Sunday, August 28, 2011

Great expectations

by: Joelle Charbonneau

More often than not, I choose not to read books that are given a lot of hype. Maybe it’s my contrary nature – I tend to avoid being one of the people that goes along with the crowd. I still haven’t read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and it took me several years before I cracked the cover of the first Harry Potter book. (I admit that I have since read and enjoyed each and every one!)

A few months ago, a new book in a genre I have decided to dabble writing in was released with a great deal of fanfare. My husband knew I was experimenting in this genre and bought me this much hyped book. It wasn’t until last weekend, when I was done putting the final touching on my own manuscript, that I cracked the cover of the book and started to read.

Before I started writing, I read every book from coover to cover. Nowadays, my TBR pile is so immense that I find myself being much pickier. If the story doesn’t grab me in the first 30 pages, I put the book down and move on. In this case, the combination of hype and my own experimentation of the genre had me turning the pages waiting for the story to pull me in long past the point where I would have normally given up. I waited for the thriller aspects of the book I'd seen reviewed to begin.

It never did.

After almost 500 pages of reading, I reached the end of the book feeling unsatisfied with almost every level of the storytelling. The worldbuilding felt superficial. The character grown was either non-existent or rushed and the climax of the book felt tacked on and unimportant. And come to think of it, I’m not really sure I could define the main plot of the book.

So why the hype?

Got me. But this debut novel has racked up US sales, will soon be released in dozens of languages and has even sold the film rights. Now, I’ve read books I haven’t loved before – a few of them were hyped more than this one. Perhaps it is my fledgling attempt at the genre that has made me feel so dissatisfied with my reaction to this one. And I have to wonder if I'm the only one. So tell me - have you had this happen to you? Have you cracked the cover on a book the rest of the world loved only to find you hated it? Have you wondered whether anyone else read the same book you did? Did you ever go back and reread it later just in case you were wrong? And if you have read a book that didn’t live up to the hype, did you tell people that you didn’t like it or did you keep silent and assume you were the only one?


Sarah Tokeley said...

I'm probably going to get shot for this, but Catcher in the Rye. Maybe it was because I was in my mid-twenties when I first read it rather than a teen (although, nearly 20 years later I love to read YA)but I remember being very disappointed as I'd wanted to read it for so long.

Smithy said...

One Hundred Years of Solitude --
After dragging myself wearily yet stubbornly through 150 pages, I gave up.

Paul D Brazill said...

When Borges was asked about 100 Years Of Solitude he said 'I think 80 would have been enough.' I think he was being generous and Smithy certainly fared better than me!

John McFetridge said...

I like Catcher in the Rye and I'm glad I didn't read it as a teenager when it wouldn't have meant anything to me. It was one of the first novels I read that really captured the feeling that, "something's just not right here," before I read the Updikes and Cheevers, a good counter to the Ozzie and Harriet happy days we were given on TV (wow, I'm old ;).

I don't really get magic realism, either.

Cathy Shouse said...

I'm embarrassed to admit I only got a few paragraphs in to "The Secret Life of Bees." Same thing with "The Hours."
Joelle, you have to tell us the name of what you read. Curious. Does title start with a D and author's name start with a V?

That's all I'll say about it. :)

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I've never read 100 Years of Solitude. I read Catcher in the Rye at 15 and liked it - probably because I read it after I read The Old Man and the Sea which I HATED and struggled to get through.

Cathy - Wow! Yes - you guessed it in one. The book just didn't do it for me. (And yes - I even went back and skimmed it again to see if maybe I would like it better the second time.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Joelle, Yes, this has happened to me. Franzen's the most recent--way over-hyped, sloppy, self-indulgent writing.

Sarah, yes. Catcher in the Rye. Salinger could write, but the book doesn't stand up to any number of YA novels that never are allowed the "literary" designation.

And I'm dying to know which novel you're talking about, Joelle.

Steve Weddle said...

I read CATCHER IN THE RYE when I was 13. Perfect timing. Unlike McFet, reading Salinger as a youngster worked well for me. I recently re-read "Perfect Day for Bananafish" and was surprised at what a little child molester Glass appeared to be.

Just finished CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER today and it was better than they hype -- which was immense.

SOUTHERN GODS from John Hornor Jacobs was a good one I recently finished. DRAGON TATTOO was fine, but rather easy. DOPE THIEF by Tafoya was as good as hyped. Donald Ray Pollock and Chris Offutt are even better than advertised. Hilary Davidson and Brad Parks and Sophie Littlefield and so many others more than live up to the hype.

I'm can't comment on any of the YA titles mentioned because I haven't read YA since I was a YA.

Unknown said...

Hhhhmmmm...I'm reviewing an overhyped book right now, but I don't want to name it. But's been a struggle for me and the author is one I normally like.

And Catcher is Catcher. It hasn't aged well, but the writing is superb

Jay Stringer said...

I didn't enjoy CATCHER. Maybe someday i'll try it with my adult head on and see if I relate to it in a different way to when I was younger, but It didn't do much for me.

I took a string dislike to the Potter books. I didn't like the writing style or the plotting. Folks kept saying "you gotta stick with it, it gets great at the fourth book," so I read the first four, then stopped. But I can't go on much of a rant, because the Potter phenomenon opened doors to some truly fantastic writers.

DRAGON TATTOO lost me early on. Everyone always says 'stick with the first 100 pages, then it gets good.' But as a writer I won't allow myself 100 pages before my story gets good, and my agent/editor would probably set a pug on me if i tried it, so i don't go for it as a reader.

I stopped reading the Franzen approximately five minutes after I started reading the Franzen.

And when I was younger I had it with a lot of things that got pushed on me, "OMG you gotta read Anne Rice, she's amaze!" Yeah, no. I've never loved Palahniuk as much as it seems i'm supposed to. And there's a very celebrating British author of period crime fiction who's work I just can't get through, because his voice always strikes me as copied from someone else.

Dana King said...

I tend to avoid hyped books, but succumbed to the buzz around THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO that circulated Baltimore's Bouchercon a few years ago. Never again. All I got from that book was that Larsen had a gift for spending too much time on things that didn't need it, and not enough on things that did.

What I learned was not to buy into hype unless people I respect and trust are telling me it's something I'd like. For example, I've held out on MAD MEN so far, but I think the Beloved Spouse and I will give it a shot on NetFlix this fall. Four years is enough for the hysteria to settle.

IandSsmom said...

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult and refuse to ever read one of her books again and shout it from the roof tops even though I'm argued with strongly!!! :)
Shannon Johnson

Bill Cameron said...

One Hundred Years of Solitude is my desert island book. I am rarely willing to admit to a favorite when it comes to art. Favorite song, favorite movie, favorite band, favorite writer, favorite painter? I couldn't say. I don't even rank books and movies and songs. Whenever I see someone getting in a lather because of some published list ranked the unrankable, I think, "Meh, worry about what's worth worrying about instead."

But there is my one exception. One Hundred Years of Solitude is my favorite book, by about one million percent. It has stood the test of time for me like almost no other book. I reread it about once a year, and it's always fresh and magical for me.

Sorry. Just had to get that off my chest. :)

John McFetridge said...

It's too bad Catcher in the Rye got turned into a YA book, I think that's given it almost the opposite affect it should have. I'm glad it worked for Weddle, but it can be like giving kids really spicy food before they're ready.

I'm glad the same thing hasn't happened with The Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner, but maybe it has in the UK. Jay?

And I still don't know what book that starts with D we're talking about.... ;)

Joelle Charbonneau said...

John - I agree that Catcher in the Rye gets the short end of the stick when it is categorized as YA. Nowadays, anything with a teenage protagonist falls into that genre. I'm read several YAs that would never have been called YA fifteen years ago. Go fig.

Dave White said...

I loved CATCHER. I read it as a Junior in high school and it resonated with me all the way through freshman year of college.

John McFetridge said...

Just to get back to the original question, I think a lot of the hype is honest. I think the people behind the hyped books really like them. It's just a matter of taste.

Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

I have spent too much time trying to read popular books.

I don't know if it helps to think about how so many writers today really want their books to be made into films and write in a spare style that could be easily re-written as a screenplay.

That is the only explanation I can find for the short sentences and predictable scenarios chosen by so many writers. Also, so many stories are really gloomy and I wonder if this might be a symptom of the recessionary times that are officially being foisted on the population.

Even chick lit seems preferable to the horrors being picked over by hyper serious writers.

I picked up "Oscar and Lucinda" by Peter Carey again recently and it was a joy to read vibrant prose where I actually cared what might happen to the characters.

Frankly, I find cookery books more exciting than most contemporary fiction.

Dru said...

That happened to me recently with a new series and a new-to-me author. Everyone loved this book but I couldn't make it past the second chapter. I put the book down and went back to it later and I just couldn't get into it.

Great post topic.

Sara Anne said...

Sorry, fellow fantasy fans, but Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World made me want to rip my hair out. If I can get 250 pages in and still be looking for a plot, there is a problem.

Anonymous said...

How 'bout I hate Proust & everything Janet Evanovich has written since maybe the second Plum book. The first one was funny. The second one was okay and beyond that it was like Danielle Steel Goes to the Gunshow, Likes Muscles and Donuts.

I loved CATCHER both times I read it. There was something I hated recently, but I can't remember what it is at the moment. Must be time for bed.

Raymond M. Rose said...

First would go to The Da Vinci Code. The way everyone hyped it up, it was going to be the greatest thriller I've ever read.



Second, would go to Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy. Everyone told me that the second book was better than the first. It wasn't.