Comments: 47
BrokenTune 8 months ago
It's a lovely idea, but imo too simplistic. I have expectations of books and authors, and not all of the expectations are prejudices or preconceptions. Am I to accept her instruction to:

"Do not dictate to your author; try to become him. Be his fellow-worker and accomplice."

When the author clearly pursues an agenda without giving the consideration to facts? Or, where the author clearly has not done any research?

I think not.

I can see more application of this quote in poetry than other genres, but in its quoted form this is too apologetic for me.
Saying that, I have DNF'd a couple of her books...
BrokenTune 8 months ago
And it hasn't stopped me from trying her others.
BrokenTune 8 months ago
I guess, another aspect I'm not in agreement with is that Would presupposes that readers pick up books to confirm their existing opinions, thoughts, experiences. That is not true in all cases. People read for different purposes and motivations.
So, I guess, the generalisation just doesn't sit well with me.
I definitely don't read fiction to confirm any existing opinions or what not but non-fiction and documentaries, I think I fall into this trap at times. I gravitate towards docs or memoirs of topics I already a fairly formed opinion on or at least am leaning a certain way. I'm kind of with you on this quote but I'm also salty from being told I haven't read a book the "right" way.
Life experiences of course color things, opinions are opinions, sometimes stories are judged good, and sometimes they are judged crap.; not always a grand reason why.
Debbie's Spurts 8 months ago
I hear you on the being told I haven't read a book the "right" way.

I'm more in agreement with Heinlein's quote that it is up to the author to communicate successfully to us -- there are badly written books out there that don't deserve more than a brief sample and just plain "not for me" ones that others will praise.

That said, I approach nonfiction with certain expectations and needs. If I read a how-to book to fix my toilet, I expect to be told how to fix my toilet. If I read a political book by a politician known to favor free trade, well, I do expect the book to be geared in favor of free trade.

Fiction I expect to catch me up in the tale or at least entertain me. I know I am a mood reader. I might read a book I would enjoy (or loathe) in a different mood. Sometimes a book just hits the spot. I often put down a book and come back to it in a different mood. I usually skip reviewing a disliked book if I think I would have liked it in a better mood. (Probably influenced because I traveled for business a lot and when younger was broke a lot where I didn't always get to pick my read. That "bag of books" at the yard sale, the selection at drugstores and airports ....)
Murder by Death 8 months ago
@BT: That's the exact part of the quote I had a particular problem with. I have no desire to become the author or be his accomplice. Having not read the entire essay though, I'm trying to reserve judgment; she may expand on the concept later in ways that won't necessarily change my mind, but soften the visceral reaction I had to it. What resonated with me most in that quote is:

"If you hang back, and reserve and criticize at first, you are preventing yourself from getting the fullest possible value from what you read. " and, to a lesser extent the sentence that follows:

"But if you open your mind as widely as possible, then signs and hints of almost imperceptible fineness, from the twist and turn of the first sentences, will bring you into the presence of a human being unlike any other."

Which I still find problematic, but can see her point.

Mostly, I think it just resonated with me because it put into better focus for me what I do when I read; why sometimes I find myself overly forgiving, even as I'm writing the review, and sometimes get to the end and think 'this sounds like I hated the book'.

Saying that, I may read the essay and end up thinking it's utter twaddle - I've never read anything she's written, and in complete defiance of the whole open-mindedness thing, have generally avoided her fiction because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like it.
Murder by Death 8 months ago
Just to be clear on my own feelings - there is NO right way to read. As I comment to Tannat below, I'm more interested in essays like this because I think it allows me to see how others read and maybe, therefore, understand better why they experience books the way they do, and I experience them the way I do.

What can I say? I've been listening to hours of philosophy and it's pickled my brain. ;-)
BrokenTune 8 months ago
"If you hang back, and reserve and criticize at first, you are preventing yourself from getting the fullest possible value from what you read."

This is the part that resonates with me, too, but it isn't just true for reading. This could be applied to a multitude of experiences... but pretty much with the same caveat that some things are just going to be daft or not worth it for a particular person. It really depends on context.

For example, I could probably go and read any number of Ann Coulter books ... and even try to approach them with as open a mind as possible ... but chances are that I will not become her "accomplice" and that I will need to analyse and question her statements. But that part of the reading process is the same for me whether I already like the author or not. Just because a favourite author has written something, it doesn't follow that I agree with everything.
And of course, it depends on the circumstances of reading, too. Comfort reading needs to fulfil different expectations than reading to find new ideas. That is the whole point of comfort reads (unless of course the reader views books that can be challenging as "comfort reading", which is also a possibility).

That's the problem I have with the quote - she generalises. Readers are far more diverse than that.

Btw, I never understood your post as looking for a "right way to read". However, I love your posting this for pretty much similar reasons - that it is interesting to see how others read and to have that discussion.

I believe the quote is from The Second Common Reader and an essay called "How Should One Read a Book?". I have not read this one, yet, but have it on my kindle for when motivation strikes.

From the first paragraphs of the essay, it may seem that the quote, indeed, may require the context of the rest of the essay as Woolf starts out with a clarification that she does not intend her essay to be an "instruction":

"In the first place, I want to emphasise the note of interrogation at the end of my title. Even if I could answer the question for myself, the answer would apply only to me and not to you. The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. If this is agreed between us, then I feel at liberty to put forward a few ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality that a reader can possess. After all, what laws can be laid down about books?"
Murder by Death 8 months ago
That opening paragraph gives me renewed hope that the essay itself will be worth reading.

If you can approach an Ann Coulter book with anything like an open-mind, you're a far, far better person that I am. I'm conservative and even I think she's batshit insane. But I do get where you're coming from. In the vein of 'how to read', I think no matter how you go about it, it's impossible not to be critical on some level; if someone asked my if my 5-star reads were perfect, I'd have to say no; I can always find *something* to criticise, but the overall body of the work I read overcame any small flaws (for me). Likewise, some books I just don't like; they don't work for me even though they're highly regarded by general consensus *cough*anything-by-Orwell*cough*. And some books are meh for reasons that are ... ephemeral.

Circumstantial reading and its differing set of expectations is exactly why my ratings are in the context of a book's genre. My 5 star rating for a cozy mystery is not comparable to my 5 star reading for an Austen books - cozies have (or not), for me, an entirely different set of expectations than Austen's work - or Harkup's for that matter. No cozy is ever going to be as good as an Austen work, nor be fairly comparable to a non-fiction.

I think I may have gone off topic a bit ... but yeah, context is important when discussing how one reads. :)
Debbie's Spurts 8 months ago
Oh, definitely I think most of us rate differently by genre. How do you compare a cookbook to a thriller to a biography ,..
Hmm. Granted, I expect different things from books without a narrative (e.g., cookbooks) than from books with a narrative. But I'm not actually that sure I'm applying a different standard to, say, mysteries, historical fiction and general fiction, respectively. Certainly not consciously, and certainly not in the sense of giving -- say -- mysteries more slack as far as such things as characters and narrative style are concerned (à la "oh, it's only a mystery; authors are allowed to cater to the expection of cardboard good guys and cardboard bad guys here").
Murder by Death 8 months ago
I don't do that either. But my expectations for a good mystery are different than my expectations for a work of literary fiction. In the former I ask 'did the mystery plot's puzzle work? was it plausible? clever?' while in the latter I'm asking 'did the story move me? was there depth? sincerity?'. I expect Thrillers to thrill me and Suspense to keep me on the edge of my seat; I don't have those expectations for straight up mysteries or literary fiction*. But I expect ALL of them to be well-written.

I don't have different standards of rating for genres, but I do have different criteria; it's not about cutting any genre slack or expecting lower quality, but about recognising that a thriller is not a cozy is not a literary fiction. My ratings are a reflection of my answer to the question: "What's a good [cozy mystery]?"

* - exceptions made for cross-general works, of course. Sometimes mystery do thrill, and often thrillers involve a mystery, for example.
Debbie's Spurts 8 months ago
Oh certainly. There are expected elements that lead to some of my star ratings -- I do expect my reads to be well-written regardless of genre and for all fiction to have well-developed characters with a storyline that engages me. If not, likely a DNF before get to a point I'm even comfortable rating it. Doesn't get a pass on anything because of the genre, but when I rate a cozy mystery I am mentally gauging that in comparison to other cozy mysteries and I won't be mentally comparing it to a detective noir or romantic suspense book. I hold all fiction accountable to have good writing / worldbuilding / characters / storyline -- but, a cozy mystery will get a pass for not being as detailed about police procedures as a police procedure or true crime novel nor do I expect an intense or grim atmospher from a cozy or a chicklit ... each genre (and my own mood) comes with its own initial expectations, nevermind an open mind.
See, and that's precisely what I'm not doing. Of course I have my expectations and a mystery will hardly get a high ranking from me if it bores me -- but neither will any other kind of book. Sloppy background research is an issue that may crop up in historical novels more than anywhere else, but essentially, I'm p*d off *whenever* I discover an author hasn't done their homework. And I certainly don't measure mystery against mystery or historical novel against historical novel before I measure them against anything else -- let alone, *instead of* anything else. That doesn't mean that from a book seller's or librarian's POV it doesn't make sense to have genre shelves for easier buyer / borrower access, or that I don't have genre shelves in my personal library, either (I do). But to me, that's merely an administrative / organizational issue. It has zero effect on my expectations of quality -- in *every* aspect of the book, and regardless what genre it happens to fall into.
Tannat 8 months ago
Yes and no, is my take on it. Although we don't like to admit it, we always bring our biases to what we read and that can set us against a book, or only get what we want from it (confirmation bias and all). We don't like to admit it but it IS true. And if we don't admit it, we don't have a chance of challenging our biases. That said, the level of what I'm willing to put up with has fallen over the years and I'm with BT and Debbie on not being keen on being told that I've read a book "wrong". If I stick it out to find out how things turn out, my suffering will drive down my rating.

I'm actually currently reading an essay about Woolf by someone who really likes her works and I'm just skimming... I'm not sure if I've actually ever read a book by her.
Murder by Death 8 months ago
This is especially true for me when someone's enthusiasm leaves me feeling pressured to read something I don't want to; that book, no matter how outstanding, is going to suffer for my reluctance and hence, my bias, and I rarely find them outstanding. I know it's good for me to do it once in awhile, but it doesn't make me embrace it.

I don't think there's any wrong way to read a book, but I am interested in exploring different avenues of how people read. Being on BL has made me curiouser and curiouser about others' reading experience and why they come out of books with the feelings about it that they do. Not that there's an answer for that, but it's interesting to contemplate sometimes.
BrokenTune 8 months ago
Confirmation bias definitely plays a part in some readings as does any other bias and being aware of it, as you all have already pointed out, can make a difference to the book.
It is one of the reasons I don't read introductions in fiction books or re-issued books until the end of the book.

@Tannat: Which essay are you reading?

I have a "difficult" relationship with Woolf. I acknowledge her literary genius but other than Orlando I found much of her writing in To The Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and The Waves (dnf) tedious to read ... not to mention that I thoroughly disliked many of the characters ...
Still, I would not hesitate to pick up some Woolf in the future and there are some of her books that I definitely want to read.
Tannat 8 months ago
@MbD Just to be clear, I didn't mean to imply that you thought that there might be a right way to read a book; that comment was based on the quote itself and not approaching a work with an open enough mind to appreciate the work. [I don't think you took it that way, but I just wanted to be sure it was clear :) ]

@BT It's one of the essays in Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, a collection of feminist-themed essays. There was a lot of Woolf says this, Woolf does that.... I'd go check the title but I'm currently trapped by a kitty who is showing his fluffy belly.
BrokenTune 8 months ago
LoL. Fluffy kitty belly wins over references to Woolf ANYTIME! :D

Thanks. The Solnit book is on my list already, too. Might skip that essay referring to Woolf, tho... Thanks for the heads up.
Tannat 8 months ago
The essay is called "Woolf's Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable".

I became untrapped as I was hitting "publish".
Tannat 8 months ago
If you've actually read some Woolf (unlike me) you might get more out of it...
Tannat 8 months ago
lol especially since it's only going to be fluffy today (he's getting groomed (hopefully) tomorrow).
BrokenTune 8 months ago
Well, make the most of it then! :D
Murder by Death 8 months ago
@BT: Woolf's books came up in "The Secret Library" that I just recently finished and he mentioned one of her little known works - whose name I can't think of at the moment (of course, and I'm at work), was in his opinion, her funniest and most light-hearted. It's written from the POV of the family dog? I'll have to dig out the name when I get home. I figured if I ever decided I needed to experience Woolf's fiction, that would be the one I'd read.
BrokenTune 8 months ago
Flush? About Elizabeth Barret Browning's dog?
Murder by Death 8 months ago
That sounds right! Flush! He called it the most amusing and lighthearted of Woolf's works so it seemed like a safe place to start (for me). If I found the writing florid or unlikeable, I would still have maybe been entertained. :)
BrokenTune 8 months ago
I haven't read Flush, yet, but that is on my list, too.
I also thoroughly recommend Orlando. I loved it. It is "experimental", tho.
Murder by Death 8 months ago
He compared it a bit to Orlando, and I did think if I couldn't' find Flush, I might give Orlando a peek. But this is all off in maybe, someday land ... I need more books to read right now like I need another hole in my head. :D
Tannat 8 months ago
Moar books! lol
I happen to have read the complete essay just recently (it's contained in a tiny anthology called "On Reading, Writing and Living With Books" edited by the London Library), and MbD, the passage you quote -- and even more so, Woolf's subsequent subdivision of literature into books that are more worthy of the reader's attention than others) was what I had the most difficulty with as well.

FWIW, I'm a big fan of "A Room of Her Own" and "Orlando", and her opening paragraph of this particular essay ("How Should One Read a Book?") -- where she essentially says that there aren't, and can't possibly be, any rules as to how to read in the first place -- resonated very strongly with me. And that is precisely why I refuse to be guided by any "authorities"; regardless whether the author him-/ herself or teachers, critics, or whoever else, in how to approach books, or how to determine a book's particular "value" to me as a reader ... as Woolf then, however, proceeds to suggest. I'll freely admit to being prone to confirmation bias, but I've been a reader all my life, and I think if I've learned one thing in all that time that is which sort of apprach to reading works for me (occasionally challenging myself to overcome my confirmation bias included) -- and which sort(s) of approach(es) don't. And I may value different books for different reasons, but I refuse to put a ranking on those different reasons. Entertainment is as valid as education; appreciation of language as valid as a well-constructed plot. It's the right mix of all of these, coming together, that matters to me; not one element more than any others. And it is *always* a case of "one [individual] book at a time".

That being said, Woolf's essay reads to me like very much a product of its time, with all the attendant snobbery about "highbrow" literature (to which Woolf herself clearly aspired) -- never mind Oscar Wilde's (much earlier) dictum that "books are well written, or badly written; that is all" (OK, he said that as a response to "Dorian Gray" being accused of "immorality", but, I think he meant it in exactly the broad, general sense that is implied if the statement is taken by itself). All the examples she gives of "badly written" books are genres that were considered "lowbrow" then (chiefly, mysteries / thrillers and romance) -- which was essentially bullsh*t even at the time of her writing, but even more so now. Literature has evolved in ways that she probably didn't consider possible (or perhaps didn't want to imagine, because that might have endangered her sense of self?), genre lines are being blurred, new genres are being created, and the old "highbrow" / "lowbrow" clichés are finally being challenged once and for all ... which is just as it is meant to be.

So, bottom line, there are some sentiments in the essay that resonate with me; especially so, the opening paragraph. But it goes downhill for me pretty much at the point you picked, MbD.

Also, can I just say, "Do not dictate to your author; try to become him" sounds to me pretty much exactly like the stuff we're hearing from BBAs every single time? "You're not reading this book right" -- "you don't understand this book" -- "what I really wanted to say was ..." Well, guess what, failure of communication happens, even with the best-intentioned and most openminded readers. And if that happens, isn't it (at least) just as likely the author's failure to clearly communicate their intent as a writer as it is the reader's prejudiced approach that causes that breakdown in communication?
BrokenTune 8 months ago
From what I have read by and about her, Woolf may have been a bit of a snob herself, so her operating in the confines of "highbrow" and "lowbrow" are both surprising (for an author who broke the stylistic confines of the novel) and less surprising (for someone very much operating within a strict class divide) at the same time.

The link to BBA's was what I got from it also - tho, I hope none of the BBAs ever reads Woolf's quote as it may go their head ... even more. It just read like the plea of a needy writer looking for some sort of right to not be criticised. I'm not sure it's limited to a failure to communicate in the quote, either. Is this explained better in the essay?
She goes on to say (a paragraph or so later): "Perhaps the quickest way to understand the elements of what a novelst is doing is not to read, but to write; to make your own experiment with the dangers and difficulties of words" -- and then proceeds to describe the creative process; the decision, in remembering (or imagining) a scene what elements to include and what to leave out, and from there, she segues into the "highbrow" / "lowbrow" // "good fiction" / "bad fiction" theme. So, yes, it definitely comes across as "try and learn by experiment how difficult it really is to write 'good' fiction so you may gain a new appreciation of the writers of that fiction". All of which reinforces the needy writer's abhorrence of criticism, which in turn is what brought to my mind the BBAs of the internet age. And yes, of course it's much more than a failure of communication at heart. But that -- and "you have no right to criticize me since you're not a writer yourself" -- are the core mantras to which BBAs tend to reduce the issue.
Tannat 8 months ago
I figure it's one thing to say you should approach every work with an open mind (=good) and another to say if you don't like something you're just not open enough (=bad).

BBAs would probably have to be expanding their horizons in order to stumble across this essay... I kid, I kid.
BrokenTune 8 months ago
I feared as much, but not having read the full essay, yet, I didn't want to call Woolf a BBA ... just yet.

You know, in the interest of not "preventing [myself] from getting the fullest possible value from what [I] read".

BrokenTune 8 months ago
@Tannat: LoL. It's a scary thought, tho. :)
It sure is, lol.

And yes, @BT, though on the one hand I'm not surprised since there clearly is an elitist streak in Woolf's writing, on the other hand I find this very disappointing coming from an author who was so vocal in promoting women writers and women's rights ... and who broke so many taboos herself.
Murder by Death 8 months ago
I don't have a problem with "don't dictate to your author" but I have zero desire to become him (nor am I willing to try writing; I already know it's hard and I dislike it and further, I'm no good at it). A book is an author's creation birthed from their minds and imaginations; up until the moment it enters my greedy hands, (i.e. it's published) the author is entirely free to write their story and express themselves as they see fit. So, I'm on board with "don't dictate to your author" in the sense that it's the author's creation, not mine, and not created for me (taking contract writing out of this discussion for simplicity's sake).

BUT... once it enters my hands, it's MY book. It becomes MY creation as the world unfolds in MY mind shaped by my experiences and my context. I can TRY to allow the author's intent fair play, and in my own opinion, I think this is only fair and right, but I'm not obligated to do so. This dichotomy between the author's desire and mine becomes glaring when a character I've grown attached to is killed off. Events like this is when author and reader (me) diverge irreconcilably and I no longer care to consider the author's intent.
“When a book leaves it’s author’s desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator’s have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, reads them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it.”
Salman Rushdie: "Joseph Anton"

Authors must be comfortable with letting go their creations, and letting their readers access them in their own way. Not every author can, and obviously Virginia Woolf was one of those authors who couldn't.
Murder by Death 8 months ago
Yes, they must; but it's also allowable, I think, for them to be optimistic and wish for their work to be understood in the same way they themselves understood it when they created it. What's not allowable is to demand it, insist on it, or throw tantrums when it isn't. I can allow the author to speak and try to hear their voice, if I choose to make the effort, but ultimately, my experience will be mine. Authors can like it, or lump it, but they cannot change it.

I think both Woolf and Rushdie are right (based on just these quotes, btw, which of course isn't sufficient context); one is just more optimistic than the other, perhaps.
Tannat 8 months ago
It's also entirely possible for an author to put things into their work (themes, subtext, whatever) without even realizing it. I forget who admitted that this was the case, but I seem to recall recently coming across a fairly well-known author saying this.
It's actually a bona fide literary theory -- "reader association", or some such it's called. Ian Rankin talks about it in his intro to the first of his Rebus collections ("The Early Years") -- he says he was very surprised to hear the things some readers *thought* he had meant to express with a given passage, which in fact had never entered his mind at all. (He is totally fine with the notion, FWIW.)
BrokenTune 8 months ago
Let me add another Le Guin quote here from No Time to Spare (I can't remember which article this was from and my copy is currently on the other side of the Atlantic...):

"Meaning - this is perhaps the common note, the bane I am seeking. What is the Meaning of this book, this event in the book, this story ... ? Tell me what it Means.
But that is not my job, honey. That's your job."

- Ursula K. Le Guin

Once a book is written, it is out there for the reader make something of. It often has little to do with the author.

Like Rankin, Le Guin also understood that. FWIW, Rankin's pal Ali Smith is also a great believer of the book being its own entity once the author has released it into the world. I only mention it because she gave wonderful talk about it in Edinburgh last year when one of the audience her about how different readers interpret her work.
Murder by Death 8 months ago
As long as it isn't on the *bottom* of the Atlantic. ;-) I have this LeGuin on my pile and I'm looking forward to her essays.

At the end of the day, I find myself in the hilarious position of accidentally defending authors. This is a genuine first for me; I am apathetic about authors; with the exception of two I can think of, I wouldn't make an effort to hear them speak, or get my book signed. They supply my personal heroin and I'm thankful, but rarely grateful.

BUT I'm not going to be convinced that Le Guin, Rankin, Smith, Gaiman, or any of the other supremely well-adjusted and rational authors out there do not feel an thrill in their soul when someone "gets it" the way the they wrote it. They certainly made peace with the letting go, but no way I'm going to believe they don't secretly hope their readers will see the same things. Wouldn't it be abnormal not to? That isn't incompatible with also being interested or fascinated by the interpretations readers DO end up making.

I really do need to hunt down Woolf's essay to see what I make of the whole thing, but I suspect she falls somewhere on the spectrum that's closer to "well-adjusted" than it is to BBA. I could be, and am prepared to be, wrong. :)
BrokenTune 8 months ago
I need to dig it out, too. I'm hoping to finish the FSF short stories before I add another book of shorts or essays to my current reads.

I'm with you on the assertion that authors probably are thrilled when they see a reader "get it". I mean it is one of the marvellous events that happens in any human interaction - when someone else gets it. It surely can't be different for authors.
Tannat 8 months ago
Oh, I'm sure there is a little thrill among all those authors, but I'm sure they're also thrilled when their readers made them discover new things about their work based on the quotes mentioned here.
Actually, Rankin says for him the process was exactly the other way 'round:

"I was a student at Edinburgh University. I'd written a novel called The Flood. It was all about a teenage boy living in a Fife mining-town and dreaming of escape to Edinburgh. I wasn't a teenager any more. I'd taken the book home to my dad. The heroine's name was Mary Miller. 'Oooh,' my dad said, 'she lives just around the corner.' Well, *someone* called Mary Miller lived round the corner, only she wasn't *my* Mary.
My dad saw himself in most of my characters, even if that character was a nun. 'Yes,' he say, 'but she speaks just like me.' I don't think my dad really understood The Flood. Maybe I didn't understand it either. They taught it for a while at Edinburgh University. Unbeknownst to the students, I sat in on one of the tutorials. Someone had to read out their 'paper' on my book. They saw Waste Land imagery, colour symbols, the elements ... I started taking notes. Could this book really be cleverer than its author?
My dad passed The Flood on to his friends, and went back to his bookshelf: James Bond, Where Eagles Dare. And I sat in Edinburgh, trying to write another novel, a novel that might be read by a wider audience than students and academics. [...] I bought Kelman's first for my dad. His sort of thing, I thought. Working-class working man against the system. Dad couldn't read it. Said it wasn't 'written in English'. Said there wasn't any story. I was shocked. This was *literature*. It was good for you. It was the stuff I was studying. Dad's readction made me think about the kind of writer I wanted to be.
I wanted to update Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde to 1980s Edinburgh. My idea was: cop as a good guy (Jekyll), villain as bad guy (Hyde). [...] When the book was published, I found to my astonishment that everyone was saying I'd written a whodunnit, a crime novel. I think I'm still the only crime writer I know who hadn't a clue about the genre before setting out. There were crime sections in bookshops and libraries -- news to me -- and a healthy number of practitioners extant. So instead of my literary studies, I turned to the likes of Rendell, James, Hill, Ellroy, Block ... And the suff wasn't bad. The form was flexible. I could say everything I wanted to say about the world, and still give readers a pacy, gripping narrative.
But I still wasn't a crime writer. I wrote a Graham Greene-ish spy novel. I wrote a techno-caper thiriller. And then I decided to have another bash at Jekyll and Hyde, only this time I'd pun Hyde with 'hide'. This became Hide & Seek. One reviewer 'got it'. But by then it was too late. I was getting to know and like the character of Rebus. I had more books I wanted to write about Scotland, and this guy would act as my moutpiece."
Ian Rankin: "Rebus: The Early Years" (introduction)
Addendum: Neil Gaiman on Twitter, today:

"But he was kind of wrong. He was right when he said. 'It's about...' He was wrong when he said 'It was only about... and it wasn't about...' If anyone, even the writer, tells you that something only means one thing, they are ALWAYS wrong. Because nothing only means one thing."
[Responding to someone else's comment on the hilarity of reviewers educating Ray Bradbury on the meaning of "Fahrenheit 451."]