Category Archives: On Books

Why I don’t trust reviews.

Standard

Not the very good ones and the very bad ones, anyway.

 

I read two books in the past month that were somewhat of a surprise to me. One was Hard Contact, a Star Wars EU novel by Karen Traviss. People kept complaining about a) the language being too military and impossible to understand, and b) not “getting” the plot, as in, they literally didn’t understand the plot. In a pretty straight-forward action novel. It’s depressing to read a review that says “Those guys are clones of the guy who captured Han Solo for Jabba!”. Just… no. You can critique away and rip the book apart for good reasons, I don’t care, but please get your facts right. And maybe pay attention to the story you’re reading. As you’re supposed to do when reading a book. That’ll help.

For an EU novel, Hard Contact is actually really good. Not the best stuff out there, but a decent read (if you don’t mind 35% ads in the Kindle edition. For the love of god, why?!). Anyways, that was the nice surprise.

 

The not-so-nice one was Evensong by Krista Walsh. I heard nothing but praise about it, but boy, was that book a letdown. Maybe precisely because of all the praise and my subsequently high expectations, I don’t know. But even so,  the book just didn’t live up to any kind of expectations. Unlikeable characters, a plot full of holes and a world that didn’t make sense. Yet it didn’t have even one review below four stars on any Amazon incarnation. I don’t understand. Nothing that irked me so, SO much while I read it was even mentioned in the reviews. Sure, it’s always a matter of personal preference, but I thought at least someone would notice blatant mistakes in the in-universe logic? Like the whole point of getting The Author into his book (to change the story) literally falling apart when people start realising he might not be that omnipotent after all? But then stick to the plan anyway, and then he suddenly is The Creator and God of All? When everything pointed to “nope, he’s not, he’s just a mediocre scribbler who doesn’t even know how big the country is he himself supposedly created“. I fail to see how this makes sense, in-universe or outside.

This is why I usually don’t trust praise. But I guess the whole “author gets sucked into his world” thing sort of lured me in. I wish it hadn’t. Meh.

 

That’s also why I rarely do very good or very bad reviews of my own. It doesn’t help anyone, and it gives a skewed picture of the product in question. Five stars are for the stuff that makes the “all-time favourite” list; and that’s not much. One star is for the things that not only are bad (or mediocre at best), but also have a generally unappealing package (like the fucked-up chronology of the Clone Wars episodes on the blurays, or the 35% ads and excerpts in Hard Contact’s Kindle version). Those two sets of criteria seldom apply (usually there’s at least something saving the thing in question), so I usually don’t consult the praise and the hate, either. If that’s possible. It’s when it’s not that I get most often disappointed.

 

 

-Ricarda

That moment when…

Standard

…you realise that, for a solid two months, you

a) listened to the same five songs, and only in the shower,

b) read nothing but fanfiction and

c) watched four (!) films in total.

 

I used to listen to music all the time, read about three books a week and tried to find new cool films every other day. Now? I write for about six to eight hours and then watch a few episodes of a show I already know, read a chapter or two of fanfiction in whatever fandom currently holds my interest – when I’m not playing Guild Wars 2 – and then I fall asleep while vowing to start reading an actual book and watch a film I’ve never seen before “tomorrow”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love fanfiction and TV shows, but as a huge film nut and avid reader, it’s just so very unsatisfying sometimes. Fanfiction is based on the notion that you already know the universe, the characters and places; reading a new book, I get to explore a place for the very first time. I can get to know the people, learn about their culture and find little secrets all over the place. And don’t get me started how angry at myself I am because I STILL get upset when someone dies in Supernatural. Irrational reactions aside, by now I KNOW who will come back and who stays dead, I shouldn’t get emotional anymore. Screaming at my TV when I saw them die for the first time should be enough.

The best part? I only realised this when I complained about my mum that I didn’t buy an actual, physical copy of a book for myself in almost six months, which prompted her to walk into a bookstore and bring home a list of books recommended by the clerk. And I basically went “holy shit, when did I stop reading?!”.

And I need this. I need to stop thinking about my stories every now and then. But both TV shows and their short episodes and fanfiction with short chapters don’t give me that chance (unless I marathon Doctor Who, which is great on its own, but not exactly healthy). So, my New Year’s resolution is to buy and/or read a book every month that I didn’t read before, and watch at least one film every week (and not the way I watch them while surfing the web, no sir!). Because every writer needs to completely forget about their own stuff every once in a while, lest they go crazy.

Also, I find gory horror flicks to be really relaxing. And that’s good, too, I guess. And not at all a sign that I may have a problem…

 

-Ricarda

Dear Amazon critics:

Standard

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against you. You helped me a lot over the past years, and many books I bought on ‘recommendation’ from the comments were really good, some great even.

There is just one little thing that bothers me.

If you don’t like an author’s style or choice of words or even grammar and spelling and feel the need to point that out, fine, go ahead, it’s always good to know what’s hiding behind the cover. But, for the love of all that’s written, pleasepleaseplease check if it’s a translation you read or the original. Because you see, I can handle fair criticism, even if you’re nitpicking on my spelling or grammar, but what really ticks me off is people whining about bad choice of words, unruly commas and weirdly structured sentences who did not even read the original text and blame it solely on the author.

Granted, the really weird style is often coming from the author – but that’s mostly an issue in lit fic. In common light fiction (fantasy, romance, sci-fi, comedies, you name it, I have it), such ‘mistakes’ often happen during translation. Most of the time, such books are translated by people who get paid way too little for their work. I took part in a workshop on literature translation, and I know how hard it is to do it right. But if you get paid a couple hundred bucks for fifty pages of prose, you don’t go over every sentence three or four times. You translate, you proofread, you hand it in – next job, please, I’ve got a family to feed. That way, the style is not the best, there are mistakes that could be avoided by careful spell checking, and if you think twice you can find a better way to say something most of the time. Which you don’t, for the aforementioned reasons.

So, again, dear critics: Please don’t blame it all on the author. As I said, most of us can handle criticism (*coughs* JohnAsht *coughs*), as long as it’s fair and politely worded. But I think I’m not alone here when I say that authors don’t want to be blamed for whatever sloppy work a translator did. Just… recognise the work they put into a translation, even if they did it in a hurry to pay the next phone bill. There are even examples where a translation did the author a favour, so to speak. Two examples here to clarify. 1. Bad translation: The Lord of the Rings, as translated by Wolfgang Krege. Krege didn’t exactly do a lousy job, but something about his choice of words is… off, and his style doesn’t really fit the story. 2. Good translation: Twilight, as translated by Karsten Kredel. I read the original, and compared to the German text it’s awful. I recommend Reasoning with Vampires (see link on the right) to see just how awful it is. The German translation, however, eliminated most of these mistakes and actually improved the text; grammar, style and spelling, at least.

Again, dear critics, just keep in mind that however bad a text might seem, it might just be that not everything is the author’s fault. Don’t blame it all on us, will you?

 

Sincerely,

Ricarda

My problems with YA literature

Standard

See, I don’t exactly dislike YA books. In fact, I read them frequently – Twilight, The Hunger Games, Guardians of Time, and most recently the first part of the Delirium trilogy, to name a few (just started the last one, so no spoilers, please). Some of them are great, some are outstanding examples of badly crafted modern literature, but what they have in common is that I genuinely enjoyed reading them.

What they also have in common is their teenage protagonists. And this is where the problems start.

I’m not gonna rant about how dangerous Bella’s and Edward’s relationship model is, or how Katniss is a tiny bit too passive to be a real ‘hero’, even in terms of literature. I have issues with something else entirely: the characters themselves. Let’s make a list to keep it simple. They all

-are teenagers

-are ‘rebels’ or ‘fighters’ in some way or another

-act way too mature for their age to convince even me

Let’s face it. I’m twenty-three. Of all the books I pick up at the bookstore or put on my wish list on Amazon, ninety percent either combine all three of the above listed ‘problems’ or are written for an educated audience between about thirty and sixty. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with either. What I miss is an in-between.

Most of the time I choose the YA books, because it’s still easier for me to step into their protagonists’ shoes and identify with them. I’m not that old yet, neither physically nor mentally. And most of the time, the books are saved by a story that would work for either a teen or a twentysomething or whateverthehellyouare. So, where in the name of all the dead trees on my bookshelf are the stories with protagonists who already reached legal drinking age? Very few protagonists (especially the girls) ever reach their eighteenth birthday in the book itself, and even fewer turn twenty at some point. Actually, in Breaking Dawn, Bella is thrilled that she was turned into a vampire just before her nineteenth birthday and could be “eighteen forever”. Seriously; in the stages of human development, “young adult” is roughly defined as “people between twenty and forty”. If we are generous here, it could be from twenty to thirty as well. But when was the last time you read something with a thirty-two year old protagonist who didn’t suffocate from a truckload of issues? I mean, the teens have enough problems as it is, but many writers make it seem like it only gets worse after you turn twenty, ending with your life falling apart around the age of fifty, prompting you to either kill yourself or set off on a journey to find you new self. Yeah, right.

Which brings me to the next problem: Each and every one of these teenagers is portrayed as insanely mature and “wise beyond their years”. This is actually spelled out in Twilight, and more or less directly shown in The Hunger Games (somewhat justified, but still) and Delirium. As I said, I only just started the latter, but a few chapters in I already have the distinct feeling that Lena will be exactly that: mature enough to make life-changing decisions, intelligent enough to question everything she ever learned just because she met a boy (that would be like me turning into a devout Muslima within a month because I fell for some crazy fundamentalist; just sayin’, these huge changes in character happen in so little time it’s ridiculous). What I’m trying to say is that, in this case, Lena, the protagonist, learned that The Government Knows Best for almost eighteen years. She apparently believes in the system and is willing to follow the rules because she thinks they are there for a reason. Still, for reasons yet to be revealed, she already has doubts about this system.

Where the fuck did those come from? It’s not like she’s part of some resistance group or anything; some family member seems to be (or have been), but she has no contact with him. Basically, it’s like she was struck by inspiration that prompted her to start questioning everything around her just because. I think we are supposed to believe this is because she is actually way more mature than she initially lets on, and is politically and socially educated enough to express doubts based on genuine reasons.

I feel like I was just whacked over the head by the author.

We grow up in certain societies. We learn certain things and believe in a certain system. For me, this would be a democratic government making choices based on what the populace demands. I know there are other systems, other ways of living your life, but I am unashamed to say that I think this democratic way is one of the best, if not the best. I have no reason whatsoever to doubt this until someone proves me wrong. So why does Lena?

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this would be way more believable if she was at least five years older, better ten. When did she have the time to develop a political conscience like this? During lunch break? Hell, I just started to develop some interest in politics a few years ago, and so did quite a few of my friends. Lena’s thoughts and doubts just don’t seem justified to me.

Same goes for the ‘rebel’/’fighter’ thing I mentioned above. They fight for something, a worthy cause – fine by me. They are seventeen and risk their lives for something they just learned about a few months ago – screw you, author! That’s just not believable. How many people actually do that, or would, hypothetically? If I am supposed to fight for something, risking my health, my life or those of people I love in the process, I need to genuinely believe in the cause. But how does spending a couple of weeks with a handsome guy or in a hidden rebel base make me believe in something I’ve never even heard of before?

Right. It probably doesn’t. So please, for your sanity and your readers’, give me a reason to believe this rebel-with-a-cause crap. Show me how the hero’s life was negatively affected by the system. Show me how the heroine’s dream was brutally crushed by arbitrary actions of the government. Show me something that might cause the protagonist to join the rebellion. I believed Katniss could become a rebel because of her experiences in District 12 and the arena. I did not believe Bella fighting for the love and the life of a dude she met mere months before; seriously, look it up, it’s just a few weeks between Edward’s Sparkling Confession of Love in Twilight and the point when Bella freely admits that her life is worth nothing without Edward (paraphrased, but that’s the gist of it).

These are just a few examples of something that occurs quite frequently. Thus my question to the authors: If you want a mature protagonist who acts like a grown-up – why the fuck don’t you write one? I’m pretty sure that teenagers won’t mind if the hero or heroine is a couple years older than they are. Many older readers don’t mind if they are younger. “Young adult” doesn’t mean everyone has to be young while acting like an adult. If you need the former, write a teen, but if you want the latter, write a fucking adult. It’s that simple. Now go on and try it. You can do it. I believe in you.

 

 

-Ricarda