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Chemistry: September 18, 2008

September 18, 2008

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the relationship between reader and text. I’ve long thought that books and readers need chemistry (almost in the romantic sense) to connect. There has to be something in the book that satisfies a need the reader has, and if the need isn’t satisfied, the book doesn’t work for that reader.

I’m starting to read reviews with an awareness of that. A reviewer might give book A a glowing review, complete with five stars or hearts or a high letter grade, and then give book B a meh review, two or three stars/hearts, a low to middle letter grade. Does that mean, objectively, that book A is a better book that book B?

No. It just means book A met that particular reviewer’s needs more completely than book B. If my needs as a reader are a lot like the reviewer’s, then I’m likely to respond pretty much the way the reviewer did. On the other hand, if my needs are different, my responses are going to be different — the degree of difference will depend on how much overlap there is between us.

A good example of this is my response to Tribute, versus the response of one of The Romance Reader’s reviewers. Tribute didn’t really work for the reviewer — she gave it three hearts, which means for her the book was an average read.

The sense I got from reading the review is that the book wasn’t suspenseful enough for a romantic suspense novel. From that, it’s easy to imagine that she opened the book with certain expectations and needs, and the book didn’t meet them. (Well, of course she opened the book with expectations and needs — that’s a given for anyone opening a book.) I don’t know what my expectations were, but whatever they were, the book met them, so my experience of the book is different than the reviewer’s.

So which one of is right? Both of us. My experience is real and true; so is hers. That book was a mediocre read for her. My response doesn’t change that, any more than her response doesn’t change mine.

I still haven’t worked this through, completely. But it continues to interest me, and as I keep thinking about it, I’ll keep writing about it.

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