Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Constitutes a Good Book, I'm Curious

Yesterday I went looking for a book for my book club. I compiled a bunch of "notable" lists from various publications, and then went to the dreaded and now omnipotent amazon to read some reviews. Given that reviewing is now basically a lost art, and we are now at the mercy of the mob for commentary on our work, if you want to read a reaction to a book, you are basically forced to either go to amazon or Goodreads.

The number of one-star reviews for these books was staggering. So I  began reading these one-star reviews for several different books and a definite pattern emerged.
  1. Readers want to be entertained, and if the story is sad or the characters are conflicted, depressed, traumatized, or in some way not happy, then they hate the book and are bored. They don't like flawed characters. They want to actively identify with the main characters. The phrase I read over and over again was that these characters didn't have any redeeming qualities.
  2. They want happy endings and will only accept conflict if a happy ending massages the conflict away.
  3. They cannot stand not having a totally linear plot line; they are lazy readers and want a book's structure to be straightforward and easy to read;
  4. They hate multiple points of view because, hello, they are lazy, and they don't want to actively parse out a storyline; they want it fed to them;
  5. They seem to be experts on what makes a good writer, and yet what makes a good writer seems to be an elusive concept. Sometimes they will admit that a book has evocative writing, but it's boring. OR. The novel was interesting but the characterization was flat and, of course, boring. I wish I had a dollar every time I read the word "boring" to describe a book.
  6. I also wish I had a dollar for all the times that I read a book is "poorly edited." Now this has been a pet peeve of mine for years, and I've complained about that repeatedly on this very blog. Sadly, I don't think it's the lack of editing that bothers them. The sense I got is that they didn't like the voice and the pacing, which, hello, are very different animals.

They seem massively bored by everything. The underlying tone of these reviews is that they were looking to be entertained but in the context of demanding that a specific fantasy be met. There was an expectation that THEIR fantasy should be fulfilled.

I think the relationship between reader and writer has drastically changed. As that fourth wall between public and media has begun to disintegrate, there is the expectation that public owns the art and expects the artist to feed them. This is very different from an artist opening a private door into their world and inviting you in to have a seat. Now it's the public with the keys to that door and the artist is invited in to perform. To a script they haven't seen or a song they've never sung.