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In Defence of WOOL

Watch the Episode online here or on iView

I was very apprehensive when I heard they would be discussing the book. I am a huge fan of Wool and the book club does lean towards the critical when discussing books on the show. Which is fine, that is what a book club is all about. So while I was not surprised that the book did receive some criticism I was surprised what the book was criticized for and felt compelled to come to the book’s defense in some small way.

There were three key criticisms from the panel which consisted of regulars Jennifer Byrne, Marieke Hardy and Jason Steger. They were joined for this episode by China Mieville and Shamini Flint.

1. The book was too readable This type of criticism for a book drives me nuts. A book is supposed to be readable. If a book is unreadable then nobody is going to read it, so how is being readable a negative? I also resented the analogy used comparing Wool to eating take away food. Yes some take away food is unhealthy and not good for you but other take away food can be fresh, original and very good! (actually maybe it is a good analogy!)

2. There was a problem with the structure The panel knew that Wool was originally written in 5 parts yet criticized the book-as-a-whole’s structure. Yes, the structure of Wool would probably be different if it was written as one story. But Wool wasn’t written as one story. It started as a stand alone short story, that is why there is a big plot reveal at the end of part one because that is all Hugh Howey originally planned to write. The subsequent parts were all spaced out over a matter of months. This type of serial fiction does alter the structure and also means you need to add more hooks to keep readers interested in the next instalment. You are also forced to reiterate some of the themes in the book as the reader might have read the last instalment months ago. What is amazing about Wool is that it does actually work as both a serial and bound together, it is just not your usual novel structure. There was also criticism that the ending was unsatisfactory and left unanswered questions. I actually like when a book doesn’t answer all the questions but there are also two sequels to Wool which means there are more answers to come.

3. That Hugh Howey crowd-sourced ideas and changed the story to suit his readers Wool was self-published by Hugh Howey. He did not have an editor or any other assistance that a traditionally published author receives from a publisher. Wool was originally a stand alone, 40-page short story that found an audience who wanted more. This audience feedback spurred him on to explore and write more about a universe he had created. A select number of these readers have helped him shape his books but how is that different to the traditional editorial process? Doesn’t an editor (or 2 or 3…) and author work together to make sure the author’s intentions are being conveyed to the reader in the best way possible? Why can’t Hugh Howey use readers he trusts in the same way? There was also an odd comment about not giving readers what they want but making them want what you have written which I’m not sure I totally agree with.

I am a big fan of Wool and readily admit to bias in my defence here. Wool is not the perfect novel (if that even exists) and nor is it a literary masterwork of the 21st century. But it is an enjoyable, fast-paced, thought-provoking read by an author who has found a massive audience and has done so in a new way.

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