View From The Glen

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book Expectations

Why do we read books? I ask because I read a book recently that I enjoyed most of the way through (despite somewhat cliche'd writing), but which, at the end left me feeling depressed.

I was angry with the book, I felt betrayed by it. And I wondered, do authors have a certain obligation to come through for us? To not lead us down a gentle path and then knock us over a precipice without warning?

I mean, of course not. A writer has only an obligation to obey the muse, and can do whatever he or she wants with characters. I know this. I would also argue that books should not shy away from startling the reader or making them uncomfortable. Some of the best books I've ever read do this and in general, I like a book that challenges my inherant assumptions about it and/or the world. 

But in this case, the book's title, front cover, and inside 'blurb' all suggested light cozy read, and it was, it was, it was, right up until towards the end. I saw it coming: a general sense of unease cemented with one line that left me not wanting to read on. I did read on because it's a light cozy read and I wanted the author to make it come out all right. Authors can - they have that power. In this case she didn't.

It got me thinking about what I expect from a book, and what effect my expectations have on my overall reading pleasure.

I didn't like The Friday Night Knitting Club because although it was light and enjoyable all the way through, it didn't give me the happy ending I wanted.

At the same time, I'm reading a massive tome of a book called Shantaram about the dark underworld of India's slums, drug dens, and slave markets - not happy material in any stretch - and I'm loving every minute of it, though I picked it up initially with some trepidation.

Or take a book like Atonement by IanMcEwan which I very much enjoyed. The ending of that was a big surprise to me, and it was not a happy twist, but it blew me away in the best of ways. Then again, McEwan is a master with words and stories.

So I have been thinking about what fueled my disappointment with this recent book club read.


In part I think it was the set up. The twist, when it came, was a bit cliche. I saw it coming,  and wasn't surprised by it. Secondly, the point the book makes could have been made without the main character - who I liked - having to die to prove it. I felt the death was a bit gratuitous, that is, the author did it more for shock value than because it was necessary to the plot. Thirdly, although I enjoyed the book, the writing wasn't strong enough to carry it forward and so when the ending came it fell flat. It felt like the author had a litany of checkpoints to tick off: diverse characters, check; mulit-generational storyline, check; overcoming obstacles, check; past coming back to haunt her, check; everything's going to turn out for the best, check. Oh, let's throw in a major twist, tug at some heartstrings, add some pathos - the sort of thing that will make Oprah like it and get it turned into a movie. Check.

Actually I don't know if Oprah liked it, but I just discovered it is in fact coming out as a movie starring Julie Roberts.


I think my biggest beef with the book is that not only did it have the look and promise of a light cozy read, but the writing was that of a light cozy read. And when you're immersed in a light cozy read, you don't want to be suddenly dropped into a cliche'd world of heavy major issues that have the feel of being inauthentic and just a little bit forced.

Just my opinion. If you've read it, I'd be interested in your thoughts. Or if you have an opinion on why we read and what we expect from books, I'd like to hear that too.

Happy reading.


Leanne Haines said...

Thank you. I have picked that book up so many times thinking it might be a nice weekend read. It's on my list of books to read this Spring. I just scratched it off.
I completely understand your disappointment. We often come to a book with preconceived notions, whether they be from a recommendation, a review, or just the front cover. In this case the front cover and synopsis does suggest "cozy light read". That was exactly what I had expected. Not tragedy. Humour, sweetness, a smile or two. When that "lightness" is stolen from us at the end of the book, we feel cheated. Like it isn't the book we chose to read after all. Your other book make no promises of a "light, easy read". You knew what you were getting into, and when it proved also to be a really great read, you felt rewarded for your bravery to dive into such a book. I get it.
Thanks for saving me some precious hours of reading time!

Capital Mom said...

I felt the same about the Friday Night Knitting Club. I felt like the author pulled the rug out from under me just because she could!

Anonymous said...

Oh Man, Denise, I sure could of used you at our book club a few months ago. (hmm, come to think of it, it was over a year ago, I was newly pregnant I think) We read this book, and your comments are bang-on. The writing just wasn't strong enough to pull off that ending. I was really enjoying it b/c, incidentally, I was just learning to knit (again) but that ending, yep, it left me flat.

preteen animal sex stories said...

I dont know. And she had done so.
interracial gay stories
oral sex stories
bestiality stories with pictures
neighbor fuck stories
free bi sex stories
I dont know. And she had done so.