How to (re)interpret a book in a supremely superior (and nonsensical) way!

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about bad interpretations and I realised it’s actually a lot of work to come up with rubbish! So, naturally, I couldn’t help but write a uselessly absurd post about how it might be achieved (as always, this is just a joke and meant in good fun- not trying to throw shade at anyone!). And, for once I can safely say, don’t worry if you don’t like reading: there’s a good chance you won’t even have to read a single book to do this properly! Let’s get onto my “helpful” guidelines:

thinking monkey

#1 Start with your own biases and conclusions and work your way backwards- this is simply the best way to ensure you get the interpretation you desire. It doesn’t matter if it fits with the work at all, as long as your happy with the analysis- that’s the main thing! And the great thing about this is you can add your own person touch: if you don’t like certain characters/love interests/plot points, you get to decide what it meant all along… even if it runs contrary to the actual text (told you, you wouldn’t actually have to read the book!)

guilty judge

#2 Everything in a book either shows the author’s noble intentions OR shows them to be an utter scumbag. This is because every. single. word. in a book is the author’s real thoughts and they must be rewarded or punished for whatever is said (delete where appropriate)

rainbow flag

#3 All the characters were secretly gay- whether the book specifies this or not. This is just a good interpretation, regardless of the story.

read-fast

#4 Nothing is a mistake. Inconsistencies or typos or any printing mishaps are all pregnant with meaning, so you must labour to make them make sense. If there is a typo on page 26, it’s not only secretly deliberate, but it also tells you that the number 26 is the secret to the universe.

think pen write

#5 There is genius in all sentence structure/line breaks. If you cannot find the meaning behind it… make it up!

highlighters

#6 Also, don’t overlook the importance of adjectives. Each one is deep and meaningful. It is there for a reason and you must find it dammit!

worship

#7 The author is god: if they tell you how to interpret their book, then that is the correct answer (bonus points if you can use the author’s interpretation to attack or praise them- this means you can resurrect your attitude from #2). Ignore all evidence from this point on. On that note…

destroy evidence

#8 Never, ever, EVER use actual evidence. This is offensive. Remember, if you want to write true nonsense, logic must be thrown out the window, doused in oil and set on fire. The best phrase to use when someone asks you why you think something is “read between the lines”- then you are free to act superior and like anyone who disagrees with you is an absolute idiot (because, of course, they are)

grave robbing

#9 Do not admit to or acknowledge being wrong. Remember: the secret to being superior is having the right attitude and that means pretending to be super human at all costs. No matter how big of a hole you dig yourself into, you must never back down and must continue until down that tunnel until either your opponent throws themselves in to save you OR you reach the earth’s core and are fried in molten lava… whichever comes first! And finally…

pathetic fallacy sad-face-doctor

#10 There is an age-old view that reading and writing should be fun- BUT THIS IS OUTDATED! (I mean, we all know that anything that is old is bad nowadays, so you should have seen this coming). It is VERY IMPORTANT that other readers understand that reading is a miserable experience at all times and know what a sacrifice you made to indulge in this hobby undergo this procedure. Also, books no longer have any escapist elements- everything in them is always a gloomy interpretation of the awful state of reality (extra points if you can link a book to current events- whether this is relevant or written with the foreknowledge of where the world was heading. Personally, I’m looking forward to the academic work on how the Bronte sisters predicted the pandemic!)

And that’s it! That’s the *absolute best* way to interpret a book! I hope you learnt a lot/enjoyed reading my ridiculous ramblings! 😉

But of course, as perfect as this advice is, I’d like to know if (by some bizarre accident) I’ve missed something- are there any other silly ways we should be interpreting what we read? Let me know in the comments!

How Dead is the Author Anyway? Notes on Authorial Intent and Reimagining Canon

thoughts orangutan

As an English Lit grad, it can be no surprise that I have a deep fascination for the subject “Death of the Author”. Briefly, Roland Barthes concept is that an author’s intentions and biography don’t have special weight in determining interpretation of their work. For me, I’ve floated back and forth over the years, drifting in the uncomfortable in-between of whether I should eddy these waters with my own pen. In the end, I was inspired by Rachael’s excellent “Is the Writer Dead or Not?” post to finally discuss it.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m hesitant to wholly get behind the theory. Dare I say it, part of this is because sometimes I think it gives too much credit to reader- as marvellous as we may be at finding bookish gems, a book’s value is not determined by whether its read (after all, as a tree falling in a forest with no one around to hear it still makes a sound, a brilliant book that never gets read is still technically brilliant. It’s the law of physics 😉). My silly quasi-philosophical musings aside, I do however see the value in “Death of the Author” (or I wouldn’t be discussing it 😉). Though a writer’s background and intentions shouldn’t be totally discounted, ultimately books should be open to interpretation. Looking at books from this angle is the most freeing. It gives readers the power to find meaning without being handheld along the way.

Another reason this theory is helpful, as Rachael brought up, is that it helps us separate an author from their work. As I’ve previously discussed, I’m a big fan of judging a work on its own merit, rather than writing it off because I don’t like the author. While I respect anyone’s right to choose what they read, I prefer not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And, as I’ve said recently, there are limits to interpretation- any interpretation. Both in the case of authors retconning their own work and when authors definitively say “*this* is what I meant by that”. Not necessarily because an author can be wrong about their intent- but they most certainly cannot say whether they were successful in conveying what they meant or whether an individual will interpret it differently. the dressFrankly, the 2015 tale of THE DRESS (where some people saw blue/black and others saw white/gold) tells us that we literally do not see the world the same way. Thus, an author cannot demand we see exactly what they intended to emphasise and dismiss what they did not want us to see at all. The messages that hit home may not be what they thought; the way we view their characters might not be a reflection of what was in their heart… and that’s okay. Once a book is out in the world, it’s going to take on a life of its own. Authorial intent ends when a story walks out the door and reaches new readers.

Of course, I feel that an author can give interpretations of their own work (though I’d personally prefer if they’d couch it in terms of “it could mean” instead of “I meant it to mean”). However, I am loath to call later additions and commentary “canon”. Like any other reader, I’m going to want proof of their claims; I’m going to expect them to say more than “it was there all along”. Interpretation has little value without textual evidence. Rewriting a book in retrospect is not only irritating, it undermines the fabric of the existing text. It muddies truths with lies. And it is also a sure-fire way to lose your reader. In that regard at least, I can safely say the author is dead to me.

So, what do you think? Is the author dead or alive? Let me know in the comments!

It’s Okay to be Wrong! The Importance of Interpretation and its Limits…

thoughts orangutan

Though of course I never am 😉

Just kidding! What I do think is that opinions are not set in stone and that we’re not always going to be right. And that’s okay- as nice as it would be to be the arbiters of truth, part of the joy of discussing books is finding out what we don’t know, otherwise what would be the point of having a discussion?

Now that we’ve established that, I can safely say there are *loads* of ways to be wrong (what a happy thought 😉). Years ago, I made a post about how I don’t like when people say “read between the lines” as an explanation for why they have a bookish theory, which is akin to saying “I don’t have a real argument for this, just go with it”. And, as fun as it is to come up with things on the fly, that’s just not going to cut it. You need evidence to back up your points; you must prove it (otherwise smart alecs like me won’t buy what you’re selling 😉).

Mean-Girls-GIF-Cady-Heron-Lindsay-Lohan-Falls-In-Trash-Can1The problem that arises is how easily “reading between the lines” can fall into pitfalls. One of the most obvious ways is how it can contradict canon- such as claiming a character is gay without textual evidence of this. Of course, I’m not saying don’t write/enjoy fanfic, only that this may not be a strong interpretation of the actual text and can lead down a bad path analytically. Good evidence is important.

Though I veer towards the side of “Death of the Author” (more on that another time) I also think that what is in the text matters. There is such a thing as going too far with an interpretation- especially to the point where it contradicts common sense. thinking monkeyI’ve seen and heard enough crackpot theories over the years to have a healthy scepticism when I hear a new one. Not every line break in a poem is deep and meaningful; not every adjective/verb/noun is worth focusing on (something Rachael points out in her brilliant “Is the Author Really Dead?” post).

Even authors can be wrong about their own work. On the one hand, while they won’t be wrong about authorial intent, they may not realise the impact their techniques can have and cannot definitively say whether they achieved what they set out to. Plus, we all know the authors who just-so-happen to reinterpret their own work to make it seem more “woke” 😉. Shoddy and (dare-I-say-it) attention-seeking interpretations like these perhaps shouldn’t be taken too seriously. After all, the point of interpretation is a search for the truth, not trying to be “on trend”, or show off, or please ourselves.

None of this is to say that interpretation isn’t important, just that it’s better to take it with a pinch of salt (and maybe let it simmer a bit before you gorge yourself on it 😉). Whether it’s the author saying it or it comes endorsed by a literary scholar, every criticism needs to be approached with a degree of caution. And that goes for our own views too!

Yes, being reflective of our own views may not be so fun, questioning can make us uncomfortable and knowing we might be shot down is terrifying. Yet, in the great quest for the truth, we need to be prepared to make bad guesses and put ourselves out there. As wonderful as it would be to be right all the time, we need the courage to be wrong sometimes too.

So, what do you think? Are all interpretations valid? Or is it okay to be wrong? And, dare I ask, are you okay with being wrong? Let me know in the comments

Why I don’t believe in unbiased reviews

thoughts orangutan

Controversial opinion time: my subjective opinion is *subjective*. Okay, just kidding, that’s not really debatable (even if it is fun to see people trying to debate that). However, I’m not here to talk about how silly it is to try and dictate taste today- no, right now I want to talk about why it’s okay to have biased reviews (which is probably a lot more of a contentious statement).

Let me explain. It’s not just that being opinionated is unavoidable in a review- though since we’re all human (/sentient primates) that is the case- it’s that it’s actually desirable to share your opinions. As Lashaan brilliantly said in his post “how objective are your reviews”, being subjective actually helps readers to figure out whether we might dislike or like a book. The main point of a review isn’t just to get across a sense of what happens in a book- that’s what a synopsis or blurb is for. No, reviews are to help us make value judgements over whether we want to read something or not. And that can only happen if we’re in touch with our own thoughts and feelings about a book.

Now, of course, that means we have to be aware that we’re being subjective. In Rachael’s excellent post, “How to Not Suck at Reviewing in Five Easy Steps”, she pointed out how it’s necessary to compartmentalise our own emotions and identify when we’re being subjective. It’s no good, for instance, to just say “well that was rubbish” and leave it at that. We have to be reasoned in our approach to reviewing. If we say we don’t like something, preferably it should be done in a way that other people can make up their own minds (and also not to shame other people for liking it). Even better if we can state our own biases to explain where we’re coming from; best of all if we can go as far as to recommend it to people who might actually like it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being biased, we just have to remember not everyone will share our view.

Throne_of_Glass_UKFor me, the only issue would come from stating an opinion as fact. Elliot Brooks argued brilliantly in her video “Book Lovers Love Book Hate” that claiming a book is “objectively bad” doesn’t make much sense- I mean, we already know it’s your opinion, so how can it be objective? Too often I have seen this on Booktube as well- especially with regards to reviews of Sarah J Maas books- which I have always found especially illuminating. One complaint, for instance, that regularly arises is that the ellipsis (or otherwise known as fragmentation) is “objectively bad”… which, sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, isn’t the case. As discussed in my post “the Art of Fragmentation”, the technique has many uses that can be appreciated whether you enjoy it or not.

tasteIn fact, this is the entire reason I created my Differences in Style series. What works for one reader may not work for another- and that’s okay! Once again, taste is subjective and therefore so are reviews. Maybe we’ll agree, maybe we won’t- regardless it’s not the end of the world. That’s the beauty of an opinion.

So, I really want to hear what you think! Do you agree or disagree with me here? Does it matter that reviews are subjective? Or should we be striving to be more objective? Is that even possible or desirable? Let me know in the comments!

Existential Crises and Evolving as a Blogger After Five Years of Blogging

AHHH IT’S 13th MAY 2020- AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS?!?! IT’S MY FIFTH BLOGGING ANNIVERSARY!

celebration monkey

Everyone take a banana- you get a banana, and you get a banana, and you get a banana!

pile of bananas.png

I’d also like to take this opportunity to give a shoutout to my bloggiversary buddy Katie @ Never Not Reading! I’ve always loved her ideas and reviews and original content- so I highly recommend checking her out!

Now, I’m usually feeling pretty celebratory for making it another year (and obviously I’m feeling that quite a bit!) but maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the current state of the world which we won’t talk about, or maybe it’s cos my brain is in lockdown… I’m also feeling a little more contemplative this year.

Over the years, I’ve had plenty of blogging crises and panics and worries… and usually my response is to just bottle up all those emotions and toss them in the sea (very mature haha!) Behind the scenes, I admit, I’m not that nice to myself. Basically, apart from occasionally saying to myself and others hey, I may need some time off, I’m not all that great at admitting that the course of true love blogging never does run smooth 😉

Part of this, I’ve realised, comes from trying to figure out my blogging purpose. When I started out, my mission was clear: tell people what I really think about books and have fun doing it. And that’s something I’ve tried to return to as much possible. Yet, as much as going back to basics helps, I have noticed that there are other reasons to blog. The most noticeable for me was when people started to interact and it dawned on me that you could actually make real connections online! (A novel concept to me!) I found I wasn’t just trying to be entertaining, but being entertained- and that was amazing!

As Booker Talk pointed out in her post on blogging purpose, blogging goals wax and wane. And with that in mind, I’ve tried to accommodate my deepest darkest desires blogging moods. At the moment, I’ve reduced the amount I post, so that I can (try) to do better quality posts when I do write one. I don’t do as many tags if I’m not feeling it; I try to be excited about every post I put out… even if it’s not totally ground-breaking (see, there’s that inner critic again 😉).

So, all of this is to say that, even if I’m less active at blogging these days, I’m much happier where I’m at with the blog before I went into a slump at the end of the year. And I want to take the opportunity to say a ***MASSIVE THANK YOU*** once again for sticking with me! Whether you’ve been here five minutes or five years, I’m always grateful to have you around ❤

orangutan thank you

Hope you are all staying safe and well

My Pandemic Playlist

playlist

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been putting together an apocalypse is nigh pandemic playlist (because this is clearly a very productive use of my time 😉). I was really inspired to share it by the Sullivan Spin, after his excellent post on why Right Here Waiting for You is the perfect song for isolation (he makes a compelling case!) I don’t have nearly as good an argument for putting these songs on the list- in fact some of these are wildly inappropriate- so be prepared for some mindless ramblings… enjoy!

End of the Line– let’s start with the fact that the world is ending (kidding! …sort of…)

Over and Done With– may as well embrace the world as it is!

Don’t Stand So Close to Me– time to social distance!

I Think We’re Alone Now– hmm, not so bad, time to dance like no one’s watching… (and maybe catch Umbrella Academy on Netflix while we’re at it)

The Cave– alright, I’m craving company now…

Owner of a Lonely Heart– ok, is anyone out there?

Wish You Were Hereseriously, anyone?!

Dancing in the Dark– guess not.

Paint it Black– may as well embrace *the darkness*

We didn’t start the fire– yes, things are heating up now 😉

Take it Easy– okay time to take a break from the angst for a hot minute.

Stay Stay Stay– but I know I’ve got to stay indoors.

All You Had to Do was Stay– seriously, this is my one job.

Run Boy Run– doesn’t stop me feeling restless!

Thriller– have you seen what it’s like out there?! Scary stuff! On that note…

Zombie– cos the world’s a little crazy right now (no, I don’t think we’re at risk of being zombified, unless you think that we could become couch-potato-zombies, in which case we’re already there!)

Youngblood– still reasons to be upbeat 😉

Whatever it Takes– let’s not be all doom and gloom- we can fight this!

Fight Song– yup, still fighting it (by doing nothing). Love the Piano Guys version as well 😊

Let it Go– at the same time, it’s not totally upto us (also, I mean it when I say I love piano guys)

Don’t look back– weirdly this is one of those songs that sounds like a downer, but is actually pretty upbeat… which contrasts some of the other songs on this list!

Alright then! That’s all for now! What’s on your pandemic playlist? Let me know in the comments!

How to (Try to) Plan a Book

am writing

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a massive plotter and I’m at the stage of planning a new project, so I thought it might be fun to explore how my brain works in the planning process (spoiler alert: I’m stuck at step 16). I’m going off what I’m doing right now and what I’ve done for various projects in the past… some of which even turned into full length manuscripts… though some did not 😉 So, obviously, this is completely fool proof and there’s no way it could go wrong 😉 Without further ado, here is my definitive guide on how to (try to) plan a book:

lightbulb moment

Step 1: Have an idea *POP* into your head like magic- which seems makes it seem like all the hard work is over, right? WRONG!

dr-evil

Step 2: Decide that you are going to do the unthinkable and turn this idea into a book…

brainstorming ideas

Step 3: Time for some *brainstorming* to see if this idea has legs (NB step 3 can be step 1 for some people, because creative people are different, and not all ideas throw themselves in your face 😉)

hopscotch

Step 4: Keep repeating steps 1-3, jumping through the steps in any given order like you’re playing hopscotch.

simpsons ideas

Step 5: Spend a while (years) writing and compiling notes, adding characters, potentially world building and plenty of contradictory ideas. Make sure your notes aren’t logical at this point- you don’t want to make things easy for your future self!

gotta go to work

Step 6: Get on with your life for a bit, work on other creative projects and generally forget about this vaguely fleshed out idea.

grave robbing

Step 7: Dig up/stumble across whatever you’ve been working on (whether it’s in a notebook or some random files on your computer). Have the sudden dawning realisation that you actually want to write this book and decide it will be your *next project*. And that means taking said idea seriously from here on out! So at this stage, do you a) make a schedule for when you can fit in writing time and/or b) rough draft an outline to get the ball rolling…?

trick question

Step 8: Neither! That was a trick question! You print out the notes, making a BIG DEAL out of that and promising to be proactive about it from now on! (all the while not really breaking any new ground)

stare into space

Step 9: Stare at pages, trying to figure out how to write out a basic synopsis out of this contradictory mess (see, I told you it’d be helpful not to make it too logical!) Ah great- now you can either continue on with optional steps 10-11, or skip right ahead to 12…

aha

Step 10: Discover that you did in fact write a helpful synopsis you entirely forgot about…

this isnt right

Step 11: Read it and realise how different it is from the notes

bad writing gig

Step 12: *Weep*

highlighters

Step 13: Devise a complex strategy, involving highlighters, where you colour code notes to match up all the existing ideas. Perhaps even pick up a stack of post its! Maybe get funky with an excel spreadsheet! Whatever you do, make sure it looks organised, but has no functional purpose.

thinking monkey

Step 14: Try to make head or tail of your new notes

muses

Step 15: Wait around for the Muses to strike…

monkey typewriter

Step 16: Give up and write a blog post about planning a novel (…ooh getting meta…)

let's go to work

Step 17: Get your shit together and decide just to write out all your ideas in a new synopsis.

writing

Step 18: Type up into one great big messy document.

think pen write

Step 19: Pause to give chapter titles (this is a great step because while it is entirely unnecessary, it’ll make you feel like you’ve been super clever and productive).

read satisfied

 

Step 20: Readthrough it with satisfaction (ignoring the inner voice that tells you that this may have to be revised later) and shove it in a drawer to be ignored until you can carve out some time to actually write the damn thing.

congratulations

*Congratulations you have planned a novel*

(at least that’s the dream anyway 😉)