Why I am a Tough Book Critic

hate booksIf you came to my house you would see wall after wall lined with bookcases and books.  I couldn’t even tell you how many books I own but when I moved in 2013 I had 24 boxes, and I’ve certainly added to it since then.  I love to read and find the experience of a great book one of the most exhilarating I can have.  I’ve also persevered in many a book club and am currently in one that I love and possibly starting up another.  I love books!

With all that said it might surprise you to hear about a conversation my sister Megan and I had a couple of weeks ago.  With her being an author, I often report to her my feelings on books I’ve read.  In 2015 I read quite a bit and enjoyed reading classics like The Jungle Book and Dracula was interesting, but my favorites by far was Finding Audrey and The Martian.  I loved those books so much!  Reading those books reminded me of why I love to read.  I loved the characters, humor, emotion and combination of everything in the story.

Unfortunately there were a lot of books I read last year that I really didn’t like.  Megan said to me “Rachel, you are a tough critic when it comes to books.  You seem to be a lot tougher on books you don’t like than on movies you don’t like”.  I think being an author Megan is more forgiving of plotholes and flaws in books than I am.  She recognizes the struggles of producing a novel and is willing to ignore things or explain them away where I am not so understanding.

The biggest difference between movies and books for me is time and emotional investment.  I recently saw an animated atrocity called Norm of the North.  It was so bad I sat there in disbelief that anyone financed and produced this garbage.  That said it was 90 minutes of my life.  A bad book or even an underwhelming book takes days sometimes weeks for me to read.  I’m living with these characters and I get more emotionally absorbed than in most movies so when an ending sucks or the characters are stupid it ticks me off.  If a book is boring it’s days of boredom (the horrors of reading Dune come to mind….).  If a character is annoying it is days of annoyance.  You get the idea…

I guess if I was a speed reader and could finish books in 2 or 3 hours than maybe it wouldn’t be so bad but I’m not.  I look at a book as a real investment and I will call it out if that investment doesn’t pay off.  I usually try to point out some positives (with movies too although some like Norm of the North there really isn’t anything).  This is particularly true for book club as I don’t want to appear like a complete grinch.

Like today we are discussing The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion which I hated but I will talk about my empathy with her situation and sufferings.  I do feel bad for her but it’s a rough read.  It has to have one of the most deceptive titles in recent memory.  There is no magic.  Only death and comatose loved ones.  Yippee!  And not that every book has to be happy but reading someone’s therapy journal and a bunch of statistics about death and grief- kill me now.

Again it’s worse than a bad movie because I’m living with this woman and her awful book for days!  And bad books seem to take so much longer to finish; thereby, extenuating the badness.

Now if you think I’m tough on books I’m even tougher on TV shows because that’s investing literally years of my life too. If you don’t believe me check out my thoughts on the How I Met Your Mother finale

I’m also pickier when it comes to characters and tone in books.  I can handle spending 2 hours with unlikable characters in a movie; although not my preference.  But a book? No thank you! A recent example is The Revenant.  It was a great film but brutal and has nothing but jerks in it.  I can’t imagine reading a book of the Revenant.  It sounds completely miserable.

That’s why I loved The Martian so much! It was about a nice guy that I loved spending time with.  I loved the movie but the book allowed me to be with Mark for days.  That was great!! Elizabeth Gaskell I love because the characters are so wonderful.  I love spending time with them for days.  Same with Jane Austen.

The other reason I am tougher on books than movies is there are a lot more saving graces in movies than books.  What I mean is in a book you have the text, characters, plot etc.  In a movie there are so many more factors to judge and that can save a movie from total disaster.  For instance, I hated Chappie so much.  It was one of my worst films of the year, but even I have to admit the visual effects were pretty good and Hugh Jackman was good.  If I had to read the novel of Chappie that would be awful!

You see what I mean?  I can really dislike a movie but the animation is good or a performance is impressive.  Sometimes the special effects are cool or there is some good writing or cinematography.  With books it is just the book that can either sink or swim.

What do you guys think?  Are you tougher on books than movies?  Which side do you land on?  I’d be curious to know.  What are some good books you’ve read recently?  What are some bad and why?

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