Trapnell said...

I found this fascinating! I have been really into the Breaking Dawn bashing (not on the bashing side, but just interested in reading all the junk), and I love Shannon Hale's response. What a great lady!

Anonymous said...

Shannon Hale is an amazing author and I always enjoy her point of view. I do think reviews of books influence people to read or not read books. I know I would never have even picked up Twilight had you not encouraged me.

Cassie L. said...

Very interesting!! I also have gotten sucked into the discussion about Breaking Dawn - especially due to the fact that I have been working with the young women at church and I sorta read it thinking about them reading it...Anyways, Shannon Hale has some great points.

And when I grow up, I want my job to be helping kids find their "just right" books. Those are magical moments!!