Saturday, June 3, 2017

Armchair Book Expo 2017: What Readers Want

(Note: I'm still working on getting caught up on Armchair Book Expo posts. I'm sorry they're all late.)

With the rise of self-publishing, it's more common to find yourself with books with errors bad enough that you pause while reading. Sometimes I'll find a sentence that it's difficult to make sense of, and I wonder how that wasn't caught. This is something that I have also seen in traditionally published books though. I know that's at least as much the editor's fault as the writer's (unless the book is self-published and the author didn't hire an editor), but if there are too many of those, I may not find it in me to finish the book. (There's also the middle ground of finishing but the mistakes negatively affecting my review.)

There are several "make or break" things that I mention constantly in reviews when books have them. For example, I know that I bring up my love for strong friendships a lot. On the flip side of that, I've grown really tired of the trope where a boy and girl are friends (the girl is almost always the main character) and the boy has secretly had a crush on her for years. There will usually be a love triangle, and the friend's feelings are revealed when a new boy catches the girl's attention.

It's not that I think that trope is bad in and of itself. I'm just tired of seeing it over and over. What really annoys me about the trope is that I feel like the male-female friendships I read about almost always include one of the friends secretly having feelings for the other. I would greatly appreciate more books where a boy and a girl legitimately are just friends. Recently, I feel like I've become instantly unable to get into a book once a friend reveals secret feelings.

Diversity is also something I notice more these day. It's getting harder to read books where every single character feels like essentially the same character. If every character is white, straight, cis, able-bodied, etc., then it's noticeable, and it's reached the point where it very much annoys me.

I think good literature and good story are largely the same. Although a good story riddled with errors (like I mentioned above) may become so difficult to read that I can't consider it a good book, I still think the two should be the same thing as long as the story is easily readable. We have this idea that good literature is inherently different from popular literature, which I see as flawed. If something it popular, it typically has some sort of worth (even if I personally dislike it), and it's worth discussing what that worth is.

Everyone has tastes. There are a number of classics that I dislike. (Don't get me started on how boring Ernest Hemingway is, and I'll tell you now that it's not worth trying to convince me otherwise.) Other people find value in those same classics, and that's fine. It's all relative, and I don't think there's some key, underlying "thing" that makes literature great. What constitutes great literature is different for everyone, and despite having been an English major who had to study various works from the canon, I don't subscribe to the idea that there is (or should be) a definitive canon. The fact that we're still arguing over what's worthy of being in "the canon" helps convince me of that.

(And even books that you think are terrible can sometimes be worth reading for various reasons, and that can provide them with worth no matter how well-written you believe them to be or not be.)

The books you like are great literature to you; maybe they're not to someone else. That's fine.


  1. I totally agree that we all have different tastes, and that's great. However, i think we should be taught in school on how to recognize if a book is well written, whether we like the book or not. I hate Jan Austen, but I have studied her, and I am aware how amazing her writing was if you consider it in its time, her description of society (though this is exactly the milieu I don't like reading about)

    1. Of course we should be studying good literature in school, but there is still some objectivity there. There are literary critics who don't believe Jane Austen is a good writer. (I don't believe that, for the record, and a lot of that is coming from people who don't believe that women can write well at all.) I definitely think there are books that are straight up just not well written, but "great writing" is definitely harder to define and has changed a lot over the years. There are a number of works that we consider some of the greats today that, in earlier years, were not well received by everyone in earlier years.

      I think, what it comes down to, is that I think it's a lot easier to distinguish between truly terrible writing and good writing than it is good writing and great writing.