So, this was a tweet I posted yesterday. (Yes, I am just self-indulgent enough to blog about my own Tweeting.)
Here’s the thing: I AM ON VACATION THIS WEEK!! People, it is amazing. Five whole days of nothing to do but clean my house, think about cleaning out my closet, write, and READ.
I am woefully behind on my reading list.
So I jumped into a new book this week. And it ended up being that book. You know, that book you pick up because everybody is talking about it and everybody says it is awesome. It has some crazy-high rating on Goodreads (like way over 4), and everyone on Amazon says it’s just the best, and your friends are all reading it and they all love it.
And then IT happened.
YOU know. IT. That moment when you realize you absolutely detest the book everyone else in the world loves so very, very much.
For the record, this actually doesn’t happen to me very much. I am incredibly forgiving when it comes to books, and I can almost always find something that I connect with in a book. I have sat through the most ridiculous, over-the-top plot lines just because I loved the characters so much. I have endured horrific writing, and sometimes horrific editing, because a plot line or a theme was so intriguing. I don’t even bother to rate books on Goodreads anymore because there’s almost no point—my ratings are almost all 4s and 5s.
But every now and then, even I manage to happen upon a book that I can find nothing redeeming in. And this was one of those books. The characters were all either absurd or so annoying that I wanted nothing to do with them. The themes were so preachy I wanted to vomit. The writing wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. And the plot? I can’t even talk about it.
I was so stunned by my own reaction to these author’s words that I actually looked the book back up on Goodreads just to make sure I hadn’t somehow imagined those ratings. Nope. Still waaay over 4. And from a LOT of other people, too. No one else even touched on any of my concerns.
Okay. So there are a lot of moments in life where we find ourselves wondering: is it them or me? As such, I was forced to ponder this question. Was I somehow missing something? Had I misjudged this author’s thematic weaving? Was there something in their characters I wasn’t understanding?
Which got me thinking about my own book reviews, and the nature of the book reviewer/reader/author relationship.
As a new author, this has been tricky water for me to navigate. I have cried my eyes out at more than one horrific review for my first book. I have actually lain awake at night, terrified of the reviews that will soon be emerging for my next book, which comes out in July. I have followed the Twitter chatter discussing whether Goodreads is a place of “bullies” who attack each other out of a need to hold power over one another and destroy the self-esteem of others. I have followed the arguing chatter that Goodreads should be a place where people can speak their mind about a book, free of being accused of the incredibly serious (and I do think bullying is a serious accusation, make no mistake) crime of bullying when they write a scathing review.
In the end, reading this book was a nice reminder for me. It was nice reminder of a very important sentiment I often seem to forget: “not every book is for every person.”
This quote is shamelessly stolen from author Amy Lane. Lane writes fantasy books for young adults, as well as romance novels for adults, and her blogs about the convoluted and confusing world of book reviewing have gotten me through more than one bad review. If you’re ever in the spot of needing to be talked down off the ceiling because someone’s just called your writing “utterly pointless,” you can find one of her blogs on the subject here.
It’s a quote I think we would all do well to remember—whether we’re writing an angry review on Goodreads, reading a book we think could hang the moon, trying to figure out why we hate the book that the entire rest of world loves, or just wondering why someone would so detest something we took the time and energy to create.
After all, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, right? Those nasty review on Goodreads usually aren’t bullying. (Though I’m sure there are outlier examples that do fall into that category, because this is the Internet, after all.) They’re just people trying to express an opinion, which is often not the same opinion everyone else has. And when we can’t figure out why everyone doesn’t share our opinion, we tend to go a little overboard convincing everyone else just how right we are. On the other hand, is there really that need to express extreme hatred for someone else’s work just because you didn’t enjoy it? What’s so wrong with stating your honest opinion, without vitriol, and moving on?
No worries if you’ve lost me, because I have an anecdote ready and waiting to illustrate this point. (Yes, I know, you thought this blog couldn’t possibly get any longer.) Not that long ago someone wrote a fairly unhappy review of my first book, Here’s to You, Zeb Pike. The review was honest. It said exactly what the reader found to be problematic with the book, who might still like it, and it moved on. When someone else commented on the review, it was clear they wanted to play on any potential negativity in the review, even though they hadn’t read the book. They said something to the extent that they hadn’t read my book yet, but they could see exactly how many things they would hate about it. (Here I would like to reiterate that they HADN’T EVEN READ THE BOOK.)
You know what the reviewer responded with? They acknowledged the responder’s concern, and then mentioned how many others had liked those aspects of the book. They didn’t engage with the negativity. They even ended their own response by noting how many people seemed to disagree with their opinion of my book.
Wow. I have never been more stunned by internet maturity. And you better believe I hope that same person will review my next book. Because even if they hate it, I can trust that they will review it with honesty AND honor for that all-important-adage: "not every book is for every person.”
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t write Goodsreads reviews, so I wasn’t forced to quell an urge here to prove that I was right and that everyone else was wrong by writing an angry and disgusted review of this book. If I had decided to write a review, though, I like to think I could have done so with honor for that adage. I like to think I would have written a review that would have steered those who think like me away from the book, thereby saving them the trouble of reading a book they probably wouldn’t like. I like to think that same review would still have made it clear that there are obviously people who find many aspects of the book to be incredibly valuable, thereby not steering the entire populace away from the book out of spite. I like to think I would written a review that does what a review is supposed to do: get the right books to the right people.
Because maybe it's them. Or maybe it’s me. Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that we’re all wired differently, and that’s what makes the human race so beautiful.
If you follow me on Twitter at all, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a football fan.
Yes, yes, it seems unlikely. After all, I’m five-two and have limited athletic ability. I also grew up in a household that is fairly disdainful of most sports, and my parents cringe a little when I try to talk to them about passing stats.
So when people ask me how I became a football fan, I find it a little hard to explain what really happened. The truth? I fell into the football world for two reasons: the competition and the camaraderie.
When I first fell in love with my husband, I did it in spite of the fact that he likes football. I spent the first year of our lives together avoiding him on Sundays and changing the channel at every commercial on Monday nights. (Drove him nuts.) Then he and his friends started a fantasy football league, and even though I didn’t have a clue what a wide receiver was (they receive…packages?), I figured, why not? They needed an extra person, and I like games. What could be the harm?
Famous last words.
Next thing I knew I was spending every Wednesday hunched over the computer peering over waiver lists and every Sunday morning screaming at the TV as though my life depended on it. I almost broke a window during our league’s second year when my team lost in the playoffs and I chucked a book across the room.
Whoops. So clearly, I’m competitive, and football (particularly fantasy football) gave me an outlet for that.
But here’s the other part of football that made me a likely lifelong fan: the camaraderie.
No one ever told me that becoming is football fan is sort of like joining a club. It’s not a secret club or anything, sure, but it is certainly a club. My students taught me this during my first year as an Official Football Fan.
See, I teach middle school. And every middle school teacher on the planet will tell you that finding a way to reach and connect with every one of your students in nearly impossible. But you do what you can. And it turns out joining Football Fan Club is just one of many things you can do.
So there I was, teaching a grammar lesson, and because I’d been very bored the week before, I’d snuck some pretty not-so-subtle fantasy football references into the day’s exercises. Steve Smith will earn a hundred yards in the game this week and make your teacher very happy I think so don’t you. You know, fix the run-on. Or something like that. I have no memory of what the exact sentence or assignment was, but I’m sure you get the idea.
And one of my kiddos, who I had remained woefully disconnected from all year, who wanted nothing to do with me and who, while not a troublemaker, certainly wasn’t living up to his full potential in my classroom, jerked his head up. “You drafted Steve Smith? What were you thinking?”
It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. And the kid passed my class.
Being mildly socially inept, I have used my membership in Football Fan Club as a way to start conversations at awkward social gatherings, bond with co-workers, and convince a whole army of middle school kids that I’m not quite as uncool as I look at first glance. Because this is a sport that breeds serious camaraderie. Members of Football Fan Club, even when they root for different teams, are often so passionate about this sport that they will instantly form some kind of bond with anyone else who wants to discuss the pass interference rules with them. As someone who hated sports for much of my life, I’ve found this instant connection to be both strange and amazing at time—but the more years I live as a football fan, the more I appreciate it.
And that’s just the level of camaraderie that builds between fans of the sport. Now let’s talk about the camaraderie that builds between fans of the same team.
I have a lot of non-football friends (I keep ‘em around anyway) who are consistently appalled by what I’ve heard referred to as the level of “fanaticism” over football teams. Yeah, that’s fair. It’s definite fanaticism. What else can you call it when 90,000 people dress in the same color and all go hang out in the same area of a city to yell and scream with one another?
But I would argue that this sort of fanaticism is, in some ways, one of the best things that can happen to a place. Let me tell you why.
I started out my football career as a Giants fan, having been a recent transplant to Colorado from the east coast. Because if you’re going to watch the hours of football I instantly started watching when I joined that fantasy league, you’ve gotta have a team. (Plus, Eli Manning is cute; I don’t care what the polls say.) I remain an avid Giants fan who has cried her way through two Superbowl wins and hates the Patriots with an appropriate level of passion. But I’ve lived in Colorado a lot of years, and because Colorado only has one football team, it’s hard not to get sucked into the fanaticism that surround the Broncos in this state. I’ve been a Broncos fan since the first time I went to a game and got to dress just like 90,000 other people and yell with them. And in years like this, when they’re WINNING, and they are about to go to the Superbowl, I think it would be impossible to live in Colorado and not get sucked into the fanaticism currently surrounding Orange and Blue.
Here’s why that fanaticism is not just a good thing—it’s an amazing thing.
We’re a pretty divided state, Colorado, in a lot of ways. In Denver the signs change from Spanish to English rapidly, depending on what part of town you’re in. Red and blue cities vie for who has more political power in state-wide elections. Socioeconomics are so variant here that school choice is everyone’s rallying cry for education reform, because the same city can have the best and worst schools in the state within mere miles of each other.
But every Sunday this year, when I’ve gone grocery shopping before football starts, I’m surrounded by people wearing orange and blue shirts with me, and talking about Manning (Peyton this time; at least I keep allegiance in families) and whether or not he’ll come back next season, and what the playoffs picture looks like. Every Friday at school you can hear students and teachers murmuring to each other about what the upcoming game is.
And now? On the cusp of Denver’s first Superbowl appearance since the days of John Elway? Well, you literally cannot avoid how united in our fanaticism we all are.
Schools on Friday showed staffs and classes decked out in nothing but orange and blue. Every electronic billboard in this state is flashing congratulations and luck towards the Denver Broncos. When hubs and I went out to get food last night, I literally stopped counting how many people were wearing jerseys. Even the buildings have gotten in on the act.
People are talking about this team in Spanish AND English, and it doesn’t matter what language you’re cheering for the Broncos in. Red and blue cities have the same billboards flashing. Teachers in every school, regardless of how many computers the students there have, wore their jerseys on Friday afternoon.
This state is, truly, United in Orange. And yes, you could also say we are united by our fanaticism. But it’s a fanaticism that’s bringing us together, rather than driving us apart—and those types of fanaticisms seems harder and harder to come by these days.
I’m hardly saying football is perfect sport. It is sexist in its mere existence, homophobic in its silence on issues affecting gay people, and racist in its undertones. It comes with its own inner fanaticisms that are extremely dividing.
But I’m still a proud football fan and a proud Broncos fan, because I’m proud to be part of a state that’s united around something which is bringing us together. Hopefully it is in this space, where we all agree on one thing, that we can begin to talk to about the things we don’t always agree on—and that we will all become better people for it.
Well, it happened. Finally.
I watched the documentary about the Bronies.
Truthfully? I blame the review website foreveryoungadult.com. Not long ago they did a review on this documentary called Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Fans of My Little Pony, which has apparently been making the rounds on Netflix. And after reading that review, I couldn’t get watching this documentary out of my mind. Because here’s the premise, people: there are a whole bunch of teenage and twenty-something men (and a handful of women) who are totally obsessed with the TV show My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic. And I do mean obsessed. This isn’t like “I watch it with my kid or brother when it’s on.” This is like “I make remixes to their songs and laser light shows and wear costumes and collect the figurines and go to conventions.” Because yes—there are Brony conventions. One of which had, like, 4000 people in attendance.
I’m going to be honest: I didn’t make it to the end of the documentary. Not because I was totally creeped out or disgusted by the Bronies, as some commentators in the film seemed to be—quite the opposite, actually. There are several Bronies in that film who are incredibly courageous and really tear at your heart strings. One guy nearly got the crap kicked out of him because of his thing for My Little Pony. Another dude with Asperger’s makes the trek into a decently-sized city and deals with all kinds of difficult interactions with people just to go to the Brony convention. Yup, I totally teared up.
No, the Bronies themselves were actually quite endearing. But the My Little Pony thing? I could not grasp this. I really tried. The Bronies kept talking about all the great lessons in the show, and how much they connected with the characters, and how the show made them feel at peace and like life is good again…and yet every time the film showed a clip from My Little Pony, all I thought was this: “ohmigwardpinkandpurpleandcheesyandwhyisTwilightSparkle’svoiceSOHIGH?”
So yeah. Poor Friend Who Didn’t Know What She Was Getting Into When She Agreed to Watch This With Me and I actually turned it off to try watching a full episode of Friendship is Magic, because it turns out those are on Netflix too. And I still could not get it. Yeah, there was some nice generic messaging about friendship and kindness and loyalty etc. But no more or less than I’ve noticed in any other kid’s cartoon.
All this got me thinking about something that fascinates me: the way humans are wired. The fact that some people just seem to be so wired to like certain things, and the way others can be so wired to be repulsed (or in my case, more indifferent) towards those things.
For years, I thought I was the craziest person in the world because I would rather read a book written for teenagers any day of the week than pick up something in the adult literature section. It wasn’t until I published my first book and was shoved into the world of internet book sub-culture that I realized plenty of other adults are also wired to love young adult lit, and the friends who mocked my books and asked me when I was going to get serious about my reading weren’t the whole of the population besides me.
For years I thought I was the only one who read romance novels under the covers and hid them under my bed. Then Fifty Shades of Grey took over the world (which I actually hated, BTW—never made it past the first book), and I realized that nope, plenty of other people were wired to like books like that.
I never did figure out why that particular book made it suddenly okay for people to really talk about the fact that they might be wired to like romance novels. I just know I’m really grateful it did.
And here’s why: if there’s one thing the Bronies documentary will probably make you think about, it’s tribes. You know, tribes like the ones Sherman Alexie talks about at the end of his amazing young adult book, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:
“I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists. And the tribe of chronic masturbators. And the tribe of teenage boys. And the tribe of small-town kids. And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners. And the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers. And the tribe of poverty. And the tribe of funeral-goers. And the tribe of beloved sons. And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends. It was a huge realization. And that's when I knew that I was going to be okay (217).”
The documentaries about the Bronies—at least the part that I got through—is much more about a tribe than about a fanaticism over a TV show. It’s about a group of people who are able to own what they are, who they are, how they’re wired, because they’ve found their tribe of people who are wired the same way. And that makes it okay that they’re not always accepted by the people who aren’t wired that way.
Lately I’ve found myself falling head-long into a lot of Tribes I didn’t know I had. Joining the internet book world (well, kind of, I’m still introverted enough that it’s a slow entry) has given me access to a whole tribe of people who love YA lit as much as I do. Publishing my first book has made me realize that there’s a whole author tribe out there who are wired to understand my love of writing and support me when I'm struggling with it. And, because my YA publisher is an imprint of a publisher that produces gay romance novels, I’ve also happened into a tribe of people who also love romance novels.
All kinds of tribes.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the Bronies. And even though I didn’t make it through the whole film (I AM SORRY BUT TWILIGHT SPARKLES IS SO ANNOYING I AM JUST NOT WIRED THAT WAY), I feel qualified to say that these are the most important ones:
1. Accept how you’re wired, and know that it is very, very unlikely you are the only person who is wired that way.
2. Find the tribe of other people who are wired that way.
3. Be excited when this tribe embraces you, and when you embrace them. Because embracing people for who they are is not something that’s coming easily in our world these days.
4. When someone isn’t wired the way you are, it’s okay to shut off the TV and just be glad that they found their tribe. But don’t judge them because you don’t understand the way they’re wired.
No matter how much Twilight Sparkles may annoy you.
So, I've actually been blogging all over lately. Just not on my own website.
Partly 'cause this website is brand-spanking-new...and partly because lots of other AWESOME people have been kind enough to share my writing with the world.
So if you've just arrived here, and you were hoping to learn more about the Life, Beliefs, and General Dispositions of Johanna Parkhurst, here are a few other blogs I've written that live throughout the internets. Check 'em out!
A nifty piece on--yes--how the main character of Here's to You, Zeb Pike came out to me while I writing him. Seriously. Characters do have minds of their own sometimes....
Me on my soapbox about why students need more LGBT books in schools. And a few things you can do to get them there.
Hey, it's an important soapbox. Why and how teachers should stand up for LGBT books in schools.
Adventures in climbing a mountain (and being smoked by an 8-year-old)!