The Complications Of Being Merely Whelmed

I am going to make a statement. I think we are in a golden age for children’s literature. I genuinely do think that. I think the provocative, brave and brilliant books that are being published right now and over the past few years are wonderful things. I think if you grow up now, you’ve got the world at your fingertips in a way that has never really quite been so before. 

But here’s the second part of my thought process, and this is the bit where it starts to get complicated for me. If everything is – so – overwhelmingly good, then – do we have books that simply – ‘whelm’ ? Books that just – occupy – us? That when we finish them, we have nothing but a rampant sense of indifference? Of time fulfilled, time passed?

I wonder this because I wonder if it’s a by-product of the outstanding quality that’s out there. That when we get a – quieter – book, a book that’s less feted and awarded and exposed, that somehow it gets lost in the torrent? There’s a lot of books in this world. There are new books coming every day. And as a reader, your expectations are dictated by what you read. You compare, you contrast, and you rate (explicitly or implicitly) and you contextualise your reading of the ‘now’ book against the reading of the ‘then’ book. And maybe that’s a contributory factor to merely being whelmed, because your expectations of brilliance are coloured by the life-changing book you just read? 

Maybe it’s less of a question of the book being ‘bad’ (which is such a loaded term itself), but rather the fact that you met the book at the wrong time. Maybe it’s because you meet the book after your world has been changed and you want that high again. Maybe it’s something to do with the bias that we bring as a reader to each and every textual encounter.

Maybe it’s not the books that are whelming. Maybe – just maybe – it’s me.

“Overwhelming? How much more than ‘whelming’ would that be, exactly?” Anya, (Spiral : Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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