Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reader Expectations

All readers open a book with preconceived notions. This became very evident to me when I read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I can hardly mention the book without someone saying how much they loved the book. It is still showing up on best selling lists, which is impressive considering the book is nearly twenty years old. I read the book as I was completing For the Love of a Devil, a novel I very literally hung from the outline of Hosea’s story as it is detailed in the Bible. Because I had chosen to set the story in the heartland of America in modern times, it required some effort to fit the events on the outline and when I saw that Redeeming Love was a “retelling of the biblical story of Hosea” I purchased a copy so I could see how Francine Rivers had managed the same thing. When I opened the book I was surprised to find that though the author had pulled elements from Hosea’s story, such as God’s instructions to Hosea on whom to marry and buying her out of slavery, the order was mixed up and rather than seeing a rebellious woman pursued by a loving husband we see a woman so hurt from the past that she is afraid of love. That was a tremendous disappointment to me. My preconceived notion got in the way of me being as thrilled with the book as other people.

When we have conflicting feedback, it is often as much a result of a reader’s expectations as it is with the quality of the work. In the end, I think we have to stay true to our own vision for the story. While I followed the Hosea outline very tightly and Francine Rivers followed it extremely loosely, it doesn’t make one more right than the other. Albert Einstein said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” When we look at feedback, the thing we must consider is whether the person is judging it on its ability to accomplish what we want it to accomplish or whether they are expecting it to climb a tree.