The Issues Behind Book Hype
(Check out the new graphic! Originally posted on Lit Up Review.)
This post is brought to you by Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. No, before you Grisha-loving, Darkling-frenzied fans descend, I love the book. I really do. I had the chance to read Shadow and Bone as an advanced reader copy a few months before release. I fell in love with the fantasy aspect and the writing; I thought it was an all-around solid start to a series.
But then the book came out and that's the only book I heard about for a few months.
If you follow Lauren DeStefano on Twitter, you know that she is head over heels in love with the series.
People are obsessed. It's a great book but honestly? I don't get it. I don't understand why it's so larger-than-life. I was the same way with quite a few other books, in fact.
I had this issue with The Fault in Our Stars (which I reviewed here) too. Not so much with the actual book because I loved it, but with recommending it to other readers. Quite a few people were repelled by John Green's novels because of the rabid fan obsession. The frenzy elevates them to an almost divine status, which ends up disappointing readers.
Reviews and ratings are swollen -- many end up finishing it and disliking it because they don't have the blissful ignorance that allows them to objectively enjoy it. With words like "phenomenal" and "mindblowing", with legions of fans lined up around the block to read it, the average reader has the predicament of already knowing that so many people love it.
With so many exclamations and proclamations of its brilliance, they don't have the luxury of being able to decide for themselves when the public already has. Some boycott books on bestseller lists; others live for them to tell them what to read, drawing from the same pool of material as everyone else.
It's why I often dread books being turned into movies. I love the fact that readers are drawn to adapted books. I love that people get to experience Green's Hazel and Augustus, Dashner's maze, Forman's gorgeous family dynamic.
The side effect of this is that it overhypes all those books. It makes it difficult for one to objectively read something and form their own opinions.
Things like that make me think.
Do we ever go into a book objectively? Whether it's from the cover or the blurb or the buzz, we always come in with some pre-destined opinion about it.
It's why being a publicist is important. Recently, I've been weighing the merits of editorial vs. publicity within publishing houses as related to what I'd like to work in, and I've been leaning heavily towards publicity and marketing. So it's led me to think about the market itself a lot, the intricacies of media and hype as we process the books that come out.
Being a publicist means that you have the chance to create a book's mood, its perception before people actually see it. You're crafting the image of a book and the idea of the book, while editorial deals with the book itself.
I'll be honest, sometimes I go back to books I read previously and find myself claiming that I enjoyed it more than I actually did when the frenzy escalates. Not consciously, but I find myself excusing previous flaws and issues with the narrative because so many other people have.
It's why it can be tricky to be a reviewer sometimes. Are we agreeing with a positive view of a book because we agree or because it was the most-requested book on NetGalley for the month? Sometimes the allure of a buzzed-about book can overshadow the words of it.
Unfortunately, J.K. Rowling experienced it when she came out with The Casual Vacancy. The Harry Potter series is one of the actual foundations of children's literature and is absolutely timeless. But how do you follow that up? What do you do once you reach your peak?
Keep going. Rowling wrote another book. I didn't finish it because it wasn't my thing, but I appreciated the amount of planning and the subtle notes that she wove through it. I felt awful for her though because she got crushing reviews and horrible interviews afterwards.
Obviously, The Casual Vacancy couldn't live up to Harry Potter and it was unfortunate that people felt the need to compare the two. They weren't even the same genre. I loved J.K. Rowling for even braving the market afterwards and continuing to write what she wanted to, rather than what the public necessarily wanted to read.
She continued doing that when she wrote The Cuckoo's Calling a while later under a pseudonym. When the book originally released, it got glowing reviews from a small amount of readers. The writing was praised but it didn't sell the booming numbers of copies that books with her name did, until she announced her pseudonym. It was her little experiment, to see whether she was actually any good or whether the Harry Potter series was a one-hit wonder of her career. For the record, it was a success. Critics praised the writing and the story, speaking of it as an emerging new voice with promise, proving that Rowling is as awesome as everyone says. (I'm biased.)
Back to Shadow and Bone, I've been hearing a lot about it recently because the final book came out and I decided to reread it. I loved it the second time around whole-heartedly but I was really wondering about whether I had different feelings because of the hype. I don't think my views changed, but it's interesting to see how my perspective does.