Writing a work of fiction requires skill, persistence and determination. An author pours a part of themselves into their creation, crafting that original spark of an idea into a world and structure that the reader will find coherent and engaging. Like a child, when it is released the creator wishes it to be treated fairly and thoughtfully, recognised for the essential qualities that have been so carefully cultivated. The author wants the reader to ‘get’ their book and to appreciate, maybe even revere it.
The problem, of course, is that each reader views a story through the lens of their own lived experiences, and these may differ greatly from those lived by the writer. Readers wish to learn of other lives and cultures but also to find aspects they can relate to. What they take from a book, what resonates in the reading, may be far removed from the author’s intentions. To suggest that this reader is therefore incapable in some way smacks of the type of elitism that is holding back greater diversity amongst writers and readers.
When authors have thanked me for a review by expressing delight that I ‘got’ what was intended I have caught myself preening a little. That fleeting feeling of fellowship is warm and fuzzy, a rare treat for someone who generally feels a social outsider. Yet all that is being said is that, in reading the words, I travelled the path intended. I spotted the signposts and followed, noticing the highlights provided along the way. Other readers may be distracted by personal demons, struggling to navigate because they have been taught to interpret differently. They may still ultimately enjoy the reading experience but in a different way. This does not in itself make them a less able reader.
I have been writing in detail about events attended at this year’s Greenwich Book Festival. One author there suggested that readers are no longer equipped to deal critically with fiction. The authors and publishers were eager to promote and encourage a widening of access to writers being published, and a broadening of readership. I ponder if this fine ideal would lead to greater divergence of opinion on what is regarded as impressive literature.
I regard a book as a success if it has been enjoyed by the reader. I understand that certain books I dislike are still well written, that it is the content rubbing against my wounds that has repelled me.
Other books, that have received a rapturous reception with reviewers expressing amazement at the art created, I have found dull. At times the impressed readers appear to regard themselves as somehow superior rather than simply having different tastes.
An author owns a book only until it is released. If it reaches a wide enough audience there will be a range of interpretations. Increased diversity means accepting difference. I think this is a good thing.