Conflict with and among readers

In considering conflict this week, I wanted to step outside the box — or outside the book, anyway — and prompt a discussion, I hope, about conflict between authors and readers, whether young ones or the librarians and other “gatekeepers” who help feed them books. Or between readers over a given book.

I’ve encountered several kinds of conflict like this. The first is minor conflicts with young readers who email with requests I can’t or won’t fill, such as the young man who couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t email him the entire text file of my book after a school visit. While I find that kind of conflict annoying, because it seems to me that parents and teachers should be doing a better job of educating their students on what is and is not an appropriate way to interact with adults they barely know, it’s okay — he has to learn appropriate boundaries and fandom somehow, and I’m as good a person to teach him as any, I suppose. Such conflicts only arise because I’m meeting my audience and/or they’re reading my books, so who’s gonna complain about that?

Another kind of conflict, as we’ve discussed before, is when readers get upset about the contents, direction, or resolution of a story or series. Or, for that matter, what’s on the book’s cover. My own experiences with this have been more limited than I expected, given the violence and/or sexual content in some of my books. The one that surprised me the most was an adult reviewer who was pretty disappointed by the fact that in my first Farwalker book, Ariel does not end up in a romantic relationship with someone more than twice her age. It didn’t ruin the book for her, she wrote in her review — but almost. It’s hard for me, even here and now, not to line up my arguments for why that would be a terrible idea. Defensiveness aside, though, it does highlight for me the ways in which a book takes on its own life in the hands of every reader, since that reader brings a part of themselves, and their own norms, expectations, and longings, to every book. The ultimate expression of this kind of conflict, I suppose, is censorship efforts (or whatever you want to call activities aimed at removing books from libraries or reading lists).

I think a third kind of conflict, if you can call it that, is alignments such as “Team Edward” vs. “Team Jacob.” Would that any of us authors have fans so rabid they’re willing to wear buttons and have arguments over our characters! This may be more marketing hype than anything else, but it’s a fun kind of conflict to have.

I have to think that, as in a plot, conflict is mostly a good thing– because it requires readers’ emotions to be stirred enough to care or bother. But clearly that can be taken too far, too. What other sort of conflicts have you, as a writer, librarian, teacher, or reader, witnessed between readers and books or the authors who write them?

— Joni, who would just as soon keep most of the conflict in the pages

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Filed under Joni Sensel

3 responses to “Conflict with and among readers

  1. Conflict can also be a great way to draw attention to a book. I’m usually amused at how someone’s censorship actions only inspire kids to want to read the book even more. Muahaha, I say!

  2. Hate is not the worst think I can feel for a book. The worst thing I can feel is nothing at all. So bring on the controversy! If they convince me, the author won. If they make me think about it, consider it, even hate it, at least they stirred something inside. If I don’t give it a second thought, then the writer did a crappy job.

    I have books on my shelf that I absolutely hate, but I respect them. I respect the incredible craft they used to draw such a picture, to stir such feelings in me. There are other books that I read and promptly forget. They get recycled. I prefer the books I hate.

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