This week, I was planning to recommend two novellas my friends wrote.
I was thinking this morning about writing the post, and it occurred to me that I had feelings about recommending these stories — nervous, uncomfortable feelings — and that my feelings were in reaction to a conversation that’s been woven through a number of different blogs lately about authors as reviewers, authors reviewing their friends, and the ethics of reviewing and recommending when you’re an author or a writer.
I’ve paid attention to this conversation, but I haven’t said anything about it. Today, though, I realized that I want to, if only to share with you the perspective from which I recommend books here almost every week (and the perspective from which I frequently recommend my friends’ books to you). So this week, I’m giving you this essay instead of a recommendation.
My perspective is this: I am a reader. I’m thirty-six years old, and I think if you counted up all the hours and minutes (not counting sleep), you’d find I’d spent the vast majority of my life reading. I can’t go to the bathroom without something to read. I can’t eat breakfast alone without reading. I read all the time.
I’m a reader, and I’m also an analyst. I was an English major in college. I took a bunch of grad school lit classes. The relationship between my desire to protect reading as a pure emotional experience and my training as a scholar and analyst is somewhat fraught. I don’t analyze every book I read because I often don’t want to. But I know how.
I’m a reader, and I’m an analyst, and I’m an editor. I spent a decade as a professional editor of academic books. I got paid to rip other people’s work apart and put it back together, better. This is a thing I know how to do.
I was a reader and an analyst and an editor before I became a writer. All of those roles — they still belong to me. Typing my own stories didn’t affect my ability to read them, analyze them, edit them, or enjoy them.
When I began writing, I sought out relationships that would help me become a better writer, and I also sought out friends whose writing I admired. I joined Twitter because I wanted to talk to Cara McKenna, and thank goodness, because she’s such a great person and a fabulous friend. Twitter has brought a lot of other wonderful people and books into my life. Because of Cara, I met Del Dryden. Then I met Serena Bell. Both of them are my friends — good friends — and after them, I met others, read others, admired others, became friends with others. Everyone at Wonkomance. A lot of the people whose books I recommend here. The first thing I do, often, when I read a great book, is email the author, or tweet at her. I’ve done this dozens of times. In other cases, I’ve befriended people because I fiercely admired their brains, and then it turned out that I also loved their work.
I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for the companionship, support, and pure joy I get from being friends with other writers. This is a fact. I would long since have become discouraged or bored, and when I get discouraged and bored I wander off and find other things to do.
Furthermore, I’m the kind of person who wants all my friends to be friends. Mary Ann Rivers calls me a matchmaker, and maybe I am, I don’t know. I just know that if I meet X and she’s amazing, I want her to meet Y. When I found out that Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare are great friends, my reaction was along the lines of That is the best thing that’s ever happened. I want connections. I want synergies. I want none of us to be working in isolation, discouraged and alone, when we can email or call each other on a bad day and receive the response that turns it all around. If we could all live together at a giant romance-writing collective with drop-in child care and free Wifi, I would be ecstatic.
So. To return to the point: I was a reader and an editor and an analyst and a writer before I became an Author. Writers write books, but Authors have Readers. Once you become an Author, you are, suddenly, a “brand.” You are encouraged, in order to sell books, to behave in particular ways. You are flooded with advice: do this, don’t do that, never say that, don’t talk about X, don’t forget to talk about Y, promote this thing on your Facebook, and hey, will you read this book and blurb it, maybe, for this person you’ve never met?
When you become an Author, you have to decide how you want to negotiate a hundred different sorts of situations. You have to consider how you want to behave and what kinds of ramifications your behavior will have. You have to think about your work and the reception of your work and the sales of your work, and at the same time you have to think about your feelings and your principles and your needs as a human being.
All of that. Every day.
Or else you have to opt to NOT think about it for your own sanity, which is also a thing you’ve thought about and decided.
Now, I am, as I said, thirty-six. I’m an adult and a professional. I’m educated and intelligent. I have thought about all of these things, and I have made choices. My choices aren’t secrets, but at the same time, I don’t believe I’m obligated to make them transparent to anyone. Ask me, if you want. Maybe I’ll tell you. Maybe I won’t. But it’s worth remembering that opacity isn’t the same thing as thoughtlessness.
I have made choices, and my friends who are writers have made choices, and we haven’t necessarily made the same choices. We haven’t colluded on our choices. We’re all independent women with the ability to choose and differ and still enjoy one another’s friendship.
One choice I have made is not to lie. If I say, in this space, that I liked a book, it’s because I liked it. That doesn’t mean you’ll like it. It also doesn’t mean I thought it was perfect. I don’t actually seek perfection in the art that I consume. I read for other reasons — engagement, fascination, attraction, mirroring, emotion.
Furthermore, I’m not writing reviews, I’m writing recommendations. The way I see it, a review is obligated to analyze. A recommendation is not. A recommendation is just me saying, “Hey, I liked this book. You might like it, too — let me tell you some stuff about it.”
The reason I recommend rather than review is not, in fact, because it’s more comfortable to do this when you’re an Author (although, in many cases, it is). I recommend rather than review because, very simply, I don’t like writing reviews. If I had to write a review every week, I’d never do it, and then this feature wouldn’t exist.
I do what I can, what I enjoy, in the hope that my enjoyment will foster yours.
And the thing is, that’s where I’m coming from. I’m coming from a place of good feelings, and of wanting to amplify those good feelings. I don’t believe in objectivity as a thing that exists. I spent the first two years of grad school having endless conversations about history and knowledge and theory and the subjectivity of everything, and if there was any part of me that believed in objectivity as a value, I lost it a long time ago.
What I believe in is love. I believe that if I love something, if I admire it, if it makes me feel good, I should share it. I believe in the power of supporting the people who inspire you, the causes that matter to you, and — in my guise as a writer — the fiction I think is doing the very best sort of work in the world.
So that’s what I’m doing here, on Wednesdays. Supporting what matters to me, what feeds me, what amuses me, what I think will change the world. All of it. With you guys.
Which is why, next Wednesday, I’m going to recommend two novellas my friends wrote to you.