Monday, March 11, 2013

Like It Or Not

It never ceases to fascinate me how differently people can view the same book. I just finished a book entitled: Morigu: The Dead, by Mark C. Perry. When I went to review it on Goodreads, I found that most reviewers loved it. Several readers literally raved over the work. One said he’d give it 5.5 out of 5 stars. Another said it was the fantasy book that he judged all others against. Another reviewer of my acquaintance said it was the equal of Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, which is one of my favorite books. It was that comment that persuaded me to pick up the book in the first place.

My impressions of the book were somewhat less glowing. I thought it was very well written. I really enjoyed the prose, but the story didn’t engage me as much. There were so many characters and I didn’t particularly connect with any of them. The main character, the “Morigu” of the title, was interesting but wasn’t even on stage through most of the book.

There were a lot of scenes where the main heroes were talking about their plans. I generally find one or two such scenes to be plenty. The battles were fairly frequent but I generally felt somewhat distant from them, much more as if I were watching objectively from a distance than if I were down in the midst of the action experiencing the danger. The high level poetic language may have accounted for part of that. I ended up giving the book 3 stars. There is another in the series but I don’t imagine I’ll be reading it.

I wonder why the differences between my response to the novel and the responses of others.  Could it be something as simple as mood?  I felt like I wanted to read a fantasy novel, but maybe I wanted something with more blood and gore and less on the “high fantasy” end of the spectrum. Maybe the plot was more complicated than I was looking for. I think I did want something more straightforward, with fewer characters and more time spent with those characters.  The book was only 202 pages but had so much packed into it that we often seemed only to scratch the surface of events.

Do you find this kind of thing with your own reading?  You love a book that others either don’t like or find average?  Or you find a book average that others love?  Do you have any insight into why such things happen for you?



Ty said...

Happens to me all the time. I'm especially often baffled by award-winning works, even Hugo and Pulitzer winners. Most of the ones I've read from the last few decades have left me with a less-than-impressed feeling.

I'm also often confounded by the more popular authors ... your Pattersons, Grishams, Dan Browns, even Crichton, etc. I've read a number of works by such authors, and while I find them easy and sometimes enjoyable reads, I simply don't understand why they are continually so popular when there are much better works and writers out there.

On the other hand, the indie writer evolution of the last few years has allowed me to discover a handful of excellent authors I otherwise likely would have never read. Some of these have been as good as, if not better than, some of the traditionally published material out there.

sage said...

I do think our mood and our anticipation has a lot to do with how we receive a book.

Chris said...

Don't get me started. There are a couple that people are going apeshit over in the nature/wilderness/memoir/etc. genre that I spend a lot of reading time in that leave me scratching my head. I think for some books, you get so many folks raving about something that it creates its own momentum; so many people want to be part of something. That baffles me.

Vesper said...

It happens to me all the time. Sometimes, I pick up a book (from the library) with a lot of bad reviews on Amazon or elsewhere and, almost inexplicably, find that I like it. Other times, it's the reverse. I guess something just does or doesn't click, or maybe it's this Aries' tendency to do the contrary of what she's being told... :-)

Angie said...

I've read quite a few books that make me wonder what planet other people are from. :) I can think of one book off the top of my head that got insane raves over in m/m romance, that I had a hard time dragging my bleeding eyeballs through. And there's a writer who's incredibly popular, with a horde of wildly enthusiastic fans, but I've tried several of her books and find them ranged between "OK" and "Ick!"

I think it's mainly a taste thing. If my response is only a little off the bulk of reviewers, then it might be that I wasn't in the mood or whatever, and might have liked it better at some other time. But if my response is way off from that of the crowd, then I figure the problem has to be something more fundamental than that.


Barrie said...

This does happen to me. With both books and movies. Maybe with people, too! Ha! I wonder (back to the books and movies) if we just have different deal breakers? So, what's a deal breaker for me (inconsistencies in plot, for example) isn't a deal breaker for someone else. Also, if I'm interrupted a lot while reading (by children, for eg), it might affect how I view a book. Interesting post, Charles!

The Wasp said...

My buddies love Donald Westlake's "Dortmunder" comedies and I find them utterly unfunny. On the other hand those same folks hate William L. Marshall's "Yellowthread Street" series which I find hilarious gonzo police procedurals. It just comes down to differences in our senses of humor. When I don't like some genre-classic or bestseller I try hard to figure out where the disconnect is and sometimes it's impossible to find; I just don't like the cut of the book's jib and I have to leave it at that.

Cloudia said...

Hypothesis to be tested? Difficult to operationalize..

Always thoughtful, Charles


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I often find myself either liking a book a lot or disliking it very much as soon as I finish reading it. My first impression of a book is usually impulsive and I am wont to change my opinion, one way or the other, 24 hours after the book has sunk in. What seemed liked a terrific book one day might not be so the next.

Deka Black said...

happens all time to me. for example. I love red nails. Best of the best in Howard's work. But other people said to me they find it boring.

In the end, i concluded there's no 2 readers who are the same.

In the end, and unless i can't avoid rguing, i choose to live and let live. there's too much to read to wrrying about some things

the walking man said...

I think 120 or so years ago I would have found more people agreeing with my tastes in recreational reading.

Why do some like this or that I think depends on what they had for dinner the night before they started reading.

Tom Doolan said...

That is a great mystery. I see it more often in movies than books (mainly because I don't get to read nearly as much as I like), but there have been several books that friends have raved about that left me scratching my head after the first few chapters. I can't stand books that are slow burns. I need to be engaged within the first chapter, or it ain't happenin'.

BernardL said...

Most of the ones I disagree with other reviewers on is when they expected the novel to be serious throughout and were put off by humor threaded in. If a novel makes me laugh at some point, it gets at least 4 stars. :)

jodi said...

Charles-to me, reading and my opinions of books is such a personal thing that I sometimes hate to comment on them. I always feel like I have to justify my personal library. Just a quirk I have.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, most of my favorite discoveries in the last five years have been independent writers or small press writers who are putting out material without benefit of the big publishers. There's just more passion, joy and sheer story telling ability than in the Patterson type paint by the numbers books.

Sage, I guess I'm learning that I'm not even sure what my mood is when picking books to read.

Chris, You know, I believe that too. Absolutely. It's as if the pressure of the buzz 'creates' the liking in some folks. I don't see how that could be. It probably works the opposite way too.

Angie, since so many people seemed to like this book I suspect it was more likely 'mood' with me. As writers, I think we sometimes want different things from books than just straight readers might want.

Barrie, I wondered about the interruption thing because I had so much grading to do that I only got to read the book in fits and spurts and maybe that had something to do with it too.

The Wasp, ultimately it comes down to that. it works or doesn't work for one person at one particular time. Thanks for visiting!

Cloudia, I don't know how to study it but it sure is an interesting issue.

Prashant, I do have that happen on occasion. That too is an odd reaction to me and I don't know why it happens for me when it does.

Deka, yeah, plenty of good stuff for all of us. We don't have to like everything everyone else does. Tis true.

Mark, probably so, and partially because people then had less variability in what was available and so were more "trained" alike, if that makes sense.

Tom, this happened to me with movies in Looper. I didn't hate it but thought it had so many holes in it, while most people I know really liked it and didn't notice the plot holes.

Vesper, I've got some of that contrary stuff too. I think when people tell me I HAVE to love some book, that actually makes it less likely that I will.

Bernard, I like humor in books but I I'm not often a big fan of heavy humor. That depends very much on mood for me, though.

Jodi, I feel that way too about having to justify my thoughts on a work, although less so today than I used to.

Randy Johnson said...

It certainly happens to me all the time. Books friends like I have trouble getting through and vice versa. There's one friend, she and I have many of the same writers in common as favorites. But a couple I tried to turn her on to she thought were horrible. Even you and I, with so many likes the same, differ on one writer. You don't think much of him and I do.

And mood may be part of it.

That's why I usually give a book three chances to engage me. If they don't in three tries, it goes in the give-up pile. To many others I'm sure I will like.

ivan said...

Out of my league, I'm afraid.

I find life scary enough without reading horror fantasy--an Eastern European attitude, probably...I have been shot-at and bombed once too often as a kid, I think.
Perhaps newspaper headlines bear me out.

The word seems to jog some associations in me:

"Post-Earthquake Land Readjustment Project Area in Morigu, Nishinomiya..."
Oh, did they have a blast.

Ah, it was probably the old E.C. horror comics that dunnit to me. :)

Adventuresfantastic said...

So many people have commented by this point, and do so eloquently enough that I doubt I have much to add. But that's never stopped me before.

There are so many things that go into a book that most of the time, as least when we approach a book as readers rather than critics, we aren't consciously looking at more one or two aspects of the book, which tend to be why we read it in the first place. That doesn't mean our subconscious mind isn't picking up on those things. For example, I might read a novel for the action scenes and be totally turned off by the pacing or the symbolism or whatever. I may not be aware that's what's turning me off, either. But I will come away from the book dissatisfied because on some level I picked up on aspects of the work that, well, didn't work for me.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Everyone's tastes vary. Sometimes it depends on the mood, but not everything strikes a chord with all people. (Be a boring world if it did.)
Everyone thinks Dan Simmons is great. I read The Terror and found it overlong and boring.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Your explanation of why you gave it 3 stars was very good. 202 pages seems kind of light for that genre. In these times, it is getting even harder to trust reviews, so I rarely read them before I read a novel(and I don't want any spoilers). I do enjoy reading them after I finish, and in most cases, there are bogus reviews that clearly show the reviewer did not read the book, or did not read it all. It is very subjective to the reader's tastes.

Riot Kitty said...

Well I hate to be a snob, but I think many of today's readers just want junk food books. Like my brother says, some books are dessert for your brain and some are vegetables. So IMHO some people have lowers standards.

nephite blood spartan heart said...

I have found myself preferring indie writers over the big names the last few years.

I do read to different moods and genre stylings but a tight well paced story can trump an over complicated too many character tale darn near every time.

Charles Gramlich said...

randy Johnson, I may try this one again. I keep coming back to how good the prose was.

ivan, I thought the name had an eastern kind of sound to it. Soundsed vaguely Transylvanian to me! I never got a chance to read the EC horror line when I was a kid.

Keith, I think, too, that the more I write, the harder it gets to really lose myself in a book I’m reading. I suppose I’m not as able to turn the critic off as I used to be able to do.

Alex J. Cavanaugh, I’m kind of with you on Simmons. Great prose and atmosphere but the story dragged for me.

Sean Patrick Reardon, human mental states are so varied that I’m sure it’s inevitable that people will end up on different sides of the divide on these kinds of issues.

Riot Kitty, I remember one of the books by “Patterson” and a co writer, which almost certainly was primarily written by the cowriter. It was so godawful but many people raved about it. I felt the same as you there, for sure.

David J. West, I think when I was younger I had more tolerance for good writing where there really wasn’t a strong story, but that has faded away over time. I want that story too.

laughingwolf said...

happens a lot with me, too

usually a 'name' author sells quickly, even if all they now write is mostly derivative, knowing whatever their name is attached to will be gobbled up...

i've read excellent tales in the recent past, raved about them, only to be ignored cuz the name's unknown

Aimlesswriter said...

Could be a little bit of everything. Mood, unconsciously comparing to better books you've read, and I think as a writer you can see flaws other, non writers, miss.
Then there's anticipation. The blurb looked so good more was expected.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, it seems to be the story of my experience. I write something. I often get a few raves reviews, a few copies sell, and nothing else happens.

Aimless, yeah, expectation is certainly an issue.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My book group met last night to discuss a book. Four of us thought it was the best book we had read in years. Another two just couldn't take the structure-it ruined it for them but they finished it and liked some things about it. The other two didn't finish it at all. We have never been this divided before.

laughingwolf said...

seems to get a 'name', means selling at least a million copies... quantity, not quality :(

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, interesting. And right in time for this topic.How strange though, eh?

Laughinwolf, I'd like to sell more quantity, but it always has to meet my standards first.

Rick Robinson said...

Yep, me too. Sometimes I feel as if I'm SUPPOSED to like a particular book, and then I actually feel guilty if I put it aside and admit to not liking it much at all. This seems to happen more and more often with SF-F written in the last decade or so. It's probably one of the reasons I like to stick to the older stuff, the authors I trust from experience.

I think mood can have a big influence too. On a really dreary day, or when feeling lousy, or if something is worrying me, I tend to have a difficult time liking a book. I find the solution is usually to read a short story instead of a novel.

SzélsőFa said...

it does happen to me as well.
i sometimes think that we appreciate styles/stories/characters that either are similar to ours (even those that have the same mistake as ours...) or those that we have set as goals in front of us ('this is how i wish to be able to write...')

Charles Gramlich said...

RkR, I've been known to keep quite a few short story collections around to read from in between deciding what novel I might like next. I'm the same way about the Supposed to like" something. It makes it harder for me. And I read mostly older SF fantasy too because I just tend to enjoy it more. I think my writing most clearly reflects those kinds of styles too.

Szelsofa, that's a good thought on the issue. You may be right. I didn't really think of that.

G. B. Miller said...

Never had that problem, as I very rarely rave about books to others that I have personally enjoyed. I'll recommend some (like yours for example) to others, but I don't press the issue by saying, "Ya gotta read this!"

By the other side of the coin, I'm not into what R.K. calls "junk food books", and what most people call "Oprah books".

Just because something is insanely popular (like Harry Potter) doesn't mean I'll automatically read it.

I'm about the pickiest reader out there and I definitely do not conform when it comes to reading.

Charles Gramlich said...

G.B., I was hesitant about the Harry Potter books for exactly that reason, but once I saw one of the movies I got interested in the characters and went for the books. The fastest I've ever read a mutli-volume series.

Travis Cody said...

That does happen to me. In fact, this kind of difference of opinion is what taught me to tell people that I like or dislike a book (or movie or TV show or some other subjective experience) rather than telling them whether I thought it was good or not.

You remind me that I need to pay more attention to Goodreads. I've let it slide for a long time, but I did get some great recommendations from it in the past.