I spent this past weekend being in love with The Emperor’s Children. When I finally finished it on Monday, I felt very sad to see it come to an end.
Today I happened to look it up on Amazon, and found that reviews of the book were very mixed. It got more one-star reviews than anything else. Some people said it was well-written but flawed, others hated it vehemently and lashed out at everyone involved in publishing it. Wow. I would say it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
Of course I was surprised to see so many negative reviews, since I loved the book, but I was also taken aback by how angry some of them seemed to be. I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of my own critiques a few years ago, when some classmates seemed to feel personally disgusted at a character and story I’d created. I had identified with my character, but some people said she was “too perfect” and therefore unlikeable. This hurt me and made me wonder whether people found me, also, unlikeable.
When I read the angry reviews on Amazon, I felt a little twinge of that same shock and hurt all over again. I loved Messud’s book because I identified with her characters — brilliant, well-to-do, ambitious and yet aimless, insecure and yet entitled — and felt she’d captured a kind of modern young spirit very astutely. But the reviews repeated so many of the same phrases that had so bothered me during my critique: “too perfect,” “couldn’t like the characters,” “goes nowhere,” etc.
During my critique, I was hurt because I took people’s comments personally. While reading reviews of Messud’s book, however, I wondered whether I should take them as a caution about how my own future artistic creations might be perceived. Maybe what is self-illuminating and fascinating to me is actually just so much crap to most of the population. I mean, I know everyone sees the world somewhat differently, but maybe that is truly more accurate for some people than others. I spent two decades of my life thinking I was special, then a few years teaching myself not to think I’m special*. And now I’m wondering again whether maybe I’m not like everyone else after all.
I don’t know. Maybe I just think about this kind of thing too much. Does it matter whether I share the same opinions as most other people? After all, deep at heart we all have so much in common, our heart, our humanity. But on the other hand, it’s just that common impulse that distresses me so much when I think I might be so different. Can someone who’s not like everyone else really reach out to other people? Can someone whose worldview is truly weird actually touch others? Or am I doomed to create things that most people just don’t get, forever?
Bah. As I say, I think about this way too much.
You know, actually though, I think the reason I think about this so much is that I’m not in grad school anymore. Grad school is very sheltering; as my former TA Amanda once remarked, “The ivory tower protects academics from the world, but it also protects the world from the academics.” To some degree, everyone in academia has chosen that route because of a feeling of disconnect from most of the population. And that is precisely why I left, because I got sick of being isolated from the rest of the world and being among people who deliberately isolated themselves. And of course, now that I am no longer hidden among such people, I’m faced constantly with the question of whether isolation isn’t better and more appropriate for a person like myself. I guess I am looking for the answer.
*Or, perhaps more accurately, that it makes no difference whether I am special.
[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com. This is a recurring topic in my thoughts; I wrote about it again three years after this post.]