I was upset over a one-star book review today. It wasn’t even for my book. It was for a book I had read and enjoyed and given four stars to. A book that deserved better.
One-star reviews aren’t exactly rare, and they aren’t always fair. They aren’t something to get upset over in general. But I was upset with this one.
The review is actually fairly positive. The reader thinks the book was well written and interesting, and even recommends it to others. But the reader didn’t understand the book. And because of this personal failure, the book only merits the lowest mark.
And that’s what upset me. I find the idea peculiar that a book should be understood in order to be good.
Sadly, I don’t think the reviewer is alone in the notion that a book should be easy to understand. We want our books to have plots that move on well-defined paths we can follow – and anticipate. We want the satisfaction of a story that fulfils our expectations. Genre fiction reigns supreme for that reason alone. If the book doesn’t meet our expectations, the book is to blame. And if we don’t understand the book, it’s not our intelligence that is lacking. It’s the book’s fault.
I like genre fiction just as much as the next reader. I write books that are easy to understand. Occasionally, though, I like to challenge myself. I pick a book outside my comfort zone and try to make sense of a more alien narrative. I don’t always like those reads. I don’t always finish them. It is seldom, however, that I blame the book for it. And so I don’t really have sympathy for a reader who faults a book because it’s too difficult.
But readers who want to be challenged by their reading are in minority. Markets for literary fiction dwindle as readers prefer easier books. In a free market economy that would eventually lead to literary fiction disappearing completely. Luckily, there are authors who go against the markets and write books that aren’t easy. That way there will be something to read in the future for those who aren’t afraid to exert themselves.
Here’s a link to the book, in case you’d like to read something different (for UK readers here). Ella is a short novel, so it won’t strain you unnecessarily. And, quite frankly, it isn’t that difficult. But it is interesting.