I belong to Goodreads. I post my own books there, but mostly I use it to keep me focused on my reading. With everything I'm doing, reading is something I tend to put on the backburner, and setting a black-and-white goal on social media helps me stay on track. I exceeded last year's goal by 8 books, so this year I set my goal as last year's plus 8. So far I'm 4 books ahead of schedule.
Mostly I'm reading adult fiction which has been recommended to me, though last year I also read a couple of middle-grade/YA books. My genre of preference is historical fiction, but I'm always open to a good mystery. If a book of any genre is recommended by someone I respect, I'll probably read it -- and I'm usually not disappointed.
Which brings me to my latest read -- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I don't know what prompted me to read it. I must have seen something positive about it, and I knew it was being made into a movie. I seldom buy books -- I live in a small house and storage space is tight -- therefore I generally get my books from the library. So I put a hold on the novel. The library said I was 18th in line, but within a couple of days the book was waiting for me at the library. Say what! But who am I to argue? I picked up the novel and got reading.
And I loved it!
When I finished, I wrote a brief review in the hope that it might prove helpful to others. I personally like reading reviews (generally after I've read a book because I don't want to be influenced beforehand). I like to see how my take on a book compares with that of other readers.
The rating for Where the Crawdads Sing was 4.45 stars out of 5. That's pretty good. I rated it 5 stars. But as I read the reviews, I was flummoxed. The majority were great, but there were also a number that panned the novel bigtime.
Certainly everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I was stymied by what might have put so many readers off a novel I thought was one of the best I've ever read. I am an avid reader, I was a teacher of English literature, I was a hired reviewer for years, and I have written more than 30 novels myself. I think I know my stuff. But this was clearly a very different reading experience for some others.
I wanted to think they were simply shallow, ignorant readers. But perusing their reviews, that's not how they came across. They weren't disrespectful or uninformed. In fact, some had a keen knowledge of literature. So why didn't we agree?
Some found the character development non-existent. I thought it was great. Some felt the dialogue was less than pedestrian. I consider dialogue to be 'my thing', and I never noticed a flaw. Some thought the plot was trite. I didn't.
Have I come up with some explanation for the rift in opinions?
I can speculate. But that's all it would be. Whether we know it or not, we all come to a story with expectations. Being a writer myself, perhaps I am more willing to follow the path of breadcrumbs set down by another author. Much as a theatre production isn't necessarily intended to be a photographic image of real life, neither is a novel. The premise set out in Where the Crawdads Sing is incredible -- I don't deny it -- but Delia Owens tugs that impossibility into a reality I can believe.
And that is the whole secret to enjoying a novel. One mustn't look for the 'what-can't-be's', but give oneself up to the what-could-be's.
If you open the cover of a book, do so with the belief that the author can take you somewhere you wouldn't otherwise go.