The Wish List: reading

The more I read the more I realise how much of what I think of the story or book is down to the expectations I had in the first place. Not only expectations, but hopes and lingering wishes and not-explored-but-still-there hankerings on the edges of awareness. Some of these things are triggered into popping up by cover art, the blurb or quotes that worthies have placed on the cover. When I was young the favoured trope was, ‘Comparabe to Tolkien at his best.’

Reader, those things were rarely comparable to Tolkien at his best, worst or on a day he didn’t even turn up and saying so made them seem crappy, because they weren’t anything to do with Tolkien and thus they were bound to fall flat if you were looking for Tolkien. But he’d sold a shit ton of books so it seemed like a good idea. It was a terrible idea. If you did like Tolkien you hated those books and if you didn’t like Tolkien you never even picked them up.

Twice lately I’ve been sent books to read for the purposes of coming up with something good to put on the cover and been wrong-footed. The books I read did not match up with what I thought I was going to get when I sat down. As a result I started to feel disappointed fairly quickly when it became clear that it wasn’t going to be what it said on the tin. Or what I thought it said on the tin.

In both cases I went back to study the tin some more. I didn’t want to rush to a judgement because all writers are in the position of hoping someone will say something nice they can use in promoting their work. I have a rule about this which is I will only say something truthful, but I will say something if I can because people have done that for me in the past and I would like to pay it forward. I really hate to write the note back where I say, ‘Sorry, this one’s not for me.’ Of course sometimes I have to. But sometimes the book seems good but I’m still unhappy with it and all those times are down to a gap between what I thought was going to happen, as an experience, and what I actually got.

I don’t know if my vision of what a thriller is, what a space opera is, what a character novel is, what a romance is etc are things which you could mark up safely in the Median position of each of those categories, but I think they can’t be very far off the mark. I’ve been around ages now and read lots of things. So I can only conclude that in the hopes of drumming up extra trade in an exciting category sometimes people pop on a word to the cover-promo that isn’t entirely accurate.

It does the book an enormous injustice to cue expectations that it can’t meet. Once I corrected my expectations I found both the books really enjoyable on their own terms. They didn’t fit a particular category or a brief descriptor. I wonder how much I’ve missed over the years because of my expectations…

One thought on “The Wish List: reading”

  1. Yes. Years ago I picked up a copy of ‘The City and the Stars’ by Arthur C. Clarke, and opened it at a random page, which happened to describe how the inhabitants of Earth had set off in a vast fleet of spaceships to contact ‘something strange’ which they had contacted at some vast distance away. I built up an expectation of a whole book of similar Galaxy-spanning enterprises. Needless to say, the book was entirely different from my expectation, although just as good. I’m still waiting to read that book that I conjured up.

    Just read your AI future book, which exceeded my expectations in a similar way. You’ve given the subject a whole lot of pretty incisive thought, and provided us with a jumping off point for our own speculations on how, or if it’s even possible, to improve our situation. Thanks for everything.

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