December 14, 2013

Why Do Bad Books Happen to Good Readers?

abandoned book
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I have been a lover of reading for my entire life. When I sit down and think about the books I did not like many come to mind, but I have a reason behind them all. There are many reasons readers feel dissatisfaction upon reading a book, such as disappointing components in the story and disinteresting plot buildup, but if a decent amount of effort is given to grasp the book’s significance, the reader will surely find something to take away from the book, even if it isn’t a desire to recommend it to another person.

There are books that readers give a solid attempt at completing and end up dropping off somewhere in the middle, as was the case for me with Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls. Valley of the Dolls lost its appeal when I realized that Susann’s Anne Welles was beginning to retract the vital promise she had made to herself that she wouldn’t change radically while in New York City. It can be difficult for readers to stay engaged with a story when the plot goes in directions the reader had not anticipated. This isn’t to say that surprise twists are always an awful thing, but when a character’s entire disposition changes suddenly it can make the story a bit disinteresting and not worth reading. I felt similarly the first time I read Daniel KeyesFlowers for Algernon several years ago. Flowers for Algernon follows the story of a mentally disabled man who receives a controversial surgery which instantly makes him startlingly intelligent. Keyes’ book was initially a disappointment to me because as his character narrates his experiences with increasing intelligence, the vocabulary and storyline become almost impossible to read. At the time, I felt that Keyes’ use of an evolving reading level was gimmicky and stale, but similar to Flannery O’Connor, Keyes’ writing stays with the reader long after the end of the book has come and gone. I realized that I was glad I forced myself to pretend I comprehended the middle part and I learned that not every surprise development in a book is a good thing, but they all add to the overall perception of how good the story is.

There are books that readers put down before finishing even the first chapter, as were my experiences with Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea and Joanne Greenberg’s I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. I found that Mortenson and Greenberg both used words that were over my head at the time. I first attempted to read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden in 2008, when I was only fourteen. In the five years since then I’ve tried and failed several times to get past the first few pages, for the most part due to my lack of desire to spend more time consulting a dictionary than enjoying the book. I fear that I Never Promised You a Rose Garden will present me with a similar problem that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest did: I had no idea what was going on in the story. Three Cups of Tea presented the same problem – too many words that I simply was not familiar with. The vocabulary problem is increased in a nonfiction book, because I don’t tend to be fond of nonfiction and I rely on engaging dialogue to encourage me to stay engrossed in the book. As far as the books themselves, I am positive that they both offer me a lot to think about and I am sure I will continue to occasionally try to read them in their entireties. It is not uncommon for readers to abandon books that they simply don’t immediately attach to. If I Never Promised You a Rose Garden wasn’t referenced in many forms of pop culture and included on many lists of banned school and library books, I surely would have never given it another thought.

There are books that readers put down after reading most or all of the last chapter, a good example for me being Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Being sixteen at the time, I assumed while reading the book that the old man was going to die. When I reached the last page and realized that he was not going to pass away, I experienced my greatest disappointment at the end of a piece of literature to this day. I’m positive that I’m still missing some bigger meaning as I did when I read George Orwell’s Animal Farm for the first time in fourth grade, but I was sure that the man was going to die a profound death.

As with all other aspects in life, readers cannot expect to enjoy every book they pick up. The important thing is that the reader spends enough time with the book to be able to understand why they are putting it down without rave reviews.

By Wendy Ambrozewicz

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  • #1fan

    spoiler alert!