Monday, May 23, 2016

Aside About Books and Book Reviews in General

I've been thinking this issue through a few reviews now and want to hash some of it out by writing about it.

What makes a book good to a particular reader?  For me, there are a lot of factors, as I'm sure is true for many people.  A mix of likable characters, interesting story, good (in my opinion) story telling style, not too much contrivance that my eyes roll are all good starts.  I'm willing to overlook (or sometimes not even notice) a deficiency in one area if other areas are strong enough.  When I read other reviews, particularly of books I've liked that maybe some others have not, I can recognize what the reviewer is talking about, but it just didn't matter to me while I was reading the book. 

One reviewer on Goodreads (link to full review here), had this to say about Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel:

This paragraph...

...had me questioning why the MC calls Robert out for working "so hard", when a few sentences later we are told that Robert likes to get boozed up during school lessons. Damn, Robert, WHY YOU WORK YOURSELF SO HARD?

And, yes, I totally agree.  This should have completely turned me off of this book, but it didn't.  And, you know what else?  I barely noticed this until the reviewer brought it up.
John Green touches on this phenomena in his review of the Twilight series in which he goes on for a while about the wrongness of it and then says something like, "But none of that matters when you're reading it."  I couldn't agree more with almost everything he says.  I harbor deep embarrassment for having been totally sucked in by Twilight the first time I read it.  I liked it so much that I suggested the series for our next road trip.  Guess what?  It didn't really hold up.  I spent too much time analyzing what was wrong with it (spurred on by both Anthony and Davan) to think it was good anymore.  That doesn't mean that Stephanie Meyer isn't a good story teller.  And it doesn't mean that I wasn't gaga over it the first time I read it.  I was.  (I'll try to own that.)  There is a reason the books are so popular.  (By the way, if you can't lower yourself to read Twilight but you want to sample her story telling, read The Host.  There is some over the top romance, but it's a good and interesting science fiction story.  Ignore the movie.)

All this is to say that your mileage may vary with reviews.  Mine and others.  If you can find a reviewer who loves the same books you do and dislikes the same books you do (even if not everybody does), then you've got yourself a good source of recommendations.  Which is a thing of beauty.  Best sellers don't work for everybody.  I could not make it through even the first chapter of Gone Girl, for example.

Thus, my basic approach to books:  try a lot and be willing to just put aside anything that isn't working for you.  If you like a book, great!  Try not to let others' negative thoughts sway you.  If you don't like a book, no problem.  Even if it's what everyone is reading.  After all, while book reading can challenge your assumptions, expose you to new worlds and ideas and possibly further your knowledge, ultimately most of us read as a hobby.  And hobbies are supposed to be fun.

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