Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mediocrity, the greatest disappointment

What's worse - a bad book that makes you feel so passionately about it you're angry for days and days just thinking about the ending, or a mediocre book that slips from your memory almost immediately?

Once upon a time, when I was a less educated and critical reader than I am today, mediocrity hardly existed. When I was growing up, books generally fell into the camps of "books I love" and "books I hate", with very little in between. The more I read and grew and expanded my literary perception, the more I began to find a middle ground. I realized that I could like a book without it being good, and I realized a book could be good without necessarily enjoying one iota of it. The potential of a lukewarm response - for mediocrity, for ambivalence - suddenly arose.

It's been particularly bad this year. Besides the fact that I've read very few books this year (relatively speaking), I've noticed that few have stood out in any way, whether positively or negatively. There are some books I disliked and some books I quite liked, but nothing this year has evoked anywhere near the passion and excitement I felt after reading, say, Wolf Hall. Or The Golden Age. Or A Monster Calls, The Name of the Wind, even the absolute hatred I felt after reading In the Shadow of the Banyan or Across the Universe. Some books have been good, some have been bad. But I've been feeling utterly empty regarding most of them.

I don't like mediocrity. I don't like ambivalence. I like gaining something from the books I read, whether intellectually, emotionally, or imaginatively. I like my books to change me, for good or for bad. Books are supposed to leave an impact on their readers. A book that fails to do so is, in my mind, committing the greatest crime - worse than bad plotting, bad writing, or bad characterization will ever be. Because books need to matter.

Thoughts?

4 comments:

  1. I agree. I'm getting less tolerant of average reads - ones that bring no new knowledge and fail to move me emotionally. I've come to realise that books I hate are actually quite good. I still prefer to fall in love with a book, but one with the power to move me to hate is well above one that bores me.

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  2. I instantly thought about the subjectivity of mediocrity when you noted how much you loved Wolf Hall. I absolutely hated it.

    As a book blogger, mediocrity is the worst. At least hate for a book generates fun writing. I find it difficult to say anything of substance about mediocre books.

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  3. Definitely agree. The hardest reviews to write are the reviews of books I felt lukewarm on. I love to rave about a book I loved, and I quite enjoy being snarky about a book I hated, but the medium ones -- I don't know. It's hard to know what to say about the medium ones.

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  4. I agree, too. I'm pretty fearful, as it were, of mediocre books for the same reason as Jenny - they are so hard to review. There's nothing big to cling to and discuss. And as much as a bad book is, well, bad, they tend to leave you thinking for a while, on what they could have got right, on what could be improved. That may not be what the author was hoping to leave you with, but I'd say it adds to your reading and definitely aids in your future success regarding choosing books you'll likely enjoy.

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