Challenging the Reader

WorldbookA few months ago I raised some discussion on my Facebook page about Stephen King’s Youtube interview in which he says (48:30) regarding Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey -esque books that ‘readers don’t want to be challenged.’  As well, King goes on to speak of a ‘snob’ contingency in the industry, where if a book shoots to stardom, audiences at the more intellectual end of the spectrum will outright reject it as literature.  Where in the world can the middle be in such polarity? If authors shoot for such a middle, are they dabbling in mediocrity?
I confess, I’m curious about such dispersion and projection.  I really like cerebral writing, not necessarily in the hardcore mechanical Samuel Beckett/Joseph Conrad sense (though obviously I remembered their work well enough to dredge them up for reference), but most definitely in a Storm Constantine/Neil Gaiman arena. I like to think about what I’m reading, and without question what I’m writing.  In erotica particularly there remains the idea that sensuality can’t be smart, it can’t prompt catharsis, and it most certainly can’t be self-aware. How dare the pr0n-minded author understand his/her craft, thus conventions, and intentionally drive the reader through every cringe, gasp, heart thud, and clench of thighs? If anything, for me it takes a  delicate balance between intricately crafted prose and the space amongst which I can insert my imagination to really come away from a book feeling that an author is gifted, that a book is mind-blowing.  As a result, most of the YA, chicklit cum erotica just doesn’t do it for me.
What does it for you? Where is your balance between intellectual and genital stimulation in literature?
Authors, in your writing process, how aware are you of challenging your readers? Is challenging readers a goal of your writing legacy? Your process?
Readers, do you feel his statement is true for you, for the general population?  What do you expect from authors?  What challenges you? How challenged do you want to be by what you crave to read?

6 thoughts on “Challenging the Reader

  1. I’ve been challenged and felt “altered” by many fiction novels that aren’t considered “literature”, yet been bored to tears by many that are…yeah, I mean you, Hemingway and Bronte! I’m an English teacher, but that doesn’t mean I drank any special “kool-ade” that makes me agree with other literary folks. I still do my own thinking.

    When I read Anne Rice’s second vampire book, Lestat, I was amazed by a question she had a character pose: If you could live forever, would you ‘improve’, or would you just become better at being the kind of person you were in life?” And what would constitute an improvement, if you had no fear of punishment or death? Those are the kinds of questions that stay with you for years.

    Recently I read a M/M erotic romance, “Static” by L.A.Witt. It made me really think about what makes you fall in love with someone, and what constitutes your loved one…would you still love that person if he/she changed in some fundamental way? When would he/she stop being the person you love?

    I think the whole denigration of the romance genre is mere misogyny. If a female writes it, and other females read it, it must be somehow “less” than if a man had written it for men to read. How else can you explain that when men write romance, it’s called literature…when women write it, it’s called “lady-porn”?
    It’s similar to when soap-opera-style dramas are on prime-time TV, when the whole focus is on men fighting with other men for power, a la “Dallas”, “Dynasty”, and more recently, “Game of Thrones”, then it’s called “powerful”. When the whole focus is on talking through emotions and dealing with other people while maintaining your self-respect, a la, daytime soaps, it’s sneered at as “pot-boilers”. In the former, sex is a tool or a reward and partners are interchangeable. In the latter, sex is how people communicate. Which one you choose depends on fundamental choices in how you view sexual relationships.

    My son tells me that I write in a literary style, with tasteful sex scenes. I’m still in the process of learning to be openly proud of what I write, because I’m tired of people getting excited when I say I’m a published author, yet when I tell them I write romance books, they look like they just stepped in something smelly before turning away dismissively. I don’t want you to turn off your brain while you read my books, yet I write smut and I’m proud of it!

    1. Fiona said: “denigration of the romance genre is mere misogyny.”

      You got that shit right. I think that one state of mind still plays a huge role in literature.

      When I tell people that I write erotica, I have the opposite reaction. They suddenly become more interested–likely because they know me from my nonfiction roots. I feel compelled to very clearly delineate that I do *not* write romance, but erotica, so they don’t get askairt. My feeling is they don’t at all understand what erotica means.

      We’ve got our work cut out =)
      I love when you stop by, Fiona!

  2. When women write historical fiction with intense intimacy scenes, they are called bodice rippers. When men write historicals with intense intimacy scenes, they’re called historical fiction. Nope life’s not fair yet.

  3. I am not a “romance reader” by anyone’s definition. However, I have found 2 or 3 “erotic romance” authors that I would consider literary by that same anyone’s standards. That said, I am disappointed by the overwhelming success of 2 sets of books I found immature on many levels. I’ve read the classics. Had to, to get my English degree. Some were boring. Many were amazing examples of how words can be used to create masterpieces of art.

    I am also an author and strive with every novel I get published to bring something new to the equation be it a new topic not usually addressed in traditional erotic romance, or a unique blend of characters who might appear to be just another H/h matched set but turn out to be something different.

    And i’m guessing that the author of the 50 Shades series could care less what we call her books at this point, no?

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