Interesting question, don’t you think? I run a book club once a month. Some weeks we have very strong and varied opinions on books. The women pull no punches and often slate our chosen book saying it was ‘rubbish’, or they ‘hated’ it.
Being a writer myself, I am very tolerant of books that are a little below par or even badly written. I believe there are always things I can learn from them. However, I selfishly admit that they also give me a boost of confidence with the message that perhaps my own writing is not so bad! (Imposter syndrome).
But ultimately, what determines whether a book is good or bad?
Opinion is subjective!
Usually, we dislike a book because it is just ‘not our cup of tea’. We are all entitled to our viewpoint, of course, but there is no rhyme nor reason why some enjoy a book and others don’t. Whilst our opinions are valid, it would be ignorant and antagonistic to dig our heels in and insist that our viewpoint is the ‘correct’ one.
In the same way we can’t expect someone to see the world through our eyes, we can’t expect someone to see or enjoy a book just because we have. Each of us differ with the criteria we believe constitutes a ‘good read’. Personally, I give five stars to a book that captivates me with its storyline, is well written (without long and unnecessary descriptive passages). A book that leaves me feeling I will remember it for time to come.
I also read books that I struggle with, purely to challenge myself or perhaps learn something new. Sometimes I challenge myself with a literary classic, other times I’ll try a new genre to support an author. But then reading for fun and reading as a writer is a whole other blog.
So, what constitutes a bad book?
I always tell my book club readers that if we analyse why we think a book is bad, we can still learn something. Think about what reasons you would give for a low rating if writing a review. Were there characters you could not relate to, vocabulary you didn’t understand, or long, flouncy narratives? Did you find it confusing? If yes, this doesn’t necessarily constitute a bad book, even if it does deserve a mediocre star rating from you. Books like these may be written by indie authors, but they make it into the traditional publisher houses too.
Food for thought..
Why not use a ‘bad’ or unenjoyable book to guide you to where your true tastes lie. It may be that you don’t like murder mystery books, or cosy romance (my least favourite). But reading these will only enhance your experience when you next read your favourite genre. It doesn’t constitute a ‘bad book’ but merely a ‘bad read’ for you.
Exception to the rule
So, when would I say enough is enough of being kind and tolerant?
Well, if the grammar is poor, or there are endless typos with an incomprehensible storyline that doesn’t flow, then yes, it is probably bad. I read 3 to 4 books a month and can honestly say that I’ve only binned two books due to how frustratingly ‘bad’ they were.
One of the above-mentioned books (I will not mention the author) was so badly formatted with tiny print pushed to the edges of the page, that it made the book uncomfortable to read. Not to mention the primary grade narration that contained no picture building or description. It was a banal memoir and a case of somebody just splurging their diary out onto the pages. It should probably have stayed in the diary – under lock and key! Clearly it had not been run past an editor or proof-reader. To be honest, it was an insult to us indie authors.
The second book I binned was visually tidy, but the story (if there was one!) was barely readable. There were wrong tenses, cheesy clichés, and unrealistic dialogue that was painful to read. Again, I won’t name the author, but it landed in the bin at high speed. I was annoyed I had spent £8.99 on it.
Indie Vs Traditional
Now whilst books like the above are less likely to filter into the world through a traditional publisher, it is very wrong to assume that all indie authors are guilty of these mistakes. Some of the best books I have read are written by indie authors.
Yes, anyone can write and publish a book these days, but it does’nt mean that they should. Anybody that is new to writing (like myself) should always employ the services of a great editor to guide them. They should also employ a proof-reader to ensure that grammar and typos are all corrected. Any less, would imply that a writer doesn’t really care about their work and gives indie author’s a bad name!
In case you hadn’t noticed, I feel strongly that indie authors have a duty to take the same care with their books as traditionally published books. That is, to edit, format, and create a book cover design, all to as higher standard as possible.
If the above steps are ignored, I would say there is justification in saying it was a ‘bad’ book.
However, many claim that there are poorly written books which have been traditionally published.
Here’s a list I found: https://geekforthewin.com/worst-books-ever/
But, I will emphasise that there are varying levels of poorly produced or written books. It’s very rare that I find a book which is bad enough that I cannot reach the end. But maybe I’m just stubborn!
“When you have expectations you are setting yourself up for disappointment.”Ryan Reynolds
Have you ever noticed if there is a lot of hype over a book (or film), we tend to be disappointed when we finally get around to reading it? We may have been influenced by what we have heard and our expectations are then set too high. By contrast, we can pick up what sounds and looks like an ‘average’ book and be blown away!
So long as the author has marketed their book in the right way and given a synopsis in the book blurb that accurately describes the genre and content, then do please take a pause before claiming ‘it was rubbish’. Instead of saying it was a terrible book you could, perhaps, replace with ‘I struggled with this one’ or ‘it just wasn’t my cup of tea’.
Mood affects our experience
It goes without saying that how we are feeling can affect our interpretation of a book. If we have had a family death or just been told that we are being kicked out of our rented house, we may not be in the mood for a comedic memoir or some satirical fiction. We may interpret a tragedy book with less empathy if we are going through our own personal tragedy. I know that books I have not enjoyed in the past, for whatever reason, I have re-read and enjoyed the second time.
Have confidence in your opinion
I may not have the literary analysis skills that some have, but I know when I have enjoyed, or absolutely loved a book. Yes, it can be a shock to hear that someone in the book club loathed the very same book, but that doesn’t matter!
We should have confidence in our likes and dislikes without being influenced by what other’s think. Remember, it is always subjective. Don’t feel wounded if someone doesn’t get the page turner that kept you up all night, or they say they had to give up on it!
Likewise, be confident if you review something with five stars even though everyone else seems to have given three stars. There is often someone in the book club who seems nervous to give their view on a book until they hear what everyone else thinks, for fear they be going against the tide.
Reading a well written book should be effortless. As a reader, we should feel it is like a tidy room with a comfy sofa adorned with puffed-up cushions and the smell of fresh linen scent. The décor may not agree with our colour-choice, but please, do bear in mind that the writer is the one who has done all the unseen work. They were the person vacuuming the carpet, polishing the furniture, and cleaning the windows. They have worked hard to remove stubborn stains from the cushions, decorate the bare walls and ensure the room is at the right temperature! If nothing else, always appreciate the hard work that has gone into producing a book.
If, however, the room is a catastrophic mess and the author has become a couch potato, you may genuinely have a badly produced book on your hands.
To summarise and answer the question that is the title of this blog post… yes, of course there is such a thing as a ‘poor’ or ‘bad’ book. My opinion, however, is that we tend to jump too quickly to label something bad unjustly, when in truth, it is just not our cup of tea!