The Lone Reed

Not everyone agrees. This is guaranteed to happen with every new book, regardless of the popularity, the author, the buzz, the publisher, or even the book itself, not everyone will love it or hate it. There are always those lone reeds that stand up and go against the tide. It’s not always an easy position either. Whether you loved or hated the book in question, it’s never easy to stand up against the majority and try to defend your opinion.

I think it’s even worse when you’re not at either extreme. Recently I read a very well regarded and reviewed book. I mean most of the reviews on GoodReads are all 5 stars with more positive adjectives than I thought existed. Basically everyone who ever came across this book loved it to pieces. I didn’t. I didn’t hate it to be sure, but I thought it was ok at best. Frankly, I was pretty bored reading this supposedly incredible story and skimmed the last 20-30 pages just so I could finish. I questioned a lot of the author choices but was shocked none of the reviews touched on ANY of the issues I had. Not even in passing. I was left wondering if anyone noticed anything that seemed off to me.

Now this isn’t a bad book (and frankly which book it is doesn’t matter in the least) but I didn’t think it was good, let alone great. It was ok, decent. Yet I really don’t want to post a review against the tide because I can’t really pinpoint why. Sure I can list the issues I had and reasons it didn’t exactly work for me but at the same time, it’s some mystical chemistry where the characters just didn’t interest me. I was bored with them and how do you explain that? How do you break apart what is essentially a feeling into specifics?

It’s these middle of the road blah-ish books I really hate reviewing, especially if everyone has loved it before. Perhaps it really is an elusive chemistry thing where there is nothing wrong with the book per se but it just didn’t spark with you. It’s very difficult to explain coherently and eloquently. Yet it definitely, absolutely happens.

So to the book I failed to spark with, I’m sorry. I don’t know if it was you or I but we didn’t mesh. Better luck with another reader.

Have you ever had that happen?  How do you deal with it, do you review said book or just leave a rating and move on?

20 thoughts on “The Lone Reed

  1. I’ve certainly read at least one book that was widely raved about that I just didn’t get. Sometimes I wonder if it’s something as simple as sense of humour – I need at least a little bit of humour to rate a story as amazing – but when authors are trying too hard to be funny it jars. Or maybe I just have a totally different idea of what’s funny and/or sexy.

    I think it’s alchemical – like the way you click with certain people in real life but not others. You need to have certain core values that are the same, but you also want them to be fascinatingly different in some way. Fiction is a real expression of the soul of the writer, and just as we don’t click with everyone in real life, we are not going to click with every book. No matter how much everyone else loves it. And let’s face it, some people love astoundingly bland stories, simply because there is comfort in the familiar.

    I don’t review them if I don’t like them. I’d get a reputation for being a snooty bitch if I did.

    • Tam says:

      “I need at least a little bit of humour to rate a story as amazing”

      MIND MELD!!! I find most of the stories I gave 5 stars or A’s made me at least smile. Laughing out loud will pretty much guarantee you 5 stars.

      • Yep – if a story makes me laugh out loud and leaves me with a warm fuzzy feeling, I’m going to give it five stars as well. Hence the five stars for Fun with Dick and Shane – I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh so hard!

        • I’ll agree on the humor. If a book can pull an emotion (crying for real, laughing out loud) then I tend to remember and furthermore adore that book. Most of the 5 star books I have are because they touch me and make me emote out loud.

          Now I need to read Fun with Dick and Shane.

    • Haha.. good for you to avoid the snotty bitch rep. Some of us aren’t so lucky :D.

      Your explanation of clicking with a book is perfect. I think it really gets to the heart of the problem. Like with authors/people, sometimes it just doesn’t mesh. I guess there’s not much to really hash out except better luck next time. I try to review at least half of all the books I read but lately I find reviewing these kinds of books less fun and interesting. It’s like telling someone “it’s not you, it’s me.”

  2. Tam says:

    Happens all the time. I’m not afraid to admit that I found Bareback and The Assignment “ok” reads. I know people LURVED those books. I didn’t hate them, they were just *shrug*. Oh well. In some ways I find it easier to admit I didn’t care for a much loved classic (HATED Gone With the Wind), than to stand up for something I loved that is universally hated. LOL

    When I didn’t like it so much I can more easily fob it off as “to each his own, it just didn’t work for me”, not saying it’s bad but as Jo mentioned, it’s chemistry, between me and the characters as much as between them personally. For some reason the reverse makes me question myself. “Am I insane? Did I miss something that everyone else saw? Am I the trailer-trash of readers for liking what was supposedly dreck?” Do I rate them? Yes, I rate everything I read, unless it was DNF then I figure I “might” finish it someday so not fair to rate, and it’s not usually because I want to toss it, just zero chemistry, let alone being neutral. I’ve yet to be attacked for not loving something, but I suppose if it happens I might question myself.

    • Well I admit I did lurve Bareback to pieces but that’s ok if you didn’t. I remember someone emailed me once and said “I thought it was pretty shitty IMO but I can’t say that.” Which honestly was a great email and I encouraged said person to share their opinion. Not everything has to be the same for all readers. Isn’t that the point of reviews?

      Yea I tend to question myself in situations like this. Why didn’t I love it as much as everyone else? What am I missing? Am I in a mood? PMS’ing? Did I irrationally hate the man’s first name? So eventually I have to stop with all the self doubt and just accept that I’m different. Not always fun though..

      • I loved Bareback too, but I can totally understand why people don’t. It certainly wasn’t a perfect book and if you lost sympathy with Jake I can see it being a crap read. I was lost in it, though – couldn’t put it down, but I don’t want to read it again.

        Teddypig’s review of Bareback did make me chuckle. I agreed with most of what he said, yet I still loved the book. How weird is that?

        • I don’t think that’s weird though. I’ve had people agree with 3 or less star reviews for books I’ve done and they say the same thing. Sure you’re right but I loved it anyway. I think when you really connect with a book, when you love it.. the flaws just don’t matter.

  3. There are two issues here, I think. Firstly the book that you didn’t connect with and secondly what to do when you swim against the tide.

    I think sometimes if there’s a book which grabs you in the writing and the characters and plot, one that you really, really connect with, then as a reader you are more likely to overlook a few things that in a less engaging book you might find lacking or annoying. Sometimes I’ll read reviews of books that I’ve loved and given 5 stars to and the reviewer gave it 3 stars. It’s probable that I’ll agree with a lot of what that reviewer has said in that review, but because the strengths vastly outweighed the weaknesses for me, I was willing to overlook the faults. maybe that has been the case with this book for you, Kassa.

    In terms of swimming against the tide, well it’s tough. There has to come a point where you weigh up whether your view actually matters or not when in general the book was liked by many people. Actually I think it does matter because there may be some people like you who are wondering what all the fuss is about and whether they are missing something somewhere. Your 3 star review at GRs will help to reassure people that it’s not just them! It certainly helps me to know that in a sea of 4/5 stars my 3 star review is not on its own.

    The hardest thing for me is when I realise after the fact that I’m a lone voice in a sea of 5 stars. I’ll write a review and post it, only to be shot down by those who loved the book. That’s a tough thing for a reviewer because it makes you begin to doubt yourself :).

    BTW, I’m with Tam on Bareback. I never finished it because I got bored. At least Tam and I can swim against the tide together :).

    • Yes! I think it’s really tough and brave to stand up against raving fangirls and say “I didn’t love it as much as you.” It’s hard because you can get attacked or put down simply for not appreciating a book they loved. It’s a hard position and sometimes not worth it. I always appreciate it when a reader stands up and says their opinion, even if it’s against the tide. Perhaps even more so…

      I do get those readers that say “yes but I loved it anyway” while one or two will stand up and say they didn’t like it either (or found it ok). While a lot of people love Bareback (me included) there definitely are a contingent that just didn’t like it at all or were bored or thought it was meh. You’re not alone even if it feels like you are!

      Your comment really boiled down the issue to the two essential parts with great advise. Thank you!

  4. It happens to me quite a bit actually – a book people are gushing about doesn’t light my fire. I usually don’t hate it, but it’s just kind of okay or average. Maybe I’m just contrary?

    I think each person brings something to the table when they read – their own experience, their mood, their beliefs etc and those things can even subtly change one person’s experience over another’s. Generally, I like to give a book it’s best shot for success with me by reading it when I really want to and not forcing it.

    I read a book just last week which I thought was a 3 star read overall – there were parts that resonated with me and which I very much enjoyed but I found a lot of problems with the book and in the end they kind of cancelled each other out and I ended up at 3 stars. However, it seems that I’m a bit of an outlier on that one. All I can do is call it like I see it.

    • I think each person brings something to the table when they read – their own experience, their mood, their beliefs etc and those things can even subtly change one person’s experience over another’s. Generally, I like to give a book it’s best shot for success with me by reading it when I really want to and not forcing it.

      Yes! So very true..

      As for being the outlier. Perhaps we’re all contrary or just unique, waiting for the book that is really ours 😀

  5. This happens to me, in both directions (stuff I like way more than the crowd, and stuff I like way less than the crowd). I don’t particularly care if the crowd in question doesn’t contain any of my respected/trusted reviewers. I pay a bit more attention if it does contain those reviewers!

    For me, a 5-star read has to be immersive – it has to totally suck me in and drag me along. The book could be flawed, but because of the immersion, it doesn’t really matter. In such a case, if the book doesn’t pull another reader in the same way, that reviewer is going to be far more aware of the flaws.

    • Yea that seems to be the consensus. I guess what happens is that we all can see the flaws in the books we love but we love them despite or because of them, so they don’t matter. When others dont love the book the same way, the flaws seem to matter.

      I guess it’s why it’s such an individual and subjective thing. At least there are billions of books to choose from. Though I’ll admit, it’s always nice to love a book those you trust loves too.

  6. Gawd, I’m late to this party again :). Blame my laptop crashing last night during one of the eternal bloody updates.

    This happens to me a lot. I don’t think I’m difficult to please (!) but I really do seek out the “wow” factor. And of course that’s going to be different for each reader because of our different tastes. But it means I only rave about a few books in total.

    But then there’s the issue of why MANY people rave about one book. Even if they have the same basic likes, surely they still all see different things in it? Are they just copying each other? It’s like the Top 10 (for example) lists – it always seems to be the same books. Not that they’re not good, but surely there are LOTS of new books always coming on the scene, and some of those will stand out to the same standard?

    It’s maybe what I call the FIRST factor. I think people imprint love on the first book they read e.g. the first m/m, the first cowboy, the first horror. That’s fine, I do it myself. But that doesn’t mean that book will have – or should have – the same impact on someone reading later on in the community.

    I also think a lot of people’s reviews are really feedback, and in that case they *can* all be the same rating. It’s when a reviewer goes into details and is more thorough that the levels of “like” start to emerge, and we can get our teeth into what different people liked and didn’t like. That’s more fun for me, and more rewarding.

    PS I loved Bareback *heh* possibly because I admired the infidelity and struggle issues that other readers get hot under the collar about. But there are plenty of other “classic” books that I finish and think “huh? why?”.Like Jen/Tam says, did I somehow miss that core beauty, am I thick? or am I just a curmudgeonly old cow?

    • Ooo great comments, thank you! You’re not late to the party at all.. thankfully this one never ends (if only right?).

      You’re definitely right that in some ways this happens. I think people are pulled out of their comfort zones or read something that becomes a new favorite and it tends to linger as a great book in their minds. I also think though that the collective mind tends to influence readers. For example, how many people adore Harry Potter? Millions right? If not more. Not taking anything away from that great series, but how many read it because they know they -should- adore it. They know everyone they know read it and loved it and they should love it too. So they just do. Perhaps it’s a good book to them and they liked it anyway but when hyped up by everyone around them, they love it too.

      In some ways our little m/m community is not afraid to speak out and say they don’t like a book regardless of the “hype” or the author. But sometimes readers in this genre don’t. I think a book can become greater than the sum of its parts through how it affects people.

      What’s really interesting is that the people who have taken the time to comment in this thread are really tough readers. They don’t love everything and they’re not afraid of that. Whereas there are other readers who do love most things and they’re not afraid of that either but they’re not the ones who I would think gravitate to my blog and this post (hehe just a guess). So now I’m even more curious about those that do tend to follow the crowd. Is it the hype about the book, the book itself, or something about the reader. If only we could study those unique creatures…

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