Friday, April 11, 2014

But? But what?

Last week, I read a book.

A good book.

I read many good books, but there are only a few authors on my auto-buy list, only a few authors who write books so entertaining I buy them as soon as they come out, without even reading the back cover blurb. It’s rare to add an author to this mental list. As I was reading a book last week—the first in a series from an author I’d never read before—I was thrilled to have found one. In my head, I did the math to figure out where I’d get the darn money to buy all the other books she’d already released.

The book was entertaining. Smiling, laughing, burning dinner level of entertaining. I don’t have the best attention span, so even though I love reading, it’s a rare book that completely distracts me from everything else on my to-do list.

It’s also worth noting for the sake of this post that the book in question has won a half dozen awards, including the RITA. It’s a dang good book. No question.


*cringe* Why is there always a “but?”

The book I read last week wasn't immune to what I call the “writer’s reflex.” It’s impossible not to mentally edit as I read, no matter what I’m reading. In this case, my mental editor was quite quiet. The characters and dialogue were so entertaining, I forgot about “issues” as soon as I thought of them.

As soon as I finished the book, I decided to buy the other seven or so books in the series. In fact, I was certain the world would end if I didn't get them soon.

But I went online to read the reviews of the book I’d just finished, because I was curious what other readers thought about the little, tiny issues my internal editor was still complaining about, even though she was smothered by plenty of mental pillows. And yes, there were plenty of readers who pointed out the same “problems.” Some gave 2 or 3 stars as a direct result.

(The “issues” in the book in question focused mostly on the heroine, but that’s a different, much longer post that would discuss why the unholy F we, as women, hold other women, real and fictitious, to such ridiculously high standards.)

Later that week, when I found some extra money in the budget, I thought to myself, “Huh. Should I buy the rest of that series? There were so many issues--”

Hold it! HUH? What issues? It’s been over a year since I had so much fun reading a book!

It’s not just me. It seems like every time I discuss a book, series, or movie with someone, no matter how much we both loved the book/series/movie, the conversation is about the flaws. “It’s good, but.” “I loved it, but.”

I ask you, But What? Why do we insist on focusing on the flaws, no matter how small or subjective, even with our favorite books? Why was I so quick to let a handful of 2-star reviews suggest to me that the rest of the series wasn't worth purchasing?

I’m not saying “issues” aren't a great, interesting topic of discussion. Such discussions are great learning tools and prompts for critical thought. But it bothers me that it’s the default way of thinking, especially about forms of entertainment we enjoy so much. When something emotionally movies us, why isn't that the first thing we think and talk about?

And that's my rant for the week. :-) Happy reading, everyone!


DaVinciKittie said...

I totally agree! When I first started reviewing books, the "little things" really bothered me, whether I ultimately liked the stories or not. When I'd finish them and decide if I wanted to continue (with a purchase) that same series, I always thought about the "errors" and whether it was "worth it". Now though, after having done deep dives into some really great material with serious emotional punch, I don't care. Okay, I DO care (self-published authors, please hire all the various editors you need to polish your work!); it just isn't a big deal anymore like it used to be. Yeah I notice it and probably mention it in the review, but it doesn't lower the rating (unless the mistakes are rampant and obvious) and in the really emotionally punchy books that play out so wonderfully, I might not even call it out in the review. Heck, I'm just excited I got to read the book! hah. Great post!

Nicola O. said...

I've thought about this a lot as my blog has evolved. For me, I think that when I'm being analytical, it's easier to spot flaws and problems and broken rules, while things that make a book really sing tend to be more alchemical for me -- much harder to be analytical about, and harder to write about.

Also, there's something a little bit, I don't know, competitive? about outlining the flaws. Like, I'm proving that I *know* something about writing -- see? I can spot a head-hop or a POV switch! I can discuss voicing and pacing! Proving my cred, so to speak.