Thursday, September 23, 2010

Should we read while being exceptionally emotional?

It's rather random, I know, so I'll keep it short and simple. Should we [reviewers] read when we are emotional? What I mean here is when we are emotionally engaged outside the norm. Not the general moods that come and go through the day, but the strong emotions. This question came in a short conversation I had with @thedilletante and @belovedsnail on Twitter about reading while emotional [due to something that has happened outside the book's covers]. And it's an interesting aspect of the reviewer ethics the blogosphere has a perchance for discussing.

@thedilletante feels as if it's not fair [to the author] to read, while groggy and let that affect her judgment, while @belovedsnail says [and I quote]: I like reading when I feel emotional -- but I suspect it wouldn't help me with a review. Why I'd never be a reviewer. :) Up until that point I've never payed attention to how my general emotional state can or has already molded my opinion on the books I've read and reviewed.

I know that people who wish to see things will see them eventually. What I'm asking is: Is it not possible that being happy, angry, sad above the normal shade what you get out from the current book you are reading? In an episode of Drop Dead Diva [yes, mock me for my TV series taste], a reviewer posts a negative review of an Inn on the TOP travelguide site and the situation progresses to a trial. During litigation, it comes to light that the reviewer in question has gone through a bad break-up, which accounts for all the scathingly negative comments. With life constantly imitating art, is it not possible the same to happen with us, the book reviewers?

Can stress at work leave me so drained so that I can't focus and call the novel bland? Can I get so angry with someone that I channel the negativity into my reading and lash out on an innocent novel? The reverse is also possible. Can I for instance be so happy that something I've been waiting for has finally happened that I find myself with rose-colored glasses and love every word of the novel I'm reading? It's possible. I may have done it already, but it's really hard to spot it. After all, reviewing subjective as it can get and I'm not suggesting we have to go meditate and achieve perfect, balanced Zen and impartiality to sit, read and then review.

I'm more interested in hearing whether there is something to my theory or not. What do you think about all this?


Anonymous said...

Part of the reason I read so slowly is having to work graveyard shift twice a week, which I work in addition to morning shifts on prior days. I am left exhausted by them and cannot focus at all, which means I don't read anything on those days unless it is simple.

Aishwarya said...

I stopped reading the book I was reading yesterday and returned to it today when I was in a better frame of mind. It made a huge difference. I still think this is a bad book, but today I am much better equipped to understand and talk about why, rather than vaguely muttering about how obnoxious it is.
So I'd like to add to what I said yesterday - reviewing something in the wrong state of mind is unfair to the author, but it's also unfair to the reviewer. I know that if I had written up my notes on the book yesterday they would have made for a terrible review. Since I'm capable of a lot better than that, it would be shortchanging me, the readers of the review and my poor, patient editor.

I don't think any reviewer is ever going to be completely objective, and we all have to deal with that. And I also think that writing (not necessarily reviews though!) about books while emotional can be brilliant - some of my favourite essays are by enthusiastic fanpeople. But reviewers need to know themselves well enough to be able to judge whether reading or writing in a particular state of mind is going to be detrimental to the quality of their review.

Beloved Snail said...

I'm actually interested in how a book interacts with the person reading it-- moods and all. Always suspicious of the idea of the neutral read. The reviewer's who I like the most tend to at least tip the hat to their personal or emotional bias. I'm nearly as interested in what a book does to a person as I am in what that person thought.

I do, however, take Aishwarya's point that there are some moods in which you know you won't give a particular work a fair shake. I get that this can do disservice to both you as reader and the book itself.

Harry Markov said...

@dazed: I know what you mean. It is a very challenging thing to do, you know, read when you can barely focus on anything. Thankfully, I am nearing the end of that predicament and will be able to resume my normal schedule with a lot more focus.

Harry Markov said...

@Aishwarya: Reviewing has never been objective and reviewing books is the lest objective of the lot, so it is hard to catch what does influence our opinions regarding a review. It's a very strange zone. No rules and strictly individual.

Harry Markov said...

@BS: Oh yes, what a book does to a reader is what one reviewer should strive for, but that is not what I meant. This is internal emotions, a reaction to the novel, while I am talking about those external to the reading emotions. :)

Mieneke said...

If reading when emotional was to be a no-no, I would have had a serious problem last year. I was pregnant and hormonal as all get out on top of the constant nausea the first four months. All I did was read, because pc and tv were just meh. I would have been lost without reading.

But you're right that it can influence your reading or your perception of what you've read. I read Karen Miller's Godspeaker trilogy at some point in those first few months. And while I couldn't put the books down, I didn't really like them, or rather I intensely disiked one of the sides of the conflict in the book.
To this day thinking of those books makes me sick to my stomach and I can't decide if that's a true reaction to the story or whether it's just my adverse reaction mixed in with the memory of my pregnancy induced nausea. Because I read a ton of books and these are the only ones I had problems with that have this effect, I'm inclined to the former, but I'll never be sure!

Harry Markov said...

Although I am saying that it would be nice to read, when our focus is on 100% and nothing else is strongly affecting us emotionally, I do not think that it is possible. People in general are emotional and being in a balanced state is a feat as far as I see it. I am talking personally of course. Thankfully, I cannot read when I am angry, hurt or nervous. I just stare at one word and that is that.

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