When Books Hit Home
I have a couple of reviews in my queue that I don’t know how to begin because the books affected me so personally. Do I use the review to talk about what happened to me? Or do I hang back and let the book take the spotlight? Do I even want to talk about this stuff on the blog?
Then I remembered that other book bloggers must have dealt with this kind of thing before. Actually, I know they have. So, in true book-blogger fashion, I thought I’d put this out there as a discussion topic. I would love to hear what books have hit home for you (if you feel comfortable), and how you feel about them as a reader and as a blogger.
Hit Hard vs. Hit Home
I’m a pretty passionate reader. Books hit me hard all the time. They make me cry, make me laugh, and make me consider things in new way. Hitting home is a little different. A book hits home when something about the subject matter or character directly relates to my life, usually something difficult. In addition to the usual emotional response (crying – I’m a crier!) when I read one of these books I often feel a little panicky at first, especially if I wasn’t prepared. Then I feel the way teenagers feel when they’re listening to music and almost believe their favourite singer is singing right TO them. And if the book is good, I feel an awesome catharsis when I’m done reading.
What Hits Home for You?
Pregnancy and especially pregnancy loss are subjects that hit home for me. Maybe that’s not surprising, since I’ve been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for nearly five years now (wow) but it’s my first pregnancy, which began and ended sixteen years ago this summer, when I was sixteen, that I both love and hate to remember when I’m reading. No one knows what to say to someone who loses a pregnancy they didn’t want in the first place, so reading about similar experiences is probably the closest I’ve come to dealing with it.
- Bumped and Thumped by Megan McCafferty: This YA series is set in a dystopian near-future world where a virus causes widespread infertility among adults. Teenagers are left to do the breeding, and while it starts out as sort of a patriotic duty to get “bumped” and give your baby up for adoption, soon it becomes a for-profit and corrupt business. The authors nails the narcissism and innocence of the girls and presents a future that is frightening because it’s too close to reality where teen pregnancy is simultaneously shamed and glamourized (Teen Mom, anyone?)
- Rosina, The Midwife by Jessica Kluthe: This is a non-fiction book about the author’s great-grandmother. I knew I was in for some pregnancy/birth story lines, but nothing prepared me for the author’s stark portrayal of her own loss. I was completely gutted. There are a lot of parallels between my story and hers and I’m so used to NOT talking about it that it was shocking to see it just out there on the page, for anyone to see.
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Rosasharn might be the prototype for all the other teen moms mentioned here)
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
- The Birth House by Ami McKay
- Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue
Seeking out Books that Hit Home
So these books tend to be pretty intense and rewarding reading experiences, yet I don’t actively seek them out. Pregnancy and birth are pretty universal subjects, and are so laden with symbolism and meaning, that they’re pretty common and I tend to read enough of them by accident. When I deliberately read something in this vein, that I know contains something about pregancy or infant loss, I have to make sure I don’t read two of the books close together (like I did this summer) because I need a bit of a break in between.
Reviewing Books that Hit Home
This is my real dilemma, and one I’m kind of solving by writing this post: is a book review an appropriate place to talk about your own life, particularly something heavy and traumatic? I like to make reviews “all about me” in a humorous way hesitate to do so when it’s something serious.
On the one hand, I think making it personal is important in book blogging. I read lots of professional reviewers, but their reviews are often a little sterile. On the other hand, people who read book blogs are there to read about the books and maybe don’t want to hear about your problems. I remembered this tweet from Joyce Carol Oates (which I don’t agree with!)
An ideal review should present the book, with appropriate quotations, & a minimum of "opinion," so that the reader can judge for himself.—
Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) May 30, 2013
One of the nice things about book blogs is that appropriateness doesn’t come into it the same way it would in a review in a magazine or newspaper. There’s no editorial board, and there no advertisers to offend (not on this blog, anyway.) It’s just you and the books. And hopefully an audience who doesn’t mind if you ramble on about yourself once in a while.