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"The new needs friends."

Two things in my e-mail today reminded me of this famous little soliloquy from Ratatouille. One was a request for an endorsement (blurb) on a first novel, which I was happy to provide because the book was terrific (Miss You Most of All by Elizabeth Bass). The other was a link to an anonymous review of one of my books.  A nasty little thing it was, too. (The down side of Google Alerts.) It was for a book that has sold well, a book readers loved, so I didn’t take it too hard.  

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.

Congrats to Amy who won the last drawing, thanks to I am throwing in a Seattle Chocolates Truffle bar because she loves chocolate. Next question! Have you ever read a book the critics despised but you loved? Or have you ever discovered a book because a critic praised it?  Post your replies in Comments, and you’ll be entered in the next drawing, for a copy of Just Breathe and a mini-radio I picked up during a plant run to the garden shop, so you can listen to Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me while you do the weeding.

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  1. I am reading “Husband For Hire” right now. This was written back in 1999. What a lovely book to cheer me up during my recovery from hip surgery.
    Quitting smoking for this surgery was another thing I acccomplished. Reading Susan Wiggs’ book “Just Breathe” during that process was so helpful. One thing folks do not do is take a yoga breath to relax. Everytime I saw the words, “Just Breathe”, in this book; I took a deep breath which helped me relax.
    Thank you for your help. Barbara

  2. I read Twilight last year after reading several reviews that panned the book, author, writing, etc etc. I figured if it was such a cult hit – and quickly becoming a popular hit – I wanted to see for myself. I’m not the target audience, for sure. I actually enjoyed the book. Sure, it’s a fairy tale and will tell young girls it’s ok to have unrealistic expectations in a boyfriend (ok, stalker). But it’s a fairy tale. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty come to mind. Maybe it’s not a fairy tale to readers who love vampire books (which I don’t read, as a rule). My 20-something daughters read it and we discussed 🙂

  3. While my own work is set in the Regency era, I’m a huge contemporary fan and love Suzanne Brockmann’s work. When her last book released, I read a number of reviewers who did not like the direction her story took, yet I thought it was my favorite of all her books.
    If I’ve learned anything from this business, it is that not everyone is going to love everything. Yet, different tastes are what keeps the book industry filled with diverse publications:)

  4. Since I won a drawing already (I still can’t believe it!) I’m not writing this to enter. I’m writing this because it’s an issue that’s been close to my heart for years.
    I’ve always read genre fiction. Always. Mystery. Thriller. Sci-fi. I’m actually late to the Romance genre, having had a few snobby preconceptions about it. (My boyfriend’s mother, who was particularly mean to me, read romance all the time. I associated it with her and stayed away for years. Cutting off my nose to spite my face, I suppose.)
    I studied literature in college and therefore knew all the books you were Supposed To Read, the books you were to Let Everyone Else Know You Read and above all, The Books That Are Worthy Of Publication. It was frustrating because none of what I really liked to read generally made the cut. It struck me as weird because much of what is taught in Victorian literature classes was the Genre fiction of its day. If Dickens were writing today he’d probably be called Stephen King.
    It’s kind of ironic you bring this up now because my whole life changed when I studied literature in London for a semester. The man who was my professor there told me two things, one not germaine to this discussion. The other was that I should first and foremost love reading and READ WHAT NOURISHES ME. That advice changed my life in too many ways to go into here, but it’s probably some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. He died a couple of days ago and has been particularly alive in my thoughts.
    So I read a lot and love a lot that the critics don’t like. Which is fine and dandy by me. A lot of what the critics like I loathe. (Anna Karenina, Sophie’s Choice). I feel the books I read and don’t like the ones which oppress my spirit. Neal Stephenson and Stephen King have been carrying the standard for pro-genre fiction for years now. Most of what I feel on the subject has been said handily by those two excellent men repeatedly. I don’t want to link it here, but I encourage anyone to google those topics if they want a refreshing read about how the books we are shamed about reading by the critics are actually more often the books with living merit.
    Not to suck up–really, I hate looking like a suckup–but no critically approved book (save Pillars of the Earth) has ever pulled me out of a funk or gotten me through a hard day or been something I looked forward to reading when my work was done. Every Susan Wiggs book I have ever picked up has been that for me. Which is why I like them.

  5. I don’t suppose it’s any different with books than with movies. Sometimes you’ll agree and sometimes you won’t. Our local paper’s former movie critic was kind of a ‘reverse barometer’ for us. If he hated it, we’d probably like it.
    I rarely read book reviews. I prefer looking at blurbs and excerpts to see if the writing resonates with me, or the story might be something I’d like. I didn’t like Harry Potter. Haven’t given a thought to Twilight.
    At one of the writing conferences I attend every year, it seems there’s a mention of ‘lousy book making a fortune selling a kazillion copies’ comment in numerous workshops given by many different writers.

  6. Good evening!
    What makes someone an expert on anything, especially when it comes to books and movies.
    To me a book is one where I can get lost in the characters and often find myself not wanting to put the book down until I’m done. We talk about people getting into the zone, that’s what happens to me with Susan’s books.
    The words draw me in, and I find myself holding my breathe when her characters find themselves in trouble. I love how Susan helps them find their way out of the conflicts that beset them.
    So often, her characters’ issues over-shadow my own that I’m able to escape the reality of life around me. Unfortunately, I have a tendancy to read Susan’s books fast, lol.
    All I can say is this, don’t let anyone steal your dream Susan. You are a special person, a gifted writer who brings joy, tears and a sense of connectivity between your stories and your readers.
    Susan, your readers will never let you down. We know the real thing and you are real.
    I know that you are just like the rest of us, a human being, but your writing is on another level.
    If you were to stop writing today, I would be sad but I would also treasure all of your books for the rest of my life.
    No, I’m not trying to suck up, I really mean what I say because from the time I was a child I’ve always read to learn more about the world that I knew I would never be part of.
    Thanks for letting me spout, lol

  7. I’m glad to hear that the Ghost….. movie is better than the reviews. I can’t say that any review ever made me read a book. Usually I hear about one from a friend or just find it while browsing. Such as right now I’m reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society recommended by a close friend and her daughter. It’s written as letters.
    And….I have some favorite authors that have me wanting to read everything they’ve written, guess who one of them is! I can get so absorbed in the characters in your books, Susan, and usually write something down in my Quote Journal. I think the first book of yours I read was Table for Five and it was the cover art that drew my eye.
    The Shack has been so highly recommended and I hope to finish it someday, but the little girl is about my granddaughter’s age and I just can’t get past feeling so fearful about something happening to her.
    I, too, am excited to have been a winner.

  8. Some of my favorite quotes about critics ~ the last one is especially for you, Susan:
    Destouches, 1732: Criticism is easy, art is difficult.
    A critic is one who would have you write it, sign it, paint it, play it, or carve it as he would ~ if he could. (unknown)
    Lionel B. Fletcher: It is easy to shoot a skylark, but it is not so easy to produce its song.
    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    Valley of Fear, 1914: Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.
    James Hillman
    A Soul’s Code: Maybe it takes genius to see genius.

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