Monday, August 31, 2009

Why Giving a Five Star Review is Like Getting Engaged

I have decided that, for me, giving a five star review to a book is like getting engaged to your boyfriend.

I have been thinking a lot about what makes me like a book and what counts as a good book. And I know the two things are not always the same, since reading is highly subjective (I was reading bad reviews of my favorite books this morning to comfort myself that some people aren’t careful readers tastes are subjective). But what I don’t quite understand is how sometimes they aren’t the same thing, even for me.

And this is where the boyfriend metaphor comes in. Because you know how you meet some guys and they’re just perfect, they say the right things, do the right things, fit the boyfriend mold . . . and leave you absolutely cold? And likewise, you’re dating your boyfriend, and you’ve been dating him long enough to know that his left eye puckers unattractively when he wakes up in the morning, he can’t read maps, and his left leg is marginally longer than his right* and still, you love him more than the KenDoll with no obvious flaws.

*these faults are only examples. Not real faults of Maggie’s Lover. Actual faults may vary. Please check your own Lover over carefully to determine what actual faults may be. Also, contents are sold by weight, not volume.

I find it’s the same with books. Some novels I will kick back with and find that it is perfect. It will have everything it ought to, like little checked off boxes were ticked.

_character flaws
_tragic backstory
_character hobbies
_conflict that will force character to a) abandon said hobbies or b) face said flaws
_a dog

And yet, I won’t connect. It’ll never speak to me. It's like reading a textbook example of what a UF novel should be, or reading a phD thesis on how to write a YA novel.

And then other times, I’ll read a book like HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY, which is the next book out from Audrey Niffenegger (I was lucky enough to snag an ARC), author of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (yet another flawed book that I love to death). And I’ll see an incredible number of flaws and things that drive me crazy, and I will say “Oh, man, she could’ve done this better” or “this character needs to die because I hate her so much” and still . . . I’ll love the book.

I swear it’s exactly like dating. Where you think that the guy's hair is just completely unlivable and you just can't. do. goatees., and then next thing you know, you're talking marriage and forever.

Because that is precisely what happened with HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY, a gothic-feeling ghost story with twins and graveyards and OCD. I savored it over about two weeks, and all the while that I was saying “wow, I love her writing style” I was also saying “This third person omniscient head-hopping is driving me to drink and reality TV.” And while I was saying, “wow, she’s so good at efficient characterization,” I was also saying “I hate this twin. So badly. I wish she would get killed in a freak propeller accident in the London Tube.” And while I was saying “Oh, the writer geek in me is just loving all these opposite pairs” I was saying “oh please, fewer people, please! This cast of thousands is giving me an ulcer!” And while I was saying “Ohh HO HO!! I see what you did there!” I was also closing the book and saying “What the hell just happened?”

And then thinking I am so reading that again.

LEIAIt is precisely like deciding your faulty boyfriend is the one you’re going to stick with forever. Why am I willing to overlook the flaws? Why do I love him? Is it because the good parts are that much better than the sterile perfect guy? Do I actually love the flaws? What is wrong with me? Do I need medication?

This weekend, I actually thought that I was going to write a post about why I loved HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY, despite the things that I blatantly didn’t like. But . . . I still don’t know. I mean, I know I will read it again and I know that the second it goes on sale I am going to be buying a hardcover to replace my ARC. But I don’t know why. It remains as mystical to me as why I said yes to my husband after saying no to so many others. And why it seemed to have worked, for that matter. The books that I am the most conflicted -- the ones that keep me thinking (and sometimes fuming) about them for days -- are the ones that I love the longest. Why!? WHY!?

So what do you guys think? Am I the only one who seems able to love a book despite a ton of evidence to the contrary?


ElegantSnobbery said...

Um... I think I'm the opposite of you. After reading this post, I'm also thinking that perhaps I'm a really shallow person when it comes to reading - or maybe I just give my heart and 5 stars freely, because just about every time I read a book, I say, "That was the best book I have ever read in my entire life" though all my friends are saying, "Marisa, that book was crap." (BTW, you are obviously not lumped into the 'that book was crap' category, as your books are fantastic)

But then also... I can not finish a book I don't like. If I don't like it, I have no qualms about ditching the characters and never finding out how their story ends.

This line absolutely cracked me up: “This third person omniscient head-hopping is driving me to drink and reality TV.”

Wow, driving you to watch reality TV... that is BAD! :D

Ella Press said...

*I agree with ElegantSnobbery!

Rachel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel said...

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I love it. So help me, I really really do.

writemeg said...

Totally great, thought-provoking post! An immediate example that comes to mind, for me, was Kate Jacobs' The Friday Night Knitting Club. Without getting all spoilerific, I was coasting along nicely with a plot that totally checked off the types of boxes you mention... and then the whole thing just derailed for me. The ending? TERRIBLE. JUST NO.

I immediately ran to find solace in the blog world to see what other people were saying... and if I was the only one losing my head with rage.

Still, somehow, I really... liked the book. I did. I find myself thinking about it often and, as is the case right now, ranting about it months later!

Hope to grab Her Fearful Symmetry sometime soon... and hopefully it won't drive me to drink and reality TV! (Love that line!)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Hahahah Marisa! So you're saying I cannot trust when you gush?

Meg, sigh, I hate it when endings derail me . . . but those are often the things that I initially dislike and then come back to and go "oh hey, maybe . . . "

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