Monday, April 16, 2018

The Book Lover's Den No. 23: Books That Give Me Mixed Feelings, Part I




Welcome to my renewed literary musing feature! I have decided 
to post it on Mondays now!


In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.



This Week's Topic
Books that give me mixed feelings.


This is something I am reluctant to admit to, especially when it concerns a book that lots of other readers have raved about. But this is a topic that simply stands as evidence that not every reader is going to like every book that manages to reach publication, whether through traditional publishing or self-publishing. It's inevitable. "It is what it is", as this now ubiquitous saying goes....

There are those books that I have even hugged to my heart, and then there are THOSE books, the ones I would truly want to LOVE, the ones I almost DO love, but just.....can't, for one reason or another. These are the books that have disappointed me, that I look at sadly, shaking my head, because I can just feel how much BETTER they could have been, how much MORE they could have enchanted me. 

With several of these books, things started out beautifully. The prose flowed like a river swollen by spring rains, the characters were living, breathing, human beings whose stories I was immediately interested in, and just as immediately found myself immersed in. 

And then....SOMETHING, or sometimes, NOTHING, happened. And the book fell flat on its face. And I felt like, like.....shaking the book, and asking it, in a very hurt voice, "But what's WRONG with you?! WHY have you turned out this way, this very bewilderingly not-what-I-wanted-or-expected way?! WHY have you disappointed me, after we started out as such GREAT friends?!"

And so, when such a thing unexpectedly happens, I just lay the book aside, and stare off into space, just numb with shock. 

Then there are the books that are a struggle from the very beginning. I keep hoping agaisnt hope that "things will pick up" somehow, and that I will start liking the book, that it will suddently turn into one of those that keep you up until the wee hours. Except that it just doesn't. And so finally, regretfully, I lay this type of book aside, too. And I sigh for what could have been....

I find these books very easy to get rid of, though. Furthermore, these are not the ones I'm really referring to in this post. It's the others, the ones that ALMOST make me love them, but don't, that I have trouble with. I wait for a long time before I actually do get rid of them, even though I KNOW that I will not want to pick them up again. But then, suddenly, one day, I do indeed get rid of them, taking them over to Goodwill. And yet, it is with a pang of regret that I turn such a book over to a Goodwill clerk. My hope, at that point, is that the book will find its way to a reader who can appreciate it. I certainly haven't been able to. 

I can't but feel that perhaps I missed something, or didn't get something.... But then there are the times when I am actually indignant that a book, especially one that had gotten "a lot of hype", has been a disappointing read, or rather, has disappointed me, for I am one of those people who firmly believe that books are living creatures. 

So I sadly turn away from these reading experiences, and try to take my mind off the feelings of disappointment and dismay. It's not very easy for me to do this, however. I find myself going over the book's plot, analyzing it. Was there anything the author could have done differently? What about the characters? What was it about them that let me down? And so on.... With most of these books, it's pretty easy to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for me. In my next post, I will refer to some of these books, and hint at what I think turned off to them. 

The interesting thing here, I have discovered, is that sometimes it's not the plot or the characters that make me have mixed feelings about a book. It's the author's belief or value system, which of course underlies the story, that bothers me. If an author callously disposes of a character, or badly humiliates another, it really bothers me. It disturbs me. It could be the author's too-meticulous attention to blood and gore. Or it could be that a character who had acted in a noble manner throughout most of the book suddenly acts in a totally evil manner. 

Sometimes what really galls me is that an evil character should NOT have gotten something good, or vice versa -- a good character should not have suffered the horrible thing they have suffered. I realize that this is probably too idealistic, even for books, but there it is. I can't help feeling the way I do. 

And here I come to the crux of the matter. Books make me feel a certain number of ways. Of course, this is nothing new; it happens to every reader, especially those who read fiction. However, with these books I'm discussing here, there's a terrible clash of feelings, and they're frequently opposed to each other. I might simultaneously feel elated and depressed, bored and enchanted. These feelings are not necessarily always present together at the same time, however. I might start a book feeling elation, only to feel more and more depressed as I continue to read. Or the feeling of enchantment makes me blissfully ride along, getting into the story, only to come across something that makes me feel angry. Again, it could be that a character simply should NOT have acted the way they did, given the values they supposedly hold, according to how they've been presented in the story. Or it could be something else. 

The thing about these books is that I can't quite bring myself to hate them, and yet, I don't like them -- AT ALL. 

In the past, I have sometimes reviewed these books. Sometimes, I have simply decided not to bother doing so. When I do review them, I usually give them no more than three stars. Sometimes, however, I give them two. If the prose style is superb, I reluctantly give them four stars, feeling that I can't in good conscience give them five. 

When reading five-star reviews of books that I have mixed feelings about, I am always puzzled. Did these people read the same book I did? Well, the cover might be different, as they could be reviewing a different edition. The plot, however, is the very same, the characters the same. Yes, we read the very same book. Incredibly, we read and saw and felt very different things. They rave, in their review. And I just feel the crushing disappointment..... And, at the risk of being redundant, I will again ask: did I miss something? At other times I am VERY sure that I didn't miss a thing, that the book was indeed lacking in some way. Then I ask myself how it is that these reviewers didn't feel or see what I did. How is it that they totally LOVED a book I can't be enthusiastic about?

I have also discovered that a series that started out well has become a HUGE disappointment as later volumes have been published. However, I am not alone in this, I know. Other readers have referred to this sad phenomenon in their GR and Amazon reviews. It's just that we might be referring to two different series!

Bottom line: each book is an adventure, especially in the case of fiction (and even with some nonfiction, unless the subject matter is something boring like "theory of statistics"). Unless a reader has peeked ahead (and what reader hasn't at times committed this literary "sin"?), or found out the details of the plot through Wikipedia or a review with way too many spoilers, a book essentially remains an unfolding mystery, surprising and delighting (or not delighting) the reader as the pages are turned. (Hmmmm.... "As the Page Turns"....sounds like the PERFECT title for a bookish soap opera....) At times, the adventure leads to great enjoyment and exhilarationl; at other times, it just peters out somewhere along the way. So reading entails some risk, albeit not of the type that will result in real, bodily injury. That there IS some risk, though, is undeniable. There's the risk of being disappointed. There's the risk of feeling SO mad at the author that one wants to do violence to the book (as I stated in a previous TBLD post, I would NEVER go that far). There's the risk of wasting one's money and time on a book that will never be a beloved member of one's personal library. 

Are these risks worth taking? Absolutely. Because we addicted bookworms keep picking up books, in the eternal hope of finding one that will click with us, that will make us sing for joy, even if only in a low voice, or in our heads. And so we continue to "take the plunge", to open those covers and dare to see what lies beyond.... We risk it all, we risk the chance of sighing, "Meh....", in hopes of coming across a book that will make us say instead, "Now WHY hadn't I read THIS one before?!"



What are your thoughts on
 this topic?
Please leave me a comment
and let me know!









8 comments:

  1. This is another great post Maria. In addition to its many virtues your writing style is so good and genuine.

    You make so many good points. I will just add that I differentiate between books that I value, but I cannot say that I love because bad things happen to the characters verses books that fall short being good because of flaws.

    Books that I cannot say that I love because they are too disturbing but I recognize as great art include George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty - Four and Frank Herbert’s The White Plague.

    I think such books are different from books that have a lot of positives but that have flaws that make them disappointing.

    Have a great week!

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    1. Hi, Brian!

      Thanks so much for the compliment!! :)

      I'm glad you agree on the points I'm making here. It's really too bad when this type of thing happens, but it does....

      That's a very important distinction you're making. Sometimes it's what happens to the characters that will turn a reader off a book, while, at other times, it's the way the book is written that does it. For me, it's usually a combination of the two, although at times I have to say that it's either one or the other.

      There's one book in particular which is brilliantly written, but makes me VERY uneasy.... it's "Wuthering Heights", by Emily Brontë. I HATE Heathcliff, the central character. But I must admit that the prose and characterizations are carried out extremely well. Therefore, I have VERY mixed feelings about this book!

      I have not read either of the books you've mentioned here. Since they have been disturbing reads for you, I'm not sure I'd like to read them. Lol.

      Next week, I will be mentioning some of the books (including some in the YA genre) that have elicited mixed feelings in me.

      Hope you're having a great week, too, and thanks for the thought-provoking comment!! <3 :)

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  2. What a great, well thought post. What stuck with me when reading it was when you said sometimes you read reviews and you wonder if you read the same book. That happens to me. There have been several books this year that people LOVED and I just don't get it. On top of that, most were books that I went into WANTING to love and EXPECTING to love, yet didn't. Makes me really question myself at times.

    On the plus, glad the blog issues are worked out :)

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    1. Hi, Barb!

      Thanks so much for the compliment! <3 <3 <3

      Yeah, it really puzzles me when I see five-star reviews for a book I didn't like, and it does make me wonder if those reviewers read the very same book I did! Yup, they did! Lol. But this just goes to show that readers differ widely in their reactions to a book. So I end up either shaking my head in disbelief, or scratching it in wonder. :) :)

      And I've had the VERY same experience you've had, of WANTING to love a book, and yet, it just doesn't happen.... That's SO disappointing and discouraging to me!

      Yeah, the blog issues are all taken care of!! YAAAAAY for a computer geek hubby!!! <3 <3 <3

      Thanks for the great comment!! HUGS TO YOU AND THE BOYS, AND WOOF, WOOF TO THEM!! <3 <3 M3 :) :) :)


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  3. What a great article! Nice to have you back:). Regarding the blog post - I know exactly what you mean about certain books... I read someone's rave reviews and realise that either they've missed me by a mile, or wondering how that grumpy review could be describing the awesome reading experience that I had.

    But of course, it's because we're all different. Some beats in a book will resonate with some readers and leave them tingling - while others will simply shrug. It's partly due to the fact that we all absorb the world in different ways - and so some writers will line up with our view of looking at things and their words and phrases will sing out to us, while others fall flat.

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    1. Hi, Sarah!

      Thank you so much for the compliment!! <3 <3

      Yeah, I'm SO glad to be back!! YAAAAAY!!! It's thanks to my computer geek hubby, too!! <3 <3

      As you mention in this comment, the experience can also be the other way around -- a book one LOVES is TOTALLY blasted by another reader. Yup! I've had the experience in both aspects -- either I LOVE a book book hated by other reviewers, or HATE a book loved by other reviewers. And many times, a book that is just "meh" for me is also loved by other reviewers.

      Exactly. We are indeed all different. And you're SO right when you say that "....we all absorb the world in different ways - and so some writers will line up with our view of looking at things and their words and phrases will sing out to us, while others fall flat." Very well stated!!! :) :) Indeed!!

      It's SO interesting to see how some books will resonate with some readers, and fail to do so with others. I think this is what makes reading such a rewarding, fascinating experience!

      Of course, there ARE books that are unanimously disliked or loved by MOST readers. I think that's probably due more to how it's written than anything else. There are definitely books that are just.....LOUSY, and there's a consensus among readers. So that does happen, too.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!! HUGS!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

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  4. I think this makes a lot of sense! We all bring our own likes/ dislikes/ preconceptions to books, and what might disturb or thrill me might not work for you. Or it might! It's pretty fascinating to think about really. :) And reading IS a risk, but a pretty glorious one!

    And yes I hate it when a series starts out SO promising and the fizzles...

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    1. Hi, Greg!

      Yeah, it SURE does! Some people LOVE the horror genre, for instance, while I HATE it!! (I'm making an exception for "Dread Nation", though.) Lol.

      Oh, definitely reading is a risk! You risk being totally disappointed with the book, not having it turn out as you had hoped, being completely bored with the story, etc. I'm glad you agree that these are risks worth taking, though!

      About a series turning out to be a huge dud later on -- OMG, I HATE it when that happens! You start out all excited, you write a very positive review for the first book, and then.....everything just falls flat! ARRRRGGGHHH!!! Well, in those cases, you just need to move on to another series that will be more rewarding for you.

      This is actually what happened to me with one series -- the Fallen series, by Lauren Kate. I LOVED the first book! So I was all stoked up for the following books, as I had heard this was going to be a series, although I didn't know how many books were going to be in it.

      The second book was already just a "meh" read. However, I did like the third book better. But then I got to the fourth and last book.....UGH, UGH, UGH!!! So I did read the entire series....

      I was SO ticked off at this author, I got rid of ALL four books, lol. I offered two of them as giveaway prizes. The other two I donated to Goodwill. LOL.

      Thanks for the nice comment!! <3 :)

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