05 April 2011

Popular books...are you affected by their popularity before you read them?

Brought to us by the folks at The Blue Bookcase and 
BookBelle (an online friend of mine).

Do you find yourself predisposed to like (or dislike) books that are generally accepted as great books and have been incorporated into the literary canon? Discuss the affect you believe a book’s “status” has on your opinion of it.

Are you affected by a book's popular success? Does that popularity matter to you?

My short answer is, "No. I am not predisposed to like (or dislike) books that are generally accepted as great books and have been incorporated into the literary canon."

I think that for a long time I was avoiding "books of the moment". I am not the type to read a book only because everyone else is reading it. A good case in point is the abundance of vampire novels that bookstores became flooded with in the past three or four years. Vampires just don't interest me and aren't likely to.

I am completely at ease with disliking a book that it seems everyone else loved. I am strong enough in my own character these days to be able to state, unwaveringly, how I feel. I also hope to convey reasons why I felt such a way. I have no problem believing that others likely feel differently than I do. Diversity is a thing that greatly interests me, especially among the taste of book lovers. I am intrigued about the likes and dislikes of readers. 

In fact, there is an author whose works I have recently come to the conclusion I strongly dislike and it seems that the world loves his work: Gregory Maguire. Now, before you think that perhaps I've simply dismissed him too easily let me list the books I have read:

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Leaping Beauty
Mirror Mirror

In fact, I was able to find a common dissenter:

I agree with much that he says of Maguire's style. Maguire comes across to me as lofty and unapproachable. This is from one of my recent reviews 
"He writes in such a fashion that I feel he attempts a loftiness that isn't even legitimate. There are times when I reread a sentence that he has written and struggle with calling it a sentence..."

That said, I actually did give "Wicked" 4 out of 5 stars on my review of it. Still, I felt he left too many loose ends, even with the proposition of a sequel to follow. I felt there was no resolution for the main character. He also seemed to be making some broader statements of situations in our world but didn't do so to the point that I felt he achieved his point. I felt the story lacked a finish...it also left me feeling quite sad. I can handle feeling sad. That happened with David Nicholls brilliant book One Day. Nicholls' creativity at the end of the story allowed me to accept the sadness that culminated the story while rejoicing in the overall story. Brilliant, genius...I loved that.

My reading tastes are quite varied, I think. I read many genres. Due to that, I suppose I am not drawn only to what is currently popular. I am drawn to read books that I believe I will feel a connection with. For me, that connection may be to the characters, or to the setting, or even to the writing style. I have only read two Jane Austen titles so far. I think I am so drawn into them by the fact that we lived in England for two and a half years and I really do feel a connection to the people of Great Britain. I also find that I understand Miss Austen's humor with regard to class and social status without need of further explanation.

If a friend, or someone whose reviews I am familiar with, likes a book that is experiencing broad popularity, that will compel me to read it sooner than the fact that it is listed on a best-seller list. Thank you BookBelle and other online friends whose reviews I read monthly, mostly at Sonlight's forums.

I think my rating of a book reflects many things:
my enjoyment of it
my ability to feel a connection
a certain expression of humor or the understanding of humor even in serious matters
the ability to write in a particular style and stick with it
connection of all the little dots in the story line (don't leave me hanging, please)
the author's ability to convey information concisely and to back it up (non fiction)
cultural relevance, long-term (I think I am affected by this more for classics, books that will have lasting importance)

So, Do you find yourself predisposed to like (or dislike) books that are generally accepted as great books and have been incorporated into the literary canon?
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