Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bad books: Who says?...and what a writer can take away from reading them

I just read an incredibly bad book.  Best of all (depending on how you look at it) this particular book was probably the 50th-plus book from a multi-published author.  It's a hard cover, "big money" book.  And it's awful.  Spectacularly awful, in fact. 

 I guess I should be ashamed by how happy I sound.  Yeah, I should be.  But once I apologize (to my conscience and to the author who will never know), I can go back to being happy.  Because I know there's a lot of value in bad books.  And I know I'm really not the only writer to feel this way.  For a little proof, I found a couple of blog post on this same topic:

5 Ways Reading Bad Books Can Improve Your Writing (using the book as a coaster isn't quite what I had in mind, but, come to think of it, I have used a bad book to prop up an uneven couch...)

Improve Your Novel Writing By Reading Bad Books  (In a nutshell, this short article gives some great advice on what to consider when reading "bad," although, in my opinion, it's a bit heavy handed to divide classics as "good" and everything else as potentially "bad.")

How long is too long, when reading a bad book?  (This one is an interesting discussion with lots of viewpoints on what made these readers stop reading.)

Another post I found seemed to be mostly (unfairly?) concerned with bashing self-published books.  The point of this "badness" is meant as poor grammar and other technical sorts of "bad."  And that said, I've seen some self-published books (more all the time) that are just as well done or better than traditionally published books. 

But that's not really the kind of bad I mean.   It's not the grammar or the format or other "obvious" mistakes.  And I also don't mean to compare classics to any other genre that is mine or any other reader's favorite or even guilty pleasure.  So much of what is "bad" seems to stem from practices of comparing apples to oranges.

So to clarify, here is my "official" definition of a bad book :

 It's a readable book in the genre the reader usually likes to read, but falls below the reader's perceived standard or expected quality of performance.

I know this definition goes into my opinion.  And I'm back full circle to why I'm happy about reading a bad, but readable book.  I get way too much enjoyment out of figuring out what went wrong.  Which parts did I skim over? What did the author do different from what I expected?  Because in this case, as in most, I didn't try to find a bad book!  Oh, no.  I considered the premise from the blurb and it sounded good.  Really good!

Actually, for full disclosure on why I bought this book, this was one of my six book club choices for a book club.  The blurb was mostly what I had to go on and there were not many reviews.  I could have further researched this book, such as by going to Amazon to read reviews, but I did not.  I don't really regret that.  Part of the fun of getting "free" (yeah, there's shipping and commitments) choices is taking a bit of a chance.  I also noticed, after the fact, that the endorsements were for earlier books by this author.

Only later, after reading a bad book, do I often look at reviews to find out if other readers found the same things wrong or bothersome as I did.  And I find one or two star reviews can be amazingly insightful. The details abound!  This makes sense in an "ouch" kind of way understandable to any writer who has put their words out there for either a critique or a review.  But the good (apology inspiring kind of good) is that it's not your ouch; it's not your book.

So, I confess.  I like reading bad readable books, but even more, I like reading bad reviews.  Because when it's a great book, it's rare to get the details of why it's great. A reviewer will often sum up the effect of reading this great book ("kept me up all night," or "made me laugh, cry etc."), and be at an utter loss to articulate how this was achieved. I'm amazed (and impressed)when a five star review is very long because really, other than summarizing the plot, a good book often leaves me speechless. I've read somewhere that a good book anesthetizes the reader to the craft, and this is a great way to describe the way we have no idea how a great book carries us away. 

Of course, I'm not going to name the author of the particular "bad" book I read. I wouldn't do that. But so many questions of "why?" and "how?" come to mind when a bad book from a successful and prolific author is published.

And, as a reader I'm not too upset about the bad book either.  I already sold back that bad book on Amazon for more than I paid.    Somebody wants it. It's probably a favorite author and the 1.5 stars the reviews give it are a "mystery" that reader might discount or maybe wants to figure out for herself.

Read any bad readable books lately?  What do you get out of reading bad readable books or reading bad reviews?

2 comments:

  1. This is an interesting post! I don't really think in terms of a book being "bad". More like it doesn't hold my interest. I'll bookmark it and then move on to something else, thinking I'll come back to it. But then my memory is such that I forgot about the book entirely!

    I like to read reviews after I've finished a book too, and I don't know why I'm surprised that people don't love the same book that I do! LOL It's always enlightening to see what people like and dislike about a story, and their dislikes are often my likes. :)

    It is discouraging when I pick up a book from an author who has had many other books I've loved, and now. . .not so much. Maybe our tastes have changed? It's likely, since we've read so many things in between those books.

    Very thought-provoking post, as usual!

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    1. Donna, when you mention "bookmarking" it does meake me wonder if there is a difference finishing a book when reading on e-readers. Might it be easier to move on...or, like I would do also, easier to forget? LOL

      I also think that sometimes an author might rely too much on their "world" being known to her readers, even when it's not supposed to be a sequel but does have recurring characters. This was kind of the case with the book I read. As a new reader coming late to the party I was just confused by numerous characters. But I could see from the reviews that the loyal fans were finding the story crowded. And maybe, like you say, the returning readers had been reading other things. So either tastes change or it just feels like the freshness is not as strong as in the early works?

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