I’ve heard a number of authors claim that they would rather have their books elicit a love/hate response from their readers than get a warm, bland reaction all around. Other authors claim they don’t care what the public outcry is, as long as their books sell. Still others crave pure, overwhelming appreciation from the masses (okay, maybe we all want that…).
The truth is, there is no way to get a unified response to a book. Readers are as diverse as snowflakes, and there is simply no way to please everyone. Whether you prefer plot-driven books with plenty of action or slow and steady romances that are all about overcoming emotional barriers, there are enough writers – and readers – for just about everything.
As both a writer and a reader, I find myself in an interesting position when it comes to enjoying fiction. I’m pickier, certainly, than when I was just a reader – not only because I don’t have as much time as I used to, but also because I know how to better appreciate a writer who is really good at his or her craft. I’m also much more analytical when it comes to plot. I can tell when the writer has really thought out all the winding details of a complicated plot versus when he or she has simply tried to make everything fit, logic and reason be damned. It can be difficult to get past poor writing or poor conflict, and I have been known set aside books after a few pages if I just can’t get past these issues.
Sometimes, though, these issues don’t matter at all. And that’s what, in my mind, makes a book great.
I recently finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl. I read each one within a span of 24 hours, and wholly neglected things like my own writing, housework, and parenting in order to do so. Both books sucked me in from almost the first page, telling the story almost effortlessly, toying with my heartstrings without me even realizing they were doing it. They were good books, period.
Looking back, however, I can find several issues that should bother me about them. I didn’t necessarily like the way the ending played out in The Help (some farcical humor and too many perfectly tied loose ends), and there was your standard sexually-obsessed supervillain in Talk Me Down that has become just too gimmicky in the romance world for my tastes.
But you know what? I don’t care.
Both books transported me to a different world long enough for me to turn my critical eye off; I skimmed over sections that might not have been as strong as the rest of the book and went along with silly plot devices for as long as I needed to. And that, to me, is the highest compliment of all. If a book can get this writer to turn off her inner critic long enough to just enjoy the ride, that’s a pretty darn good book.
What about you? As a reader or a writer, what is it that make you sigh, clutch the book to your chest, and just beam for a few minutes while you soak in the happily ever after?