Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"I really wanted to like this book."

If I had $10 for every time I've seen that sentence in a review, I could update all the electronic devices in this house. But what does it mean? What makes a reader "want to like" a book?

When I start reading something, I don't go into it thinking I want to like it or dislike it. I just start reading. Of course I'd prefer to have an enjoyable experience -- it's frustrating as hell to trudge and stumble through a story -- so in that regard, every reader wants to like every book s/he picks up. But . . . what makes people single out certain titles to want to like?

Here are the only answers I could come up with:
  1. You've spent a good chunk of change on the tome and don't want to feel ripped off.
  2. You've been looking forward to the story for months.
  3. A gazillion other readers have raved about the book, so, to be part of the happy herd, you want to be able to rave about it too.
  4. You find the author's online persona appealing; s/he seems like a good shit.

Okay, all these reasons except the one relating to the herd mentality make some sense to me. By and large, though, I've been mystified by this desire-to-like statement for a good long while. Then I encountered a book I wanted to like, and I began to understand the sentiment.

It's a volume from Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden files. Why did I want to like it? Because I'm about ready to gag on UF heroines and I really crave an engaging, original UF hero. However, old Harry let me down.

I was hoping to get lost in this series. Instead, in one book alone, I encountered so many coincidences and convenient occurrences, and so many dumbasses repeatedly engaged in incomprehensible dumbassery (and I mean well beyond the normal parameters for suspension of disbelief), I'm not sure I want to risk my money on more of the same. Yes, I feel let-down. Where else can I turn to find the urban wizard of my dreams?

So . . . there's my reason for wanting to like a book. What are some of yours?

32 comments:

Val said...

Number #4. And I totally know what you mean about UF heroines and The Dresden Files.

Katrina Strauss said...

I don't know that it's I "want" to like certain books so much as I expect or hope to. This is usually the case for me with beloved authors I've come to trust, no matter what genres, writing styles, etc they explore. When one of their titles fails to grab me, I'm not disappointed in the author so much as I'm dismayed at myself, as I tend to be very open reader who goes for the ride. It's in those instances I've been known to blurt out "I wanted to like this book, but..."

Jason said...

The reason that I had recently is that the book had all the ingredients to make it an amazing read. Mythology, fantasy, a guy with two penises, for gods sake! But, it ended up falling flat for me. :(
I went into the book with very high expectations.

K. Z. Snow said...

No. 4 does make sense, Val. We want to think highly of people we've come to know and like online.

I'm so glad somebody understands my disaffection with the whole urban fantasy genre, and the Dresden Files. That book was entertaining enough to keep me coming back in spite of its annoyances...until I got to the last quarter of it. Then everything seriously began to deteriorate.

Tam said...

I think Jason makes a good point. Sometimes all the elments are there that you LOVE and it's just a big ball of blah. When I'm excited to find all my loves in one place I WANT to love it, I expect to love it and when I don't, well....

I'm always promoting Tanya Huff's Smoke series. Okay, Tony is a fairly useless wizard (he's new, he's learning) and manages to defeat the demons/ghosts/etc more by happenstance and luck and with the help of ex-lover vampire Henry than through any real talent although he improves, but he's so adorable and just an everyday young guy you can't help but cheer him on. There's my reference. And really, when you can cast a demon repelling spell using cherry flavoured cough syrup, you have some mad skillz.

I, ummm, tried to read the Dresden Files when everyone raved about it. I didn't finish the first book. I found him annoying and I got bored. Ooops. Blasphemy I know.

Teddy Pig said...

It's code phrase for me.

When I use it I am telling you I liked either the characters or the story ideas introduced but not what happened soon after. So I can see why people would buy the book and I can see why it is enticing but something went wrong.

K. Z. Snow said...

I guess hoping or expecting to like a book is essentially the same thing, Kitty. And yes, a favorite author can generate that kind of anticipation. But why would you be dismayed with yourself for not liking such a book?

Teddy Pig said...

Oh and yes I could be trying really hard not to say the blurb was better than the book.

People might get upset.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hmm. Great point, Jase and Tam. I guess that's why I hoped/expected/wanted to like the Dresden Files. The series' elements seemed to be what I was looking for in UF. Unfortunately, they weren't developed or blended very adroitly.

I'll have to look into the Smoke series, Tam. I'm sure that reading blurbs and excerpts will help me decide if I'm interested. I just want to avoid crappy writing and too much silliness.

Tam said...

Hmm. If you don't want silly I'm not sure then. But check out the blurbs. It made me laugh out loud on an airplane. I'd offer to send you my books but it would likely cost more than just buying them. It's starts with Smoke and Shadows and that kind of sets up the whole thing for the following books Smoke and Mirrors and Smoke and Ashes. I was hoping there would be one more. *nose wrinkle in dismay*

K. Z. Snow said...

It's definitely a code phrase, TeddyP, and as soon as I see it, I know the reader/reviewer was disappointed. Covers, blurbs, excerpts, and general hype can all generate high hopes for a story. So maybe saying, "I wanted to like this book" is another way of saying, "I'm embarrassed to admit I was suckered in" or "I'm pissed off that I was chumped." :)

Katrina Strauss said...

KZ ~ I'm probably using the wrong word here to convey what I mean. (Yes, I iz a writer.) Maybe miffed was a better word, and then not so much that I'm hating on myself but just wishing I could have gotten on board with the author's effort. I love to be challenged by books. I love it when I go into a book thinking "Hmm, I'm not sure about this", then by the end I walk away applauding the author's brilliance. (I'm talking more style and voice than subject matter, since I'm open to just about any subject!)

Also, if I don't enjoy a book by a new author, or one I could take or leave, then I just sort of shrug and forget about it. I only use the "I wanted to like this book" line when it's a book by an author I truly, deeply have come to respect after enjoying previous offerings. If I fail to live up to the challenge, then I'm miffed. Maybe that's the word I should have used -- miffed. Even before I was published, I tried to at least respect an author's effort if not the work itself. There are a few such books where I went back at a later time and was able to fully immerse myself in them, so in those cases, I do think the issue was with me, not the author. But then others, I've tried to start 2 or 3 times before deciding okay, this just ain't gonna happen!

K. Z. Snow said...

Y'see, Tam, I take wizards and magic seriously. ;-) So if a book seems too much like a juvenile romp with a lot of tee-hee-hee, it's going to irritate me no end. Touches of humor are good, though. I just prefer the humor to be on the wry side.

The Dresden story wasn't juvenile, but it was such a mess on so many other levels that I lost my forbearance toward the end.

Teddy Pig said...

Or just "I made an wrong assumption as a reader"

Hell, I am more than capable of making mistakes especially if I am hauling ass through a website on Tuesday and I see a pretty cover.

Oh pretty! Must buy! Hehehehe

wren boudreau said...

Oh Dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. I believe we will just have to agree to disagree about the Dresden Files and move on with our lives, never to mention this again.
*deep breaths*
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I, too, have enjoyed the Smoke series by Huff, as well as the Blood Books.

Books that I "want" to like are usually new in a series that I've enjoyed (Black Dagger Brotherhood e.g.) or by an author whose previous work I've liked.

I admit, though, that with e-books especially, I get caught up in the pretty covers and the blurbs so when I sit down with them I'm expecting to like them and when I don't it's like biting into those cream chocolates that are wonderful on the outside but surprisingly disappointing on the inside!

K. Z. Snow said...

"...just wishing I could have gotten on board with the author's effort."

Okay, yeah, I see what you mean. I've experienced that too -- approaching a book by someone whose work I've loved in the past but not being able to get into it this time around. Letting some time go by can make a difference, though.

I remember being put off by one of Ginn Hale's stories after I'd read Wicked Gentlemen, because I'd (stupidly) expected the same kind of writing and same kind of tale. I gave up pretty quickly during my first attempt to read it, but I went back to the story later and loved it.

K. Z. Snow said...

"Made a wrong assumption" -- so true, TeddyP. I've done it plenty. But I think some readers do feel they've been misled. At least that's the sense I get from their reviews.

Katrina Strauss said...

Yeah, with a new author or genre, I'm more likely to say "I *tried* to like this book." Whole different set of expectations and goals there!

K. Z. Snow said...

Wrenboo, you'll have to agree to disagree with Val and Tam as well. :)

Actually, I haven't decided yet if I should give up on the series completely or give it another chance through a second book. Which do you think is the best one of the lot?

Have you ever found a volume in a beloved series to be a disappointment? Something you "wanted to like" but just couldn't?

wren boudreau said...

Pbbbbbtttttthh to all three of you!
:D

The most recent Dresden book is the best so far.

JR Ward's 6th BDB Book - Phury's story - is the book that came to mind when I read this post. I was looking forward to it so very much and was terribly disappointed. I couldn't bring myself to read the next ones in the series until just recently. I went in with much lower expectations and I did enjoy them. (chicken, egg?)

Teddy Pig said...

"so true, TeddyP. I've done it plenty. But I think some readers do feel they've been misled. At least that's the sense I get from their reviews."

Oh I got into a kerfuffle over on Goodreads lately because I did feel misled (by the labeling and the blurb) but I think I made it pretty plain which created the argument that followed and I did not coach it in the whole "I was rooting for this book" thing.

That I agree with you on.

"I feel misled" should have totally different wording than "I see the attraction but did not get the payoff I was expecting".

Jenre said...

I remember once writing that phrase in a review I did of one of your books KZ. Fortunately I did like it :).

For me, it's usually related to either a series or a book by an author I love. It's often linked with anticipation, ie I've loved all the other books in the series/by this author and I've been waiting a long time for the book to be released. It's then a real let down if I don't like the book as much as others in the series or by the author.

K. Z. Snow said...

Jen, I suspect a good number of authors have seen that statement in at least one of their reviews. Usually, though, it precedes a smackdown. :)

LVLM(Leah) said...

When I say "I wanted to like this book but...," it means either of two things.

What Katrina said. I'm reading a book of a favorite author whose work I generally love but was not feeling in that book. It's kind of my way to ease the author down, letting them know that I've loved their work, but this particular book, not so much. So it's a kind of way to say something negative about a book and trying not to hurt the author I like.

The second reason for me is that there are some tropes or scenarios that I really like but which are rarely portrayed. For example, f/f/m. Those books are pretty rare. So when I get one, I really hope it doesn't suck pigs ass because I want to be able to recommend it. In that case, I go in having a lot of hope that it's a good book. When it isn't, it's one less book of that particular trope or genre that I can really recommend, so I say "I really wanted to like this" because I did.

K. Z. Snow said...

I certainly see your point, Leah. When you want very much to come across a particular but uncommon kind of story, and then you find one, of course you're going to hope it's worth reading.

That's how I feel about being treated to a dinner of Maine lobster. It happens so rarely that when the opportunity does arise, I want that lobster to be perfectly prepared and succulent! :)

Chris said...

*steps up to show Dresden Files solidarity with Wren*

Wren's example of Phury's book is perfect. I think I'd use the phrase when I mostly liked a book, butsome major thing ruined it for me.

wren boudreau said...

Chris: I KNEW liked you for a reason!! :)

Chris said...

You're probably relieved to finally have figured out why...

wren boudreau said...

Actually, I have a sense of deja vu. Did I already make a discovery as to why I like you, before this?

Lily said...

For me it would probably be about a disappointing book in a series I loved or a story by an author whose previous books I've really enjoyed reading but for whatever reason it just doesn't live up to my expectations.

Great post, KZ! :)

Chris said...

Or someone's looping the Matrix on you.

K. Z. Snow said...

Those seem to be the main reasons, Lily.