Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to Enjoy Most of the Books You Read For Pleasure

If you haven't noticed, most books I read get at least a three star rating. I won't deny I'm a bit of an easy grader; but quite honestly, I enjoy/like about 95% of the books I read. You might wonder, how is that the case?

As I took my walk yesterday, I pondered that very question. Here are some things I came up with:

Be choosy about the books you select for reading
Your time is valuable. Don't pick books to read that you aren't sure you will enjoy. Think about the stories you like to read, the subject matter, the themes, types of characters, when you look at a book blurb. More importantly, think hard about what you don't like to read. If you are not a fan of love triangles, I suggest avoiding books that clearly have a love triangle in the storyline. I don't like adultery, child death, love triangles, and erotica elements. I avoid those kinds of stories. Use other readers' reviews as a tool in your book selection arsenal. If you read a review and it really perks your interest, you need to really assess whether reading that book is worth your time, if you are more than likely going to be disappointed. At the same time, take other folks' reviews with a grain of salt. They are not you. You can analyze the review, not for the rating alone, but why they rated a book that way. It may turn out that you will love a book for the same reasons they hate it. This is one of the reasons I love Goodreads.com, although it can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the hyper-critical, grumpy reader, and the group mind scenarios. It may seem like I want to read all the books. There was a time when I was less selective. Nowadays, I know that I won't enjoy every book that is written. I've learned the hard way what I like and don't like. I apply that learning from the school of hard knocks to shape my present and future reading, and it's been very helpful to me. As a pleasure reader, I made a choice to be selfish with the time I will spend on a certain book. I decided I would pick the books that I feel are worth my valuable time. Even if it's an author you normally enjoy, you might have to say 'no' to one of their books if it's something you know you won't like. Being a choosy reader can't backfire on you. Trust me. If you doubt it, look at how many books I have listed as 'to read' on Goodreads. It's helped me out a lot.

Go into most books with limited expectations
That sounds pessimistic, even fatalistic, doesn't it? Not really. It's just a mental tool for preparation. If you go into a book after having coached yourself not to expect too much, the chances are you will be pleasantly surprised when you do enjoy the book. On the other hand, if you are uber-excited to read the latest book by (Name your author of choice), in the (best series ever written), you are in for a wake-up call if it doesn't meet the high level you thought it would. I'd be lying if I said I do this all the time. I don't. But, I try to do it as much as possible, and it has helped me.

Remember that nobody is perfect-even an author
Authors are human beings. They make mistakes, and fail to reach the standard of perfection that the world (and discerning readers) establishes for them, and that they set for themselves. It's the truth. If I'm not perfect, and I don't always get everything right, it's hardly fair for me to expect an author to do so. Here's where you're going to say, "Well, that's their job as a professional author." No, their job is to write books for a living. There's a lot that goes into writing books. It's a very tough job. Authors have deadlines, financial issues, and personal life stuff that might sometimes interfere with their abilities to write the perfect book. And then there is the editorial interference. There is the fact that the publishers expect the book to meet certain sales numbers, and will probably poke their heads in to suggest what will make the most money. Yes, we'd like to believe that an author is an artist, first and foremost, and that they will walk out the door when they are given an ultimatum by their publisher. But, how often do you quit your job when your boss gives you a task you don't want to do? Although authors are artists, they must be pragmatic, or they won't stay published for very long. Who am I to judge them? Just food for thought here. Also, consider this. I believe every author is allowed to write a not-so wonderful book. Maybe they were trying something different, and it just didn't come to fruition very well. Maybe they were listening to their inner muse, which caused them to write something counter to what their nearest and dearest fans wanted to read, or expect from them. Maybe they went through a divorce, their house burned down, their spouse passed away. Do we really know what was going on when they wrote that not so great book? Frankly, I think readers can judge authors way too harshly. I make it a practice not to do this. As a reader, you have a choice. You can try to go with the flow, enjoy the book for what it is, or you can pitch a hissy fit and demand your money back. I'll leave that up to you. Typically, I shrug it off and chalk it down as the book by my favorite author that wasn't my favorite. I'm sure I can find at least one thing I liked about that 'experiment.' If that was the last book, at least I have their older books to cherish. Or, the next book will likely be more to my tastes. That's just my philosophy, anyway. At the end of the day, it's just a book. That's all. Put it into perspective.

Remember, a book won't save the world or cure cancer
Bear with me. What I said above requires repeating. It's just a book. If you're a pleasure reader, then you are just reading for a few hours of enjoyment. Unless you picked a book outside of your comfort zone, or you have just completely parted ways with a favorite author emotionally and intellectually, you have remind yourself that it's a few hours out of your life--pure escapism. If you get yourself into that mode, the missing punctuations or lapse in character or a less than satisfactory love scene won't make the book a total loss for you. Look at the whole book, and base your feelings on that, instead of one or two issues you might have had. I've found this works for me. I don't sit there with my red pen, jotting down all the mistakes and errors I find in a story, because it's a waste of my time as a pleasure reader. If I'm nitpicking, then I'm not enjoying myself.

Don't read a book when you're not in the mood for it
I am a moody person. I am a moody reader. I choose my books based on what mood I'm in, and what kind of story I want to read. If I don't, I'm more likely to dislike a book. Also, if you are in a really bad mood, maybe you should put the book down and go for a walk or to the gym. You need something to get your mind working and to blow off steam. A book is the best cure for a lot of things, but not everything. Do something that will help you to get into the right headspace for reading. Then come back and read the book. If you don't, you hate the book, and then go onto Goodreads or Amazon and tell the world how crappy the book was. It's not really fair to that book, to the author, to many readers who have been turned off by that review, or to yourself.

Take the opportunity to expand your mind every now and then Sometimes I will challenge myself as a reader. I will read something that I normally don't go for. I do my research first. I read other reviews, and talk to trusted friends about the book. I make sure it doesn't have stuff on my 'don't go there ever' list. If it's a subject I generally don't like unless it's well-written, I will give a book that has been recommended highly by trusted friends a chance--I will read it. But, I do make sure I don't expect much. I try to throw the critic in the closet, and I open my mind. I have found opening my mind to be a liberating experience. I realize that as I grow as a person, and get older, my mind naturally does too. Living in a diverse world is a great thing. You don't have to compromise your personal beliefs to do so, either. You can look at a subject from your detached viewpoint, analyze it, and see it through the eyes of the character, and then close the book and go back to your own safe life. That is one of the great things about literature, isn't it?

Go for a little variety in your reading
My personal opinion is that most of us will get bored if we eat the same thing, day in and day out. So it is with our minds. We need a little variety to keep our brain and our tastes sharp. That's why I mix it up. As much as I love romance, it's nice to read something that isn't romance. I find that when I go back to romance novels, my love for them is even more intense. I feel the power of that genre tenfold. You may even find some favorite books outside of your genre of choice, maybe even a new genre or author. And, you might be able to follow a much-loved author to a new genre. The end result is good--more books to love. It's all good. On the other hand, if it turns out you tried something new and didn't like it, it's not the end of the world. I would suggest, maybe try again, but ask yourself why you didn't like it, and do your research to find something that better fits your tastes.

Don't be afraid to think differently from others
When you hang out in communities, there starts to be a group mentality. I am sorry to say this so bluntly, but I don't want to be a sheep. I want to be myself. If I meet people who like what I like and have fun with, great. But, at the same time, I won't pretend to like something or not like something just because everyone else does. Embrace your individuality. If you like bodice rippers, own it. If you like novels that other people consider 'trashy', what's wrong with that? Maybe the crowd frowns on a controversial subject. That doesn't mean you have to, as well. You are not hurting anyone to like what you like. Others may feel insecure because they can't step outside of the box, but don't let them steal your joy. Your time is valuable. Don't let anyone dictate to you how to feel about a book. Never, ever let the voice of the crowd echo in your head when you read a book. It doesn't matter what everyone else thinks of this book or this author. All that matters is, what you think. Conversely, never read a book just because everyone else is reading it. Read a book because you want to read it. It's not fair to yourself, otherwise; because you might not like it, and then you'll feel bad saying so, or the urge to pretend you do like it. Not good!

Last and not least...

Be passionate about reading!
I am not afraid to say that I love reading! It is my favorite thing in the world. I embrace the rush that a pile of unread books brings me. If you approach reading with a joy and a passion, it's very hard to be severely disappointed. You won't enjoy every book you read. That's just a fact of life. But be thankful that you can read books. Remember that there is always the next book. And each book is a doorway to a new world. You are an armchair world traveler when you read, and no one can take that passport away from you!

I think that is a good start. If you don't read for pleasure, this won't apply to you. If you do, maybe this might help you out. As always, this is just my humble opinion, worth less than two cents on the global exchange market. If anything, you can understand why my average rating is 3.5-4 stars on books that I read. I end this post by saying, Happy Reading to you!


delitealex said...

Great post. I haven't come across many books that I didnt enjoy something about. So far I havent been able to finish 2 books out of all the ones that Ive read.

Christina said...

This really spoke to me.

I originally had a more detail reply, but I accidentally closed the comment window when I was clicking back and forth between it and my Google Reader to re-read your post and gather my thoughts. :(

I may do a response post -- but not tonight. Tired and just a bit pissed about the lost comments.

Danielle said...

Thanks, Delitealex and Christina. I look forward to your comments, Christina. I hate when that happens!

Alisha (MyNeedToRead) said...

Great post, Danielle! I totally agree with you...particularly with the section "Don't read a book when you're not in the mood for it." I find that's one of the reasons why I don't do a lot of short-term, specific challenge reading ("read 5 historical romances in ten days!")... I can be mega excited about a book and yet decide to read another in its stead, within the space of a day! :o)

Danielle said...

SchalaKid, I am the same way. I have been really stretching my limits this year with my challenge reading. But, I try to pick books from my tbr pile that I do want to read. I have noticed that I'm reading more, so maybe a little bit of discipline is paying off for me (shrug). :)