TJ and I have been tossing on and off about book reviews, how you should do them and what does it mean. Shalini talked about how one bad aspect of a book can really screw you up (actually I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I totally remember my light bulb moment after I read it, so there you go…) Therefore, if you like my blog today, thank me: if you don’t, blame them…
What’s the most important aspect of a book?
Does one aspect of a book matter more?
I’ve been seriously pondering both of these questions lately. What makes a book good or bad? What makes you like a book or hate it? Can you like a bad book?
I know- threw a lot out there at you on a Monday morning. So I’m going to think about these questions from the viewpoint of the book I finished over the weekend, “Star-Crossed” by Minnie Darke. There will be spoilers, but it’s a romantic comedy, so, really.
Predictability: Ok- since I led into this, this book is pretty straightforward in that you know what’s going to happen. You may not know the details along the way, but you know exactly what the arc of this story is going to be- you can almost guess the pages of the climax and the final reveal. Does this make the book bad? Many people critique a book saying it was cliché, and therefore worthy of a lousy review. should a book be dinged because it’s predictable? Well, that depends. In this case no, because of its genre. When I picked up the book I wanted a light, easy, fun read. It’s a romantic comedy: when you decide to read one, you’re pretty much signing on for predicable: do you really want to read a rom com where the two main characters don’t end up together in the end? So yes, predictable, but I expected it. Not dinging this book for that. But another genre of book? I don’t want it to be a pat and scripted journey.
So: how important is predictability? Depends on the genre.
Plot. This kind of goes in hand with predictability. And it also depends on genre. The plot of the book I discussed was straightforward, but again- rom com. It’s supposed to be that way. But, in this case, the little details that filled in the blanks were good: I thought how the author got where she was going was interesting and fun. Our female protagonist is a low level (but rising) employee at a monthly magazine. She has a think for a guy who truly believes in horoscopes, so when she is entering the horoscope copy for layout, she sort of tweaks it so that maybe it will lead him to her. Clever, right? And along the way, we see how she has changed the patterns of other lives because of her false predictions. Even though the story was totally predictable, I enjoyed the ride the author took us on. It was light and easy and fun.
Characters. Do you need to like the characters? This is something I think about often. I know many people will stop reading a book, or ding it badly if they do not like the main character. Is this fair? Again- I think it depends on genre. In the book I’m using as an example, I think you must love, or really like, the two main characters. But other books? I liked “Gone Girl” even though I hated both the main characters. But they intrigued me: sometimes that’s all the hook you need.
Setting/description. How much do you need? How much is important? Ok- I do not like overly descriptive work. When someone gives me a laundry list of the designed names in a closet, and gives me intricate detail of clothing, I am starting to fall asleep. I don’t need to know everything on their kitchen counter, or every objet d’art on their shelves. I want to know the general style, the general upkeep and the colors: that’s what I need to give me a sense of the person. I need the details to be organic. I don’t like laundry lists and I don’t like details that do not matter to the story. But…I know many people who love all those details. I also think that description is a stylistic choice: some genres and stories beg for more description, others need to be sparse. In my rom com of choice, I thought the author gave us just enough so that we got the essence of the characters and where they were in life without burdening us down with minutia.
So if I were to rate “Star-Crossed” I would give it a 3.75. Though I liked all the basic elements, and the plot line was original, some of the hijinks were a little too forced. Some of the main characters traits were a little too cute. But, as far as light, summer rom com it was perfectly fine. I think genre really matters when discussing/reviewing a book: my expectations clearly change dependent upon the type of work I’m looking at. I’m currently reading “Rebecca”: there is no way I would judge it as I judge “Star-Crossed”. First big thought of the week: genre matters, and the guidelines for reviewing/discussing should be different per genre.
I think these are the most important aspects of a book, but I’m going to be playing with all things books and reading this week. If I missed something important today, I’ll more than likely hit on it at some point.