Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Reader-Response Theory
AKA why no one is right and no one is wrong – or both at the same time

I have always believed that every review of a creative work i.e. in this instance a fictional text/work of fiction, is as valid as the other, because there is no “true” or “ultimate” meaning in any text. The author’s is just another meaning, and the moment the text is out there it becomes owned and understood by each and everyone who engages with it.

Every reader makes their own meaning of a fictional text, and that’s why one can find wildly different reviews and opinions of every work of fiction that has ever been made available to readers. Have we not all encountered this phenomenon and sometimes thought “but how can this reader like this? It’s crap!” or “I don’t understand how they could not like this, it’s fantastic!” and every single shade in between. This is particularly true for sequels, where reader expectations play a strong part, because they will have built their own meaning already.

Let’s have a look at Reader-Response Theory, which to me explains the above admirably.

Back in the 1930s a new attention to the reading process – and thus the reader – emerged to focus on the reader’s role in creating meaning. Louise Rosenblatt was the pioneer in 1938 in Reader-Response Theory, with other leading proponents being much later in the early 1960s Wayne Booth, and in the late 1970s Stanley Fish.

Back in the 1980s, when I was in grammar school, I remember that we were still looking for meaning in a text and interpreting literature by trying to understand what the author might have meant – and by learning everything about the author and what might have influenced this meaning-making. All well and good, and certainly interesting, but as someone else has said: “sometimes the meaning of ‘the wall was blue’ is not that the author tried to express melancholy, but that the wall was f****ing blue!”

Reader-Response Theory, on the other hand, is built on “Text and text alone”, and there are two fundamental beliefs:

  1. The role of the reader is vital for our understanding of literature.
  2. Readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an ‘objective’ literary text. Instead they actively make the meaning they find in the text.

Therefore, different readers will read the same text differently, and the reader is the necessary third component in the relationship that constitutes the literary work:

Any literary work is not fully created until the reader assimilates it and actualises it in light of their own knowledge and experience. Even the same reader reading the same text on two different occasions will probably produce different meanings because of the many variables contributing to the experience of a literary text.

READER + TEXT = MEANING

Reading is a process, and during this process the reader continually reflects on the text while meaning-making within their own context. Each reader reads literary work for himself/herself, while drawing on past experiences, and molding new experiences from new text.

As a literary text is read, readers respond to it in their own personal way:

  • Feelings, associations, memories, etc. occur as we read
  • These responses influence the way in which we make sense of the text as we move through it.
  • Literature read prior to this reading has an effect on the meaning-making
  • The reflection is based on the sum total of accumulated knowledge at any given reading
  • Current mental (mood) and physical condition are influencing factors

The second reading of a literary text produces greater (different) insights:

  • Knowledge acquired between first and second reading (including other literary texts)
  • Personal experiences that have taken place since
  • Change in condition and mood between two readings
  • Change in purpose/why the text is read again

Transactional Reader-Response

Transactional Reader-Response analyses transactions between the reader and the literary text. Both elements necessary in meaning-making i.e. no text = no meaning, no reader = no making, and vice versa.

Well, does this ring a bell for anyone? Of course there are also varied criticisms of the Reader-Response Theory, and I encourage you to take a look around and make up your minds for yourselves.

Next up I will take a look at Cognitive Reading Theory and Theory of Mind to further understand why no story is ever read the same at any given time, and no reaction is ever the same, either.

References

Knapp (2010) Reading Fiction—an Introduction to Reader Response theory. Available at: http://instructorknapp.blogspot.com/2010/09/reading-fictionan-introduction-to.html

Lorenzen, J (2006) An Application of Literary Theory: Considering Reader Response Theory in the Writing of Book Reviews. Available at: http://www.oppapers.com/essays/Theory-In-The-WritIng-Of-Book/439750

Rosenblatt, L (1938) Literature as Exploration, New York: Appleton-Century.

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Review © Film Fan “yveythelibrarian” at Amazon (December 2011)

“For those keenly awaiting Marquesate’s latest offering ‘Basic Training’, you will not be disappointed. It contains all the trademarks of this author’s unique style; tough men in a brutal environment, snappy banter,impeccable attention to military detail, and of course well plotted sex scenes. I also like that her relationships always seem to take place over several years. None of this ‘instant attraction’ stuff. I can attest
that Marquesate’s knowledge of the British Armed Forces is spot-on. The author charts the training and challenges that it takes to rise through the ranks like a real insider. I know a few currently serving who are impressed with the accuracy of what is portrayed.

The homophobia that is encountered by the younger character Chris Thompson, is brutally real. The self-doubt and and the eventual self-acceptance of Col “Bulldog Wilson , is equally well portrayed. He is a tough , but sympathtic character and you relate to the inner turmoli he is going through. However where the book shows real maturity is in the development of a genuinely romantic story. I do not want to give too much away, but it’s a great tale, and I really did not want to leave Col and Chris when it came to the end. It’s wonderful seeing a favorite author develop and evolve, and Marquesate seems to improve with each offering. This is tough with a soft centre, Marquesate’s warmest and human work to date, and thought provoking. Any one of the author’s books could withstand a sequel, and this is no exception. Absolutely recommended!”

Review © Valentina Heart at The Romance Reviews (full review) (December 2011)

“I’ve always liked reading about soldiers, the difficulties such career entails and the necessary roughness all of them individually present. I suppose it’s that ever-present infatuation we civilians have toward men who can take care of themselves and daily protect others. Mouthwatering muscles, a knack for weapons and the uniform don’t hurt a bit, of course. (…)

The guys are manly men, bone-headed and strong. While their road together wasn’t easy, there wasn’t much conflict to spice up the story. The sex was hot but not excessive and certainly not brutal. In fact, other than one scene with bloody details of an attack, the book never got any rougher and overall is a rather sweet. The progress of their relationship is very slow and stretches over a few years, where it’s pretty easy to follow their personal growth and that road to the eventual happy ending.(…)

While not amazing to the point of speechlessness, this book is still one of the best m/m soldier books out there and it should definitely be on the subject fans’ reading list.”

Review © Jen at Well Read (Excellent) (full review) (November 2011)

“It’s been two years since the release of the rather excellent Her Majesty’s Men, the last book by this author, but I was so impressed by that book that I’ve hung in there waiting for a new book to be published. Basic Training is that book, and in my opinion the two years have been worth the wait, especially as this book shows some increased maturity in the style of writing from this author. (…)

There were two things in particular that struck me about the story, and which added greatly to my enjoyment of the book as a whole. Firstly, I enjoyed following the unfolding of the relationship between the two men, especially in Col’s emotional journey towards accepting his homosexuality. Those of you who may have read Marquesate’s other books will know that her men are rough and tough; find it difficult to express emotion; and engage in almost brutal sex with each other. Whilst the first two are certainly the case here, the third element was very much toned down from previous books. Col’s one of these men who prefers not to think about emotional mushy stuff, and definitely feels uncomfortable talking about his feelings. As a result he tends to adopt the ‘think about it later’ way of facing up to things which concern him, such as his changing views on his own sexuality. I loved the gradual way that Col deals with these difficult for him issues, and especially the small steps towards accepting himself. Some of my favourite scenes in the book were when Col really thought through his jumbled emotions, or when he bit the bullet and spoke to others. However, when in private with Chris, he does let his guard down and the sex between them was quite beautifully tender in places, whilst also containing some of the roughness that this author is known for. They matched so well as a couple, both of them riddled with their own insecurities and hang-ups whilst providing a solid support to the other. It was more than love or romance, it was friendship, comradeship and a solid foundation for a life long relationship and I loved reading about it.

The second aspect which I really liked about this book was the way that the life of a Royal Marine was so ingrained through every thought and action of both the main characters. There’s enough detail given to understand the life of a soldier – both during the basic training and then on into a career in the Royal Marines – but not so much that I felt overwhelmed by knowledge that wasn’t important to the story.”

Review © bill_m at Amazon (full review) (October 2011)

“this is a timely story, with the demise of DADT in the US military, and it’s well-written and realistic. (…) even if you’ve no military experience you will easily and surely enjoy this story, although the m/m romance element may not be for everyone. If you have military experience – and are at least flexible and forward-looking in your perspective (i.e., not a confirmed homophobe or fearful of gays serving in the military) – you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the realism and sympathy for military training found here. (…) Give this one a chance – it’s very, very good.

Review © haywire at Amazon (October 2011)

“If you started reading Marquesate because of the Special Forces epic or of the novel Her Majesty’s Men or of the short stories that have appeared here and there, Friendly Fire (in mostly dreadful company in a collection also called Special Forces for what reason heaven only knows), For Queen and Country or Code of Honour, in ‘Basic Training’ you will find what you have come to like about the author: strong, believable characters, gritty story lines, a military setting that rings
entirely true and, above all where I am concerned, stories that are true to themselves; oh yes, and some rather hot m/m sex too.

‘Basic Training’ is the story of Col, a sergeant in the Royal Marines and Chris a recruit who is determined to make it through the mud because he has a point to prove. Against the backdrop of the gruelling 31 week training a relationship develops against all odds and, after the most audacious of all the boneheaded things Chris does, the two, very much to Col’s surprise, become a couple. Against the rough military background, this is a real love story and one that works. Col and Chris are in most ways unlikely lovers. There is the age difference, 14 years. There is the military environment; different ranks are not supposed to have relationships in the military and you certainly are more likely as a recruit in special forces training to want to stay out of your terrifying sergeant’s sights than to want to get to know him more closely. There is the difference in their backgrounds and educations…But against the odds the relationship develops and here Marquesate pulls off a master stroke. It would be easy to hit the false tone when these alpha soldiers are out of their natural element and have to start interacting as lovers and then as a couple. Instead she gets it just right. Col is her voice here and his surprise and ironic view of his own feelings and actions provides the needed distance and prevents any false sentimentality. These men are suddenly dealing with emotions, with feelings for each other and it’s completely uncharted territory for them for which their training has made them less fit perhaps than most. I defy anyone, male or female, to remember their first time in love and the heady, silly, clumsy and sometimes downright make-you-blush corny behaviour that went with it and not to share a rueful chuckle with Col. While the story has warm, touching and even funny moments there is, in true Marquesate style, plenty of grit too and homophobia as well as the deadly reality of soldiers’ lives in the time of war in Afghanistan raise their heads and provide a realistic setting that has a direct impact on the two protagonists’ happily ever after.

This is probably the sunniest of Marquesate’s stories so far. A feel good story that has deceptive depth and characters that are well developed, even the lesser ones like Chris’ aunt and uncle. Definitely worth the wait and definitely a novel
that I want as a book on my shelves.”

Better late than never (on my part) a heads-up to the lovely review by Elisa, which she published in December. She writes about Beyond Her Majesty’s Men:

“I absolutely loved this short story, there is practically no sex and despite this (or maybe thanks to this) it’s one of the most romantic and sweet story I have ever read, and if you considering it’s about rough soldiers, it was not an easy job to make it like that.”

You can read the full review on her LJ: http://elisa-rolle.livejournal.com/1195527.html