Friday, April 16, 2010

The Synergy of Reading

Sometimes it's the book.  Sometimes it's the reader.  But sometimes you need both: that specific book at that specific time.  There's a synergy between the elements of the book and the mood of the reader that either enhances the reading experience, or makes it nearly unbearable.

Count this as yet another reason why I don't review books.  (I think I'm up to 14 reasons by now.)  I think I can understand how most reviewers manage this issue, namely by reading books they plan to review with a critical filter in place.  When non-reviewer readers pick up a book, almost anything can happen: the reader falls in love with the book, hates the book, gets impatient, is soothed . . . and so forth.

What I do is read books that I want to read, mostly because someone has recommended that book.  Just to remind you, I got lost as a romance reader in the 1990s (something about law school derailed my reading habits, I think), so when I finally got back to the genre, there were scores of great books I knew nothing about.  I'm still trying to get caught up with 20 years of books while, at the same time, keeping up with new releases that people recommend.

Reading makes me think, and I blog about what I've been thinking.  So, sure, I'm writing about specific books, but I can't presume to say if a book is good or bad (I'm not sure I know).  Only if I enjoyed it.

Some days, my enjoyment of a book is shaped (warped, even) by what's going on inside my life, inside my head, on that day.  Yesterday was such a day.

I'd started JR Ward's Lover Unbound (the one with Vishous and Doc Jane) the night before.  I like the Black Dagger Brotherhood books, but my reaction has been a bit like watching cute cat videos on YouTube: amusement, affection, and then walk away essentially unchanged.  Not with this book, though.

At its heart, Lover Unbound is Romeo & Juliet.  Two angsty lovers who know the world will not let them be together but who cannot bear to be apart.  Part of the BDB mythology is the notion of mating as a "there is only one for me" phenomenon.  What in biology is referred to as "lock-and-key specificity."  But by Book 5, Ward has introduced the notion of the "confused lover" -- Vishous thinks he's in love with Butch, who's already mated with Marissa, and Phury is convinced he loves his twin's mate, Bella.  (Even believing they know their own hearts, how come their heads don't ask questions like "ah, but why isn't anyone smelling 'dark spice' if I love him/her so much?  And if there is no 'bonding scent,' is this really love?")

If I'd stayed in that place of bemusement, I'd be typing delicately snarky questions like, "Gee, when the series is all done and all the BDB are mated, d'ya suppose that mansion is going to smell like Macy's perfume department with spritzes of each brother's scent lingering on the air?"  Instead, Vishous sees Jane and thinks, "Mine," and I was hooked.

Which is stupid in a way, because "recognizing" your one-true-mate in a completely atavistic, non-cognitive way is almost cheating.  Whatever happened to falling in love, a process that takes time?  Eh, go read another book if that's what you want.  It ain't happening here.

No, what I got from Lover Unbound was that fizzy effervescence of first love: the tiny bubbles of hope and happiness rising and popping, non-stop.  It's the feeling kids get just before Christmas: Will I get what I most want?  It's the feeling girls get in 7th grade:  D'you think Bobby really likes me?  It's the joy of a romance in that perfect stage of promise not yet delivered: Is there a new text message from him?  Will he ask me out this weekend?

[It is also, on its dark side, the sensation of Magical Thinking Romance Theater, where elaborate fictional connections, attractions, and romances are staged, all without any hope of being real, let alone being reciprocated.  But MTRT is never discussed in romance novels, so I won't even bother admitting to discussing that.]

I'd only read a third of Lover Unbound when I had a conversation with a friend about that the twinkly feelings of new love.  I remember having had those feelings when I was in the early stages of my romance with BritHub 1.0; if I squint hard, I can almost recall how exciting it made turning on the computer and checking email in case, maybe, there might be a new message from him.  I experienced something similar with BritHub 2.0, a pleasant buzz just before I called him.

I'm married now, and while there are loads of wonderful benefits to marriage: stability, certainty, consistency (to name a few), the effervescence is more or less over.  Not because marriage is any less happy or the promise of joy is gone, but because the uncertainty has been lifted.  You can't have fizzy without a hint of the fear that it might all be taken away from you, or just not work out.  If the bubbles aren't popping, it's not carbonation.

The image of delicate threads of bubbles rising in a champagne flute is hardly consistent with the iconography of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  Solid tumblers of Stoli or 14-year-old single malt is more their style.  But something about V's feelings for Jane -- and then Jane's feelings for V -- evoked that same exhilaration for me.

It helped that Ward allowed Jane's fearlessness and scientific curiosity to evaporate any terror in V's presence.  It helped that V allowed his attraction to Jane to wipe away a lot of pre-existing angst about his backstory in an efficient fashion.  And it helped that there was a bunch of non-silly reasons why they both thought that they wouldn't be together in a sensible fashion.

Okay, so the ending is amazingly stupid.  (And that's all I'm going to say about the ending.)  I ignore it.  There is a moment earlier on when V learns that he can have Jane, he can be with Jane, that is precious.

So I sat in a Barnes & Noble -- I was 130 miles away from home and literally preferred reading Lover Unbound in a public place to driving for two hours to read it at home -- and read and read and read.

I can't tell you if it's a good book, or even if it's better or worse than earlier books in the series.  All I know is that it was precisely the right book for me on the right day.

That's synergy.


  1. I use a media fandom term for books like that - they hit one's "bulletproof kink."

  2. What a wonderful term, Victoria -- I hadn't encountered that one before.

  3. I think all genres have a need for that term in one form or another!

  4. The BDB books are adhictive as crahck. OK, that's enough playing around with 'h's!

    I had a similar reaction to 'Visions in White' by Nora Roberts. It's not the best romance I've ever read but it was absolutely what I was in the mood to read at the time.

    As a reader/writer who does review books, I get the impression that my method differs from that of a lot of reviewers. I don't read a book with the review in mind. I read as I always have and I don't take any notes until I've finished the book. At that point, I skim through the story again with a more critical eye. I love reading too much to destroy my enthusiasm for it by making it a chore.

    I admire reviewers who can schedule their reading to coincide with release dates, and so on. I can't do it. I read by mood. My life is over scheduled as it is, and reading is the one area in which I allow myself the freedom to choose a book on whim, read several books by the same author in a row, or read nothing at all for a couple of weeks.

  5. I love that phrase: lock-and-key specificity. From now on that's how I'm going to refer to true love. ;)

    I don't know if my reviews are really reviews, because I have no filter. And I'm a very moody reader.


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