I am an avid reader. I have been for my entire life, even if I suffered a slight lull in my teens. When I was younger, my genres were quite restricted and if a book was up for a prize, I was less likely to read it. Never let it be said that I liked to follow the crowd. Instead, I read what I knew I liked and ignored all the awards, prizes and recommendations.
Maybe so. Or maybe not.
Being at university changed my perspective on reading. I was introduced to a lot of genres and discovered most of them I enjoyed yet I wouldn’t have looked for them on my own. It widened my horizons and opened up an entire world that I had closed myself off from. However, I still find that I am hesitant when it comes to popular books and books that have achieved awards. More than once, this caution has paid off.
The problem with a really popular book – such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – is the high expectations. This book captivated hundreds of people, surely that means it has to be good? Unfortunately, I hated it and I’m not alone. I thought the characters were weak, the plot far-fetched and boring and I couldn’t identify why people were gripped. I wouldn’t have liked this book, even if it was unknown. However, I had such high expectations that it made it seem even worse.
Now, when books are compared to it, it puts me off. It feels like publicists are jumping on the bandwagon rather than judging a book on its own merit. It might help it to do well, or it could serve to put people off. The Widow by Fiona Barton was said to be the next Gone Girl, and yet that did it an injustice as the book was a lot better. If a book has a lot of hype, I go running in the opposite direction. I might try it a year later when no one is talking about it, but otherwise I steer clear.
While at university, I ended up reading all the previous winners of the Kitschies awards as research. Some I felt were justified winners, some got me into new authors and others I really didn’t understand how they won. It changed my mind about awards though. I’m now prepared to look through the shortlist if nothing else as it helps me to discover new authors.
However, I am cautious. If it is a really popular award, I will again read with caution in case it disappoints. But I’m not as naïve as I used to be when it comes to books – I know awards is just one way to discover new books and that can never be a bad thing. Some may disappoint, but even one of the finalists rather than the winner may be my next favourite author.
So proceed with caution is now my attitude towards popular books. How about you?