It’s time for Canary The First to cough up and share her best and worst reading experiences. Before writing this article, I made a rather lengthy list of top and bottom books.
Of the best, there was Master and Margarita with its demonic, gun-wielding cat. Frank Herbert’s Dune for taking my first trip into elaborate, multi-tome science fiction. Zelazny’s sword and sorcery sent me tailspinning into that genre, and The House of Spirits showed me how brilliant magic realism could be.
On the worst side, there were books like the Name of the Wind, where even a masterful audiobook performance couldn’t save my brain cells. There was Ivan Vyzhigin, a 19th century Russian bestseller, complete with blatant racism and sickly sweet romantic themes. Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises in Middle School did unspeakably boring things to my soul.
But in the end, I realized that my all time best reading experience was…
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
No, it’s not my Best read because of the terrible relationship model it presents. It’s not the writing quality either. And it’s not even because there is so much to dislike about it.
Because I hadn’t disliked it.
I breezed through a friend’s enthusiastically recommended copy of Twilight, and kinda liked it. It wasn’t great, but it was a fine way to procrastinate homework and pass four hours after school. The next day after power-skimming through the novel, I had no clear recollection of what I’d read and was well on my way into another novel.
So when I first encountered a Twilight rant, I was flummoxed. Bad romance? Bad writing?
And that was when I realized that sometime in the last year or so, I’d stopped actually reading. Long before I’d identified myself as a writer or a swimmer, or even a cat lover, I was a reader.
But in that moment, that fundamental fact tilted and wavered. I was going through books, but I wasn’t reading them. Not really.
In the four hours it took me to skim down the pages, lapping up the bare bones of the story, I managed to miss everything that makes Twilight the controversial monolith of teenage (and writerly) angst that it is. How many other books had I done that to?
Twilight forced me to stop and reevaluate my approach to reading. And even as the realization that I was wasting my time reading makes this a low point in my life as a reader, it also makes Twilight the best thing that could have happened to me. Without it, I might not have consciously slowed down my read when I got my hands on William Gibson’s Neuromancer—one of my longstanding favorite books ever.
I might not be here, blogging about books, if not for Twilight.
Here’s to making the worst reads our best reads.
A gutsy call and great interpretation of the how a book can be meaningful — sometimes in ways that an author most likely doesn’t intend.
I once asked the question as to my book-blogging inclined friends as to whether they start their mental reviews early in reading, or whether they just digest the book and reflect. The common answer was that knowing you were going to review the book altered the way that it was read, which is a fascinating thing to consider. Do we read to enjoy or to review?
I wouldn’t feel too badly about breezing through Twilight or anything though — sometimes I find my brain just wants a break and some cotton candy is sometimes the right snack.
That’s a really interesting topic. When I started the blog, I posted solely for myself as a way to keep track of the books I’ve read and as a way to try a stab at writing engaging nonfiction. Without some kind of system, the titles and authors I’ve read–particularly the ones that don’t stand out in quality or content–just fade away. So in a sense, I read and posted without shifting tracks mentally.
But I will say this, I do feel that an increase in traffic and exposure for the site may have softened the scathing edge on my reviews a tinge. (Though perhaps I just haven’t come across a particularly atrocious book in a while.)
I agree. There are certainly times for a light read. Unfortunately, since taking up a little writing of my own, and all the re-educating that goes along with it, I just can’t seem to turn my inner editor off. I now find myself thinking things like “Now, come on, Mr Writer, a 3 or 4 year old knows EXACTLY how old he is… now I don’t believe this character exists.”
So, I would have to say that my own (unfinished – in fact, barely started!) book has done the same job for me as “Twilight” has done for CanaryTheFirst. Excellent… now I don’t have to read it.
I remember having that exact same experience when I started focusing on my own writing. If it’s any consolation, you’ll probably even out and be able to enjoy terrible fiction again in about five or so years. 😀
Gutsy indeed! I have to admit I had a somewhat similar reaction to Twilight when I skimmed through it (my sisters could talk about nothing else–it was read it or be lost as to who they were discussing was real or fictional). There’s something about that book like cooled-down popcorn left in the bag: the actual experience isn’t so great, but as long as it’s lying around, you’ll find yourself continuing to pick at it.
That is a perfect metaphor. And we all need some popcorn fiction to tide us over between the heavier lit.
Good writing is emotionally exhausting.
I liked your little twist 😉 I feel something very similar about Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled. I get anxious just thinking about it, it’s so nightmarish. But I constantly bring it up in book-related conversations and it made appreciate the capacity certain artists have to create a very specific reaction on their readers – it takes great skill.
Yeah. In a sense, it’s about admiring what the books do without really caring for what they are.