I am currently reading Ted Dekker's latest book which was co-written with Erin Healy, Kiss. For those of you unfamiliar with Ted Dekker, he is one of Christian fictions best-selling authors, well known for writing page turners usually with a hint of the supernatural. I usually enjoy Dekker's books. The Circle Trilogy books are probably my favorite, but I have enjoyed all that I've read. I am really liking this one as well, and true to form, I find myself trying to sneak in a few pages here and there. Critics may say what they want, but Dekker is a master when it comes to pacing. Soon, he will be releasing a novel for the general market. If you have an aversion to Christian fiction, I recommend checking that book out. If you only read Christian fiction, I still think you should check it out. :)
One thing that is cool about Dekker is that he has a huge fan base and has worked to connect with his fans online. In fact, there is even going to be a convention of his fans, called The Gathering, and those who attend will get the chance to meet him and get a free book I think. It always warms my heart to know that authors can have that kind of fanbase.
Last week's Sunday Salon post was very interesting and I really enjoyed all of the discussion. As an offshoot, I have three very special guest bloggers this week who will each discuss their passion for how they get their books. They are all better writers than me, and wonderful people and bloggers and I hope that their posts will help to generate more discussion and provide more food for thought.
You may have noticed that I like to use the Sunday Salon as a place to discuss whatever is on my mind in the book blogging world or the literary world in general. And this week is no exception.
Two different blog posts raised this question in my mind....how do you decide the value of a book?*
Certainly there are critics that tell us what a book is worth in terms of literary merit. And then there are reviewers that tell us what a book is worth in terms of entertainment value. And then there are friends and family members that will tell us what a book is worth in terms of how it changed their life.
Usually the books the critics like are said to have enduring value. They get added to reading lists and kept in print and passed down through generations. Are they more valuable?
The first post that made me think about this was a comment on a blog post where the blogger freely admitted to judging people's literary taste, likening it to poor fashion taste. I have to admit that the part about judging literary taste turned me off. Don't get me wrong. I judge literary taste as well. For example, if you review nothing but paranormal romances on your blog, I am going to judge that you really like paranormal romances. :) But I will not judge you based on that. Nor will I even say my taste is better....just that we have different taste.
The thing about books...well they are stories. And while there are indeed standards of the craft that can be measured, there is no way to measure the unique chemistry that exists between the life of a reader coming into contact with a story. A book that has the right combination of words and story devices, shared experiences, and unique perspectives can slip underneath the defenses of a reader and give them what we long for most when we read...connection. Yet the next person to read it may find it utterly meaningless. This point was really driven home when I read a review of a book I loved from last year, and the reviewer wrote that there was nothing deep about the book. Yet that same book offered me one of the most profound insights I had through the year. So either that means I'm shallow (which I guess I could be. ;) Or that the timing of the book was right for me...it met me where I was in my life, while this other reviewer had no need of it.
Taking this all just a little bit further, I think books can offer more than what they give an individual. They can offer community. I like to say books are conversations. We read and then we discuss. We let what we read become part of us. So for those who would like to bash Harry Potter and Twilight, let me say this. Harry Potter was extraordinarily valuable in a way that can't be measured by critics. We live in a world where there are SO MANY choices for entertainment. There are 300+ television channels, millions of blogs, several different game consoles, hundreds of movies a year, and several genres just within reading itself! While this is wonderful in some ways, it has isolated us in others. It is rare to be able to share the same entertainment choices with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. So what was so fantastic about Harry Potter was the way it united us...a whole world, really, reading these wonderful heartfelt books where good battled evil and won, but not without casualty. Was the writing the best? Maybe not. But how exciting to have both reluctant reading children and adults excited about the next Harry Potter. It's something I miss now that the books are at their conclusion..we who love books got to see books unite us for a time. We joined to together in anticipation, theorizing, and discussion. Books like Harry Potter create community around themselves and transform the typically solitary activity of reading into a shared experience. And that is valuable.
So..are there standards of the craft that can be measured? Yes. Do they determine a book's universal value? I think no. A book's value is determined by the one reading it.
*by book here, I mean novel. This is about fiction. Non-fiction is a whole different matter.