If I have one complaint for reviewers, it’s that they occasionally tend to find their comfort zones and settle into them. As such, they start getting a little predictable. We start seeing certain blogs going into routines: they review the same books, they give the same scores and no one’s learning anything.
First, there is inspiration.
Then, there is stagnation.
So for Sam’s Bravest Challenge twelve blogger/fan reviewers have agreed to attempt to read a book that Sam selects for us that he feels is out of our comfort zone and to post a fair review of said book (as I define it, fair does not necessarily equal positive). On the whole it’s a good idea – challenge some willing schmucks to get out of their comfort zone.
Sam has announced his choices, and this is where I see a problem. Anyone who has followed this blog closely knows that I don’t shy away from expanding beyond my comfort zone, though admittedly it’s not something I do all that often. So, I was a bit anxious to see what Sam would come up with. I was expecting him to challenge me – I’m a rather liberal guy and I don’t hide that fact – so I was anticipating Sam to take square aim at that huge blind spot common to the vast majority of liberals: conservatives. I’ve railed against a few douche bag authors before (that tend to be authors who announce what I consider hateful conservatism on their soapbox), so this was the ‘assignment’ I was dreading. Something that I was sure to hate and disagree with rather than allow to challenge me – as with most, I am rather certain in my beliefs, which is not only big problem but a great source of hypocrisy as I denounce certainty in others. So, what does Sykes choose for me – again, I’ll let his own (flattering) words tell:
Ken, as we all know, is the epitome of the dignified fantasy reviewer: his tastes are refined, his mind is honed to a razor’s edge and his eyes are scrutinizing enough to pick parasites off krill. I’ve never read Arrows of the Queen (though I do like some of Lackey’s other stuff), but an associate of mine who wishes to remain nameless described it as: “Telepathic ponies that are your special BFF!!!! Oh-so-spunky and rebellious heroine! It’s every 12-year-old girl’s fantasy!“ Have fun, Ken.
I was relieved, dumbfounded and disappointed. Did Sam choose something beyond my comfort zone – probably. Arrows of the Queen does seem to fit a rather classic epic fantasy mold, and as a big reader of epic fantasy, that’s certainly not beyond my comfort zone. It is a book that would in modern marketing parlance fall into the YA category – while I don’t shy away from YA books, as an adult in my mid-30s, it’s not quite a ‘comfort zone’. I’ve also ranted against using YA as negative descriptor, so I don’t mean to imply that YA is bad, but YA that doesn’t aim to appeal to adults as well as the younger audience is not something I find appealing. I must stress that I have not read Arrows of the Queen (yet), so I am speculating here. The primary audience intended for Arrows of the Queen appears to be adolescent and pre-adolescent girls. Again, as a guy in my mid-30s, it does feel a bit like I’m a vegetarian who was just been recommended the extra-rare tenderloin as a nice meal. Yes, reading Arrows of the Queen may turn out to be different than anticipated and it may offer insight into what young girls are like (something I’ve certainly never understood, especially when I was an adolescent male). But, is this really an appropriate book for the challenge as it’s presented?
My gut reaction is that no, this isn’t really a good choice for a book. It’s one thing to suggest a book to challenge in some way, perhaps even a book that’s whole goal is to be that challenge. But to suggest a book that has a rather defined audience, a book meant to appeal to that audience and more or less disregard those beyond that audience (remember, I haven’t read Arrows of the Queen, so this may or may not be true of it), simply doesn’t seem appropriate. To be extreme, would it be a surprise that I would not enjoy the reading experience of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) or My Big Boy Potty (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)? These are great books to share with my 2 year-old son, but not something I’m going to pick up and read for myself. Is my reading a book seemingly aimed at 12 year-old girls any different?
Or is the very fact that I don’t think this a good choice an indication of just how good of a choice it is?
I suppose we’ll see when I read Arrows of the Queen (don’t hold your breath, it’ll be a while).
What, good readers, do you think?