Posted in Observations

It’s Okay to Think it Sucked

belle“That book was so good. I couldn’t put it down!” – your friend

“Groundbreaking work of fantasy. Excitement on every page!” – fancy publisher statement

“A great read.” – your librarian

From all the information you gathered before checking it out, purchasing, or borrowing this book, it should have been great. Everyone you know that has read it enjoyed it, the Amazon and Goodreads listings tout five-star ratings, and even your library has it featured on a front table with not enough copies to go around. It’s the genre you prefer, and you feel generally good about sitting down to crack the cover or wake the device. You’re in for a nice, enjoyable reading session.

Except, it’s everything but that.

The prose seems a little slow. The beginning of the novel is dense and heavy, filled with what seems to be superfluous information. The main character seems like a caricature of his or herself, rather than a fully-developed, changing person. The story drags, or goes too fast, and you find your attention wandering. You’re only thirty percent in, though. Maybe it gets better.

It doesn’t.

Sure, there are redeeming qualities; there are almost always a few of those. But the more you read, the more dissatisfied you become. You’re restless. You want to finish the book for the sake of knowing what happens and for the pure sake of finishing it. You want to be able to report back to those places you got advice about the book from and tell them what you thought. But it just seems a shadow of what you thought it might be.

Why not Zoidberg?

That creeping thought sneaks in: is it me? Are over six thousand people on Amazon with glowing, enthusiastic reviews wrong? Is the librarian, whose job certainly requires familiarity with books, incorrect? Or is it you? Are you being overly critical and nit-picky?

Breathe. The answer is no.

I often have this problem, as does my boyfriend. A lot of books we read turn out to be mediocre for a myriad of reasons. It’s important to remind yourself that this is okay. Here’s a few reasons I’ve come up with:

  • Reviewers are moved by strong emotion.  Most of the folks that leave a review are either really jazzed about the book or thought it was horrible. It takes a pretty diligent reviewer to write about something they just sort of liked, or something they found mediocre.
  • People read in different amounts. In my opinion, people who read a lot more books are going to be a bit more picky about what they like or dislike. I find that as I read more and more in the fantasy genre, I’m jaded to some of the more common tropes. I truly think they can still be done well, but it takes a lighter hand than some writers have.
  • Sometimes, it’s easier. Oftentimes, recommending something as good or decent is a lot simpler than saying it was awful, simply because people are less likely to question it. Especially if you get asked for recommendations frequently, sometimes a shorter conversation is better.
  • Positive fading. This is a phenomenon that explains a lot in life, but basically, we tend to remember the better parts of things (see fading affect bias). So, that book you read a few months ago had a really solid story but some awkward prose. As time went on, your brain glossed over the chunky sentence structure and positively recalls the story.

There are probably several other reasons out there. The important thing to remember is that it’s okay not to like things. Sure, some folks might take it personally if the book was super meaningful to them, but opinions that differ are what help us stay sharp and learn to look at other sides of a situation. Be polite and consider why a person may have liked something, rather than responding with vitriol.

Have you ever read a book that everyone else loved, but you thought was merely okay? Let me know what you think.


3 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Think it Sucked

  1. Great post! I’m like this with Brandon Sanderson. I read one of his books and thought it was so bad (although I like his metal-based magic system). It seemed like one of those really bad self-published novels, with awful prose and terrible characters. Everyone else seems to go mad for his books. It’s a shame really, as they have such amazing artwork on the covers. They’d still be welcome on my bookshelf, they just wouldn’t get read!

    1. Thanks! I have heard a lot of hype around the Sanderson books myself, but always felt wary (other than the cool-sounding metal magic). My boyfriend and I have been having this problem with The Name of The Wind, currently.

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