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Ode to Enthusiasm

Brenna Clarke Gray

Staff Writer

Part muppet and part college faculty member, Brenna Clarke Gray holds a PhD in Canadian Literature while simultaneously holding two cats named Chaucer and Swift. It's a juggling act. Raised in small-town Ontario, Brenna has since been transported by school to the Atlantic provinces and by work to the Vancouver area, where she now lives with her stylish cyclist/webgeek husband and the aforementioned cats. When not posing by day as a forserious academic, she can be found painting her nails and watching Degrassi (through the critical lens of awesomeness). She posts about graphic narratives at Graphixia, and occasionally she remembers to update her own blog, Not That Kind of Doctor. Blog: Not That Kind of Doctor Twitter: @brennacgray

This will come as no shock to the people who know me — people who have seen me dance for joy over a roast dinner, people who have watched me literally vibrate with excitement over the release of an anticipated book or movie or nail polish colour, people who have witnessed me genuinely squealing at the discovery of a new word to play with — but I am an enthusiastic person. You know how Muppets flail their arms in excitement? I have done that over a carton of chocolate milk. (It was seriously the best chocolate milk I’d ever had. Organic, made with cocoa. You’d die.)

Life is fucking rad, guys. Like it really, really is. I used to be a too-cool-for-school cynic, but life was so boring. Because you can always find the mediocre and make fun of it. Finding the really great is a lot more challenging, and telling people about it is a lot more fun. Never before has it occurred to me that my enthusiasm suggested a lack of capacity for critical thought. But yesterday, fellow Rioter Jodi wrote a piece about what she perceived as misplaced enthusiasm that rubbed me all kinds of the wrong way. So here’s my enthusiastic, slightly crotchety response.

I think Jodi misses two things:

1. Just because I only talk about things I am enthusiastic about does not mean I am enthusiastic about all things.

2. Sometimes it just feels like life is too short to spend my downtime thinking about things that don’t delight me.

I shall address these points — enthusiastically — in turn.

First, I really like talking about things that have moved me, stunned me, amazed me, made me leap for joy. Not everything does. I don’t blog about every book I read. I blog about the books I can’t not talk about. The books that make me want you to have the same experience I did. The books that turn my world upside down. The books that make me laugh. I don’t blog about forgettable books because that seems like a fantastic waste of my time.

You know, there’s a lot of stuff on the internet. There are a lot of very ranty book blogs out there. Book blogs that focus on the negative. Book blogs that make me think, “No, but seriously, do you even like books?” And I don’t seek those blogs out to read very often. I’m much more interested in being pointed, and in turn pointing you, in the direction of good stuff. (Like right now, I’m reading Ed Riche’s EASY TO LIKE, and it’s a really charming read — a funny cultural satire I would recommend to lovers of wine and cinema and the CBC. I could tell you about the book I read on the plane that kind of bored me silly, but I don’t want to spend energy on that book. It’s not fun to me.)

Which leads me to point two: blogging is a thing I do for fun. I loves ya, Book Riot, but you don’t pay the bills, so I better enjoy the time I spend with you. And I do, because I choose to talk about things that delight me. In my day job, I write literary criticism and read undergraduate essays. Trust me, I get umpteen chances every day to think critically and reconstruct the literary world for the better (ha!). In my downtime, I want to read and discuss awesome things.

Because here’s the reality: telling you about a book that made me happy, and finding out it made you happy? That makes me happy all over again. And that’s amazing. Amazing. I could tell you about all the books I read with problematic plot structure and bland description, but I’d rather just not talk about those books at all. I want to focus on the good. I read freshman composition papers for a living. For god’s sake, leave me a moment in the day to focus on the good. So if this is the way you read enthusiasm …

The only thing more annoying than people who hate everything are people that love everything. As a reader, hearing how much someone loves every book they read tells me nothing about the book. It does tell me a lot about the enthusiast. It tells me they can’t think critically, are afraid to offer up a real opinion, or they don’t know how to form a cogent argument about a book.

… you may want to do some critical thinking about it.