Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bouncing Off Of Books

At File 770, people sometimes use the term “bounce” when talking about books. This means you didn’t like it, and you can’t exactly point to any fatal flaws either, but you just couldn’t get interested.

A bounce is somewhere between like and dislike. It’s as though the book you are reading escaped from a parallel universe, full of people you’ve never met enjoying activities that you probably wouldn’t like, such as reading books like this.

I think it works sort of like compatibility with other humans. Sometimes you hit it off with people, and you can talk effortlessly for hours. Some people are agreeable enough, not best friend material but perfectly fine as a neighbor or co-worker or workout buddy. Some people immediately get on your nerves, signalling that an argument is likely to happen if you continue talking. And some people are absolutely in the neutral zone, where the bounce point lies.

Since human brains have this tendency to make up excuses explaining why we do things, sometimes it can be tempting to overthink bounces. “Oh, I didn’t like that because it’s about people from Wisconsin, plus the author used ‘invariably’ six times.”

I prefer to think of it as being like an inverted USB plug. A failure to engage. Deceiving yourself into thinking that you bounced because, for example, it was too romantic, while ignoring the fact you’ve enjoyed reading romances penned by other authors, could limit you from enjoying future romantic stories. Sometimes minds meet, discover they have nothing in common, and keep on going.

When I was younger I used to think it was virtuous to try and keep reading past the bounce point, sort of like eating broccoli. Later on, I realized that my dislike for broccoli is fixed, and while my bouncing point for stories might not be innate, there’s no point in plodding through prose that isn’t really registering.

Sometimes dislike can be involved, such as when one immediately drops a book due to some character’s tasteless remark, but sometimes the bounce occurs before dislike has a chance to set in.

The bounce can involve timing. Maybe I’m in the mood for a big dumb epic and this particular book is all aescetic and intellectual. Or maybe I’m in the mood for ascetic intellectualism and this book is too dumb and epic.

I think it’s dangerous to tie bouncing to things like politics, religion and virtue. Not liking a story is one thing, but accusing it of warping young minds to support an conspiratorial agenda to sneak fluoride into our drinking water or whatever leads to witch hunts and moral panics, which are bad things for all artists.

Unless, of course, it really does have disgusting values that lead you to drop it like a PopTart fresh from the toaster when the icing is still partially liquefied. But now we’re talking about books that have crossed over into active dislike territory, not books that make you bounce.

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