Friday, May 28, 2010

28. A Two-Minute Novel in Questions

Have you guessed? That there was a review? That, having learned over the years not to mind bad reviews, because my books are not perfect, and some people will notice that, and everybody’s different, and you-can’t-please-them-all, and some will misunderstand, some have different tastes — and fools all of them! but who cares? — having learned, in fact, not to read reviews at all — that still, one slipped through, slipped underneath my skin, and ended up standing on my shoulder!, where it stands now (I think), and leans in when I write, with its weight and its claws?

What if this review — a lengthy review! in a literary journal! by a woman! — what if this review said, amongst other unkind things, that Amelia was sexist! that it privileged the male and silenced women?! What if it assumed a jeering, sneering tone, and gave away the ending, all of the endings!, before concluding that, unfortunately, young people might read this book?

What if I read this review and laughed — paused, afraid a moment, considered it, dismissed it — and laughed again — but what if it kept finding its way back? Breaking down the fences? What if, even though it is a profound misreading, a misapplication of the theory, and can be countered at every turn — what if, despite this, the poison found its way into my head – like you’re stupid, or you’re plain – which is the way sometimes with untruths?

And what if it collected other voices — all the sneering voices of the past, especially my own (that voice from adolescence) — and what if it tangled these voices together, tightly, like a web, so that I could not write a word ?!

Are my metaphors getting themselves tangled here?

Well, but am I not tangled in confusion?!

Because shouldn’t I laugh (again), and flick it away? Talk about an issue that matters? How can so many generous reviews and comments — many that understand exactly what I set out to do with that book — so many beautiful readers! how can they all be erased by a single page of unkind words?!

Why am I doing this at all?! Did I not advise my defamation clients that: one hundred people might have seen this now, but if you sue then a thousand more will see it? What if nobody has even seen that review? What if this post is like a two-headed dragon laying hundreds of tiny dragon eggs?!

Is it revolution or foolishness to write this? Shouldn't you close the curtains on that spotlight? Aren't you supposed to hold it close - closer - never give your sadness away?
But is it cowardly to be silent?

Did I tell you that I googled this: ‘are bullfrogs —’ but google interrupted, thinking that I wondered whether bullfrogs might be:

poisonous
endangered
cold-blooded
edible
- or good pets?

That actually, what I wanted to know was whether they were bullies? And turns out they are — in the following way: that they sometimes eat the children of other, smaller frogs? And doesn’t that put things in perspective?

By which I mean to say, am I stretching the concept of a bully here?

Isn’t there a sliding scale, a continuum? From gentle mockery to critique to bad manners to cruelty — and wherever it falls, what do you do? Do you absorb it, turn away, or swing back? Stand tall, leave the school, roar, tell the teachers, say No!? And what do you do if it keeps coming? What if there is smirking and ‘the truth hurts, doesn’t it?’ even though it's actually not true?!

And if I met that reviewer, would I laugh, raise my eyebrows, be charming, indifferent, poisonous, cold, or would I laugh? Would I point out the errors, would my voice rise up in anger if I did? Should I strike back using words as weapons, or as tools, or paper cuts — or just as paper tigers?

Isn’t it a waste of time to write this? Did you know that Isaac Newton couldn’t cope with criticism? That he tried to ignore it, but couldn’t bear the foolishness, and often wasted several days responding in acerbic tones? That he sometimes announced he was giving up science since the critics drove him mad?! Did you know that he invented Calculus? Did you know that someone else said that they’d invented it? That an impartial Report detailed this dispute, and found, conclusively, that Isaac was the one — that this report was followed quickly by an anonymous review, praising the impartial Report?
That the impartial Report and the anonymous Review were both written by Isaac himself?

(Do you realise I am not here in any way suggesting that I am comparable to Newton?)

Also, there is this, that perhaps the bird isn’t really there? Have I mentioned that I once saw an ear specialist, who tested my ears and said that, no, I was not slightly deaf — that what I had was an illusion of deafness?

But what if I feel as bruised as an apple that has fallen from a shopping bag?!

What if the bird leans in and tells me that whatever I write, it will be judged, misjudged, misread, and misunderstood?

What if I find myself (absurdly) compelled to defend my own feminism?! To refer to the fact that I grew up yearning for stronger girls in books, that I studied women’s literature, and gender and the law, that I’ve read all the theory, that my novels have strong, complex girls in the lead roles?!

That when I was in fourth grade, we were told to write letters to the Australian armed forces, requesting information on careers (strange!), that my letter said I’d like to be a pilot, that the reply said, ‘Actually, there are no lady pilots, but here’s some information on nursing,’ while all around the fourth grade boys opened envelopes filled with aeroplanes?

That an aunt once laughed at me and said: ‘There will never be women commentators on the radio; their voices are not pleasant to the ear’?

What if, when I was twelve years old, a teacher, talking about public speaking, mentioned, in an off-hand way, that she did not like the sound of my voice, and that it could be a disadvantage for me in public speaking? So that, for the next year or so, I tried to speak as little as I could, if at all?

Why do women silence other women?

And will this be enough to let it go? The bird, or the poison, or the tangle of voices? Whatever we decide to call it?

(Well, isn’t it a fact that they’re almost gone now anyway — that this blogging has just about worked? And am I not at this moment thinking, 'don't do it! don't publish this!' while another voice says archly, 'yes, you will!"?)

This has taken me longer than two minutes, hasn’t it, and it’s tricky, isn’t it, to write in questions?

Unfortunately, young people might read this book. What a thing to say.

25 Comments:

Blogger Katherine said...

(This is my first comment on your blog so am somewhat trepidatious about leaving it, especially as no one else has commented on this post yet, and it is going to be gushingly fannish. Nonetheless...)

I at least have always found your books profoundly feminist. I've read few other authors who could make a Bindy, an Emily, a Cassie and even (sort of) an Astrid all feel complex and sympathetic and real. Unlike many other authors, you don't write good girls and bad girls (or you show the good inside the bad girl and vice versa) and you continually subvert my expectations about whose voice I am meant to be reading as reliable, as trustworthy. Your characters articulate things I've always thought but didn't know how to say, and things I've never consciously thought but that make me jolt with surprised recognition. The world you create in your books is like a capacious yet cosy blanket that I curl myself inside whenever I am in need of cheering up.

I know that my good 'review' probably doesn't make you feel any better - I think that, as you say, for most people negative comments are burr-like and tenacious while positive ones melt away almost instantaneously - but I got quite cross myself upon reading what that reviewer said, because it seems to miss the point of your writing and characters so spectacularly!

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are my favourite writer and your characters are my favourite fictional characters. I have read and reread every single one of the Ashbury series and each time i find something that i didn't notice before that makes me love it even more! I wish I knew people like Lydia, Cassie, Emily, Liz and Bindy.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never felt compelled to comment on a blog before - but that has just changed...
Firstly: your blogs throughout May have been so generous, warm and funny. THANKYOU
2: After considering this all afternoon (I am in the UK), I can only think that the reviewer read a different book by mistake (Maybe Dreaming of Camelias - about a misogynistic gardener or something like that?) Otherwise - How can she not have fallen in love with it? Did she not laugh and choke on her tea? And wonder? (Even when she was really supposed to be doing other things...).That's what I think.

3:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am thirty years old, professionally trained in literary criticism and currently working in publishing.

I love your books.

Besides buying your latest one for myself, I now pledge to buy an extra one and go out and find a Young Person to give it to.

Take that, reviewer.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Samantha said...

I was 16 (I think) when I first read Feeling Sorry for Celia, so I was a young person, fortunate to read your book.

Now I'm 24 so I don't think I count as a young person anymore. In life, I think I do, but in audience? No.

But I still love your books. I love them. I love love love them. And I love your blog. I annoy my boyfriend by making him stop what he's doing to listen to what Charlie said yesterday. (He likes your blog too, though).

There's lots of ways you can decide to cope with the review. You mentioned many of them. One thing you didn't say, though. The reviewer is WRONG. That's the main thing. It doesn't matter how you react to them, and nothing they say matters, because they're just wrong.

You can smile indulgently at them and give them a metaphoric pat on the head. It must be difficult for them, being so wrong. And their job is to review books! How on earth did they actually get a job, being that wrong about books they've read? Unfortunately, some places seem to actually employ idiot reviewers.

Fortunately, you have brilliant books and lovely fans and about a million talented sisters and Charlie.

6:26 AM  
Blogger Cat said...

Your reviewer has ignored Lydia and Emily's voices and chosen to analyse Amelia, which is fine, but in creating an overall analysis of the book, she clearly ignores the dominant presence of two strong females, and has decided if one girl doesn't speak, it's sexist. If Riley didn't speak, would be sexist towards boys? She's taking an important element of Amelia's characterisation, and turning it into something else entirely. Sometimes silence is just silence.

Women silence other women because not all people are as nice as you. They do it because they're manipulative, judgemental, insecure, ambitious, ignorant, harsh, lying or being brutally honest.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Tammy said...

Jaci!

First off, thank you for saying my nieces are beautiful. I think so too :)

I thought of you last night when I was re-reading one of my favourite childhood books - I don't know if you would have been a fan of Anne of Green Gables or Emily of New Moon, but there was an entire section on critics:

** "I had hoped to learn something from the reviews, but they are all too contradictory," said Emily. "What one reviewer pronounces the book's greatest merit another condemns as its worst fault. Listen to these--'Miss Starr never succeeds in making her characters convincing' and 'One fancies that some of the author's characters must have been copied from real life. They are so absolutely true to nature that they could hardly be the work of imagination.'"

"I told you people would recognize old Douglas Courcy," interjected Aunt Elizabeth.

"'A very tiresome book'--'a very delightful book'--'very undistinguished fiction' and 'on every page the work of the finished artist is apparent'--'a book of cheap and weak romanticism' and 'a classic quality in the book'--'a unique story of a rare order of literary workmanship' and 'a silly, worthless, colourless and desultory story'--'an ephemeral sort of affair' and a book destined to live.' What is one to believe?" ** end excerpt **

It went on like that for a while - maybe you should read it.

I think critics will always have their opinions and some will love you and some will dislike your work and be inexplicably vicious about it. As an author and artist with human insecurities it is very easy to believe the mean ones - but don't do it!! You are beautiful, your books are beautiful and they make many people laugh and cry. Isn't that what you want? Don't believe the vultures - they think they are being clever but really they are just ripping other people's work to pieces in the hopes of being what you already are.

Maybe reviewers are struggling to put food on the table too and they think being awful is the only way?

Anyway, I hope you have made it to the end of this comment, and all our comments, and I hope we will be loud enough to drown out the yucky voices in your head. I am with Anonymous - I will go out and buy more of your books and give them to young people.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Amy Nutmeg said...

Sexist? Maybe they read the wrong book.

That thing about your voice sounds like something from Bindy Mackenzie! In your words, what a thing to say!!

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Rose said...

There's not much to say- all the other commenters have done it for me.
"The bullfrog preys on any animal it can overpower and stuff down its throat."
Don't worry about this post and don't let that bullfrog overpower you.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Tammy said...

Me again!

I have just remembered that I used to tutor high school English, and I gave your books to my girls, and we read them together and they laughed out loud and went home and finished them so we couldn't read them together any more. And my sister-in-law is an English teacher and she taught 'Finding Cassie Crazy' one year. So... fortunately, many young people read your books.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I finished reading 'Amelia' yesterday, and rushed straight to my computer to find your website and from there, your blog.

I'm still casting my mind back and trying to figure out where any reviewer could possibly find anything anti-feminist in your book, and confess that I am quite baffled. I think the commenter above me was right - maybe the reviewer was reading a different book??

I'm 23 now, so I grew up with your Ashbury girls. It's sad that this reviewer doesn't think young people should be reading 'Amelia'. How fortunate that most young people are too intelligent to have their minds swayed by reviews (especially negative ones). It would be a shame if other young people missed out on the pleasure I had reading your books.

The reviewer, incidentally, is obviously not a young person themselves. (They seem to sound rather disdainful when they talk about what 'young people' will read). I find it very irritating when people take it upon themselves to tell my generation (and the one below me, I suppose) what they should and should not be reading. Hmph. What would they know?

Anyway, as this is my first comment, I have to say that I've been reading through your blog since yesterday and have been filled with glee, because I can hear all of your girls (especially Emily, my current favourite) in your blogging voice. It's like I can read you and then I don't quite have to leave the book behind. Thank you!

11:52 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I have very little to say that you and others haven't said already - but I want to add to the chorus (because, like Katherine above, I found myself getting angry at this reviewer on your behalf!).

Your characters are decidedly REAL and that is the highest praise I can give a book. Whatever lack of feminism that reviewer saw must have been read into it by her. After all, I've taken loads of lit classes (as you surely have) and know that people can read anything into anything. Look at that recent South Park episode! It's called "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs" and though I wouldn't recommend watching it if you aren't a fan of South Park, it illustrates perfectly that people will see in a novel what they are disposed to seeing, even if it has nothing to do with what's there. (Incidentally, it's a horribly sexist episode. But that's South Park for you.)

I bet that means little in the face of such a poisonous review. But my other thought is, you should post that reviewer's name and address somewhere (discreetly, so it can't be traced back to you) and we can all bombard the person with mean letters denigrating her complete lack of reading skills. Because I agree with your first instict, that this is a laughable accusation. I mean, Twilight is sexist. That's the drivel no young women should read (or any women, or men, for that matter). On the contrary, your books are as close to experiencing being another person as it gets and that is wonderful.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Amy Nutmeg said...

I now see that Anonymous beat me to that observation!

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

I haven't read the review in question (can't find it and that's probably a good thing, anyway) but someone said the problem was Amelia not speaking throughout the book? Because she does, but even if you decide that she doesn't (presumably because she doesn't speak in the same way as the rest of them), that still seems like sexism is a strange leap.

You see, you can kind of turn it around the other way, too - if Amelia had 'spoken' throughout the book, you would have had to switch hers and Riley's characters, because the silence/different type of voice definitely seemed right for that character, and then that review would have just complained that the book was "just three girls obsessing over a mysterious guy" or something. I hope that makes sense.

I actually think it would be easier to make a case that Dreaming of Amelia is sexist against males than it is against females (and no, I'm not making that assertion myself.)

But actually, none of the above matters.

So, ignore the above, and let my comment start here:

- It was a fantastic book
- It did not privilege the male or silence women.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Jaclyn Moriarty said...

Ah, you are all just beautiful and lovely, and it is difficult to express my gratitude, and also, I am now cured and promise that the next negative review will not spend any time on my shoulder.

Katherine, you are wrong - what you said DID make me feel better; I'm so glad you decided to comment. I had written that post late at night, and was already thinking, 'why did you write that? why? why?' and was just about to go to bed, then your comment arrived and I slept beautifully.

Anonymous, thank you!, and next Anonymous, your 'Dreaming of Camelias' idea made me laugh, and next Anonymous, that's a lovely thing to say.

Samantha, you are wise, and I like how you pointed out about my million brilliant sisters and Charlie.

And Cat, Tammy, Amy, Rose, Jennifer, Stephanie and Rebecca, you are all bright, eloquent and generous, and it is of course a pleasure to read your comments.

(Also, Tammy, I love L.M. Montgomery - and my mother loves her so much that she once went on a 'dream holiday' to Prince Edward Island so she could see where Anne of Green Gables used to live.)

Thank you again. Jxx

4:53 PM  
Blogger Ellen Osborne said...

J, Everything I wanted to say about how wonderful your books are has been said. Like the girl who is called on last to conribute any ideas... and can't think of a way to put it any more cleary.

You are an amazing writer. Your characters are charming, complex and ...(another c word? colourful?).

Your fans 'heart' you, and all you've shared with us about your life in the manic month of may. Please keep posting.

xo E

5:55 PM  
Blogger Elena said...

Dreaming of Amelia isn't out here yet, so I haven't read it and can't comment on any sexism within.
I'd be surprised if there were because I've always found your books to be empowering for teenage girls. I first read Feeling Sorry for Celia probably when I was fourteen and was blown away by the depiction of a teenage girl having sex and enjoying it without becoming pregnant, a ruined woman, or being branded a slut. Although at that point I was more like Elizabeth (hoping that no one would discover my inexperience in most facets of life) I really appreciated not being talked down to.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Rachel Cohn said...

What everyone else said! Profoundly RIGHT! Also that reviewer, that's right, was WRONG. Also deluded.
So happy to see all the love for your books in these comments! Your readers and your books -- they are true treasures.
xoxo

12:41 AM  
Blogger H said...

Of all books I've read, it is your characters that read most true to teens for me - the lightness and immaturity mixed with the serious. Others get serious issues or lighthearted issues, but your balance is perfect, at least compared to the teens I know.

Also - why is it that feminism means that women must be bold, adventurous, brash, vocal? Shouldn't women have every right to be quiet, just as much as loud? Only allowing female role models to be out-going is just as limiting as making them all domestic. Surely there should be a mixture of both.

5:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the thing. I think there are so many different brands of feminism now that highly theorised critics who feel the need to show they are on top of them all miss the point of it it - the true essence of empowerment not just in spite of but BECAUSE OF your femaleness.
I too grew up with your Ashbury girls. I loved (LOVED!) Celia but when I read Cassie my view of the world and myself actually shifted. This is because (I am slightly embarrassed to say) I secretly identified very strongly with Emily. Her melodrama, sensitivity, enthusiasm, irrationality and inability to limit her wordlength or keep her mouth shut.
Until reading that book I think that I was of the view that these were all kind of negatives to have in a personality and went around trying to curb them. And now I know a bit more about it all, I think this was because the message I had received from the male-dominated world was that if you have to be a girl, be a nice but sexy girl along the lines of Christina or perhaps Liz and Cassie or even Lydia. Just don't be completely mad and irrational and melodramatic and don't talk too much because boys get confused and it gives them a headache.
Your Emily (even with her madness in Amelia) has empowered me to be the woman that I now am without curbing all that is in me.
And that's what feminism is all about.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Jaclyn Moriarty said...

This is a very belated thank you to Ellen, Elena and my lovely friend Rachel - and now also to H and Anonymous - for your wonderful, generous, thoughtful and eloquent comments - thank you so much. H, I loved your point about quiet women, and Anonymous, what you said about Emily and her significance to you just made my heart sing. (Also, somehow I myself am both very, very quiet, and madly melodramatic and excessive, so your comments also meant something to me on a personal level.) Jxx

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Aimee said...

Jaclyn Moriarty!

Well, firstly let me say that my admiration for you is such that I cannot believe I’m writing something that you may actually read! So, ahem. Let me get a hold of my squealing excitement.

I love your books. I know many a fan has said this, but I would like to keep filling up the love tank (even if it is long past the month of May). I love your books! I finished ‘Dreaming of Amelia’ a few days ago and now I have those slightly depressed feelings that come when I finish a good – nay, an amazing! – book. (Thank you Bindy). So tell those bullfrogs to ‘go to buggery’ and please keep writing because, as you can see, we love you.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Person said...

Well! I am a young person (12 years old!), but I must say that The Ghosts of Ashbury High is your best book(In my (humble) opinion)! Oh! I once tried writing a novel with sentences all ending in exclamation marks! It is quite fun!

Farewell,

Person

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Clara said...

Hi!
I just have to say this: This post sounded like Bindy Mackenzie. I don't kow why I thought of that, but it so much reminded me of her philosophical musings:)

2:59 AM  
Blogger Jaclyn Moriarty said...

Clara, that's funny - I sometimes wonder if I get so cranky when people don't like poor Bindy because i am a little bit/a lot like her myself. So you might have caught that here. And Person who is 12-years-old - I think you wrote this comment so long ago that you are probably 37 by now - but that's still young! And I LOVE the idea of a novel written in exclamation marks! You are young and smart! And AIMEE, you are gorgeous and lovely and again I am very sorry that your comment has been here for so long without me remembering to reply. Thank you so much for it. Jx

9:45 AM  

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