It’s Smart Bitches Day, and once again I feel compelled to talk about the abusive author/reader relationship. This relationship can occur in many ways: an author you previously loved changes their writing style or genre and you follow in the hopes that they’ll get over this stage and come back to you; an author you love keeps writing a series to the point of repetition and you realize that s/he will die before they finish (this is known as the Robert Jordan Syndrome); or you find an author who you fundamentally disagree with in several stylistic and character building areas but their plots (or plot ideas) are so compelling that you just keep going back because it’s got to get better, right? They’ll change.
He says he loves me.
And it is not until your friends are hustling you out of your home so that they can perform a ritualistic cleansing and book removal while you’re restricted to an Austen-only diet, that you realize that you’ve wasted the best years of your life on this person only to be left with a shelf full of re-released paperbacks and hard covers that you’re ashamed to tell anyone about.
“Why? Why did it take me so long to break free?” you’ll cry to your friends who will pat your on your back or tell you to buck up—we’re talking about books here, sheesh. They’ll give you a list of books that are supposed to expand your mind and your education (So that’s the difference between the Booker and the White Bread!) and you’ll take up knitting to keep your hands busy. Slowly you’ll expand your reading to recommendations given by the librarian, bookseller, and the girl who runs the espresso machine at your local coffee shop and then to clicking on the also bought links at Amazon.
You’re strong, you’re healthy, and you’re committed to never going back again. Not that you’ll ever be dragged back in! Because—hah!—you’ll never be that weak. It was all a phase. Those days are behind you.
And then one day, while playing around on the net or listening in on a conversation at the bookstore, you realize that your old author has a new book coming out. You turn away, pretending disinterest, but that information stays in the back of your mind. More research—purely for mockery purposes of course—reveals a summary and several reviews.
The reviewers love it. Sheep, you call them.
The summary is lauded as exciting and unique. We’ve tread this ground before, you remind yourself.
The excerpt ends as a cliff-hanger. A ploy, you cry, a cheap ploy. But your palms are starting to sweat.
You try to read some Austen, but you end up throwing the book across the room. You ask the bookstore employee for the Booker Bread winner, and stomp away when they look at you funny. You find yourself sitting at home in your bathtub, just rocking back and forth because the plot, those characters, that cliff-hanger! Why are they affecting you this way?
Of course! This paralyzing fear is because you haven’t proven that you are stronger than this author, you have not proven that you can flip through this novel and just mock. If you were to just read a few pages the shakes would stop and you would be assured that you moved on.
It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
So off you march to the bookstore—the waitlist at the library is too long and you must slay this monster now!—determined to just stand in the section and read the first chapter. That’s all you’ll need to prove dominance.
And you do read the first chapter and it’s all still there: the same awful dialogue, characters, and narrative voice…along with that evil, compelling thread of plot, the one that taunts you, teases you, promises that this book—oh, this book—will finally be the one to deliver.
You’re at the counter paying before you can rethink it, the cover slick from the heat and wetness of your hands. You have to take this home despite the twenty-five dollar price tag, you have to read and mock in private. If any of your friends saw you here they’d think you’d fallen off the wagon, which is just not the case.
You’re stronger than this. So strong that you can barely put down the book in the car. So strong that you skip dinner and take the phone off the hook. So strong that minutes after you finish the last page you’re on the internet looking to see when the author’s next release is due to drop.
And in that moment when your brain finally calculates that you’ve got a six month wait, you drop your head in your hands and cry. What happened? You’re smart. You’re educated. You know better. You should have some sort of self-control. It’s just a book, damn it. If you dislike it so much you should be able to just walk away.
But you can’t because that plot line that never quite delivers keeps pulling you back.
Next time, you know, next time it will be better. Besides, everyone has to have a weakness, right?
What’s your abusive author relationship of choice?