Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Books, what your body craves

Right now I'm reading two novels simultaneously: VC Andrews' "Flowers in the Attic" and Richard Yates' "Revolutionary Road."

No two books could be more different in tone, prose, characterization, plotting, etc. Where Yates was lyrical yet concise, every word chosen for a very specific reason, Andrews' wrote in what is known as "breathless prose," long strings of adjectives to describe every item in a room. Yates' dialogue is distinct for each character: subtle and spare. Characters don't telegraph what they mean - they hint. They don't tell everyone in the room their backstory. Andrews' characters speak not only in full sentences but complete chapters, unless they are younger than 5, in which case fragments are all right - but they will be corrected by an older character. And they tell us everything that is on their minds, leaving no room for (mis) interpretation.

I'm not trying to denigrate Andrews' books - or any books written like hers. Neither do I think Yates is necessarily better or better for you than Andrews. I love them both. I will devour them both - why I'm not reading them this very second is a puzzler. But I think it's important to recognize that books are written for all people. I find it strange and pretentious when book reviewers -be they pros or amateurs, traditional media or bloggers - assume that people should only be reading one type of book. I think it's dismissive of them when they refuse to review certain "types" of books because they believe they are lesser, that they don't deserve a place on a person's shelf or in a library.

I like to think of books as food: while you can't have a steady diet of candy (Andrews), neither should you restrict yourself to meat (Yates). There's good-for-you veggies (like nonfiction books) and comforting potatoes (your favorite go-to author you can count on like Stephen King or Elizabeth Berg) and the exotic appetizer (brand new lit or a novel in verse).

When you're younger, you need a glass of milk (Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary) but when you're older you're entitled to a soda (Stephenie Meyer) or a glass of wine (Doris Lessing). And for dessert, well, there's everything from a fruit-and-cheese platter (Joyce Carol Oates) to a slice of sugary cake (Meg Cabot).

And don't forget snacks!

The thing is that you and I don't have to agree on what's "great" literature, the stuff that'll last centuries and be taught in colleges. (Did you know that the films of Keanu Reeves are taught at a school in California? So, yeah, don't talk to me about what is or is not appropriate for our education system.) No one of us supports censorship -to ban a book is an abhorrent and cowardly act - and yet, many of us are disdainful of what others read - or write.

I may not write what everyone wants to read - or what everyone should read. I only want the chance for readers to discover my work.