The Expectation Problem

This past week I worked to go through all of my old reviews and make sure they were accessible via Goodreads.com. I ended up sitting and reading a bunch of them because I read some of these books over two years ago and I was kind of curious to see what I had said about them.

What I found really interesting is that I have a habit of saying I was disappointed in a book because it was something different from what I expected. And then I had to stop and think about that: Because a book contained a different story than I had thought it would, I disliked it.

Is that a bad thing?

Well, I don’t think it is. For example, if a book is marketed as a romance book, yet doesn’t have an ounce of romance in it, then yeah, I have a reason to be disappointed.

But is it a good thing?

…I don’t think it is.

I think you’re allowed to want something out of the books you’re reading – otherwise why would you be reading them – but I think it’s also important to pay attention to what’s actually in front of you.  The author may have chosen to go in a different direction than I would choose, or focus on different characters than I would, but that doesn’t make the story bad – it’s just different than expected. So while I think it’s okay to want something more from the book you’re reading, I think it can be categorized into two different “types” of want:

Want: Type 1

I think there is a legitimate time when a reader reads a book and it’s missing “something.” You may not be able to define what exactly that “something” is, but the book leaves you with a sense of needing more from it, and it doesn’t quite leave you satisfied. This is my first type of want, or the “good” want. It’s okay to say a book didn’t leave you satisfied. It’s like eating at a restaurant and thinking the food was okay. You know, not the best food you’ve ever had, but it did alright for a meal. But perhaps if there had been more salt, or a different sauce, or paired with a nice wine…

Want: Type 2

Then there’s the other want, the “bad” want that I’ve found myself having lately. That’s when I go into a book, and when it focuses on something different from I want to focus on, I get upset. I have a good recent example of this: The Selection trilogy by Kiera Cass. (Read the Review). The entire time I read this book, I was focused on the rebels outside of the palace, wanting to know more about the kingdom as a whole and spend less time on the competition inside the palace.

But I don’t think I can do that.

The books are called The Selection. That’s what the books are about: the Selection competition. So when the books follow the competition in detail, I don’t think I can really complain about it. (I mean, I can, but I don’t know that I should.) When a book discusses what it says it’s going to discuss, I don’t think I should really complain just because I think a different aspect may be more interesting. I mean, if I’m going to pick up a romance book, I probably can’t complain when there’s lots of say, romance, and not a lot of sword fighting or chess playing.

It has occurred to me that the person who actually writes the book probably has a specific reason for writing the story in that way, and that I should pay attention to that. They’ve put a lot of thought into making this thing I’m holding in my hands, and maybe I need to respect that. Plus, maybe I’m actually missing important aspects of the story because I’m too busy lamenting about the story-that-never-was. They made a choice to write their book like this, maybe I need to pay closer attention to what they’re actually trying to show me.

The Conclusion

So I think I’m going to try really hard to accept the stories as they are. Just because I would write a story different or would focus on a different aspect of the story doesn’t make the story wrong. It probably means that the author is trying to do something different with it, something I’m not getting. And while I think it’s perfectly legitimate to not “get” a book, I’m wondering if that’s partly my own fault simply from not paying attention. So in the future I want to read books for what they are, and judge them based on what’s between the covers – and not what I wished was there.

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