Reading and Expectations

One thing that the five-star ratings system can never capture is the relationship between your opinion of a book and your original expectations of it. Recently it’s become apparent to me that this is key. Whether a book exceeds your expectations or fails to live up to them determines in large part your overall judgment of it. This has nothing to do with the book itself (sui generis, as it were) but everything to do with you and your desires.

Cases in point. I’ve been trying to read the newest Cesar Aira translation (The Miracles Cures of Dr. Aira) and I just don’t like it, after having loved or at least very much liked all  the previous translations of his books. My expectations were high and are not being met.

With Jose Saramago, I expected very little, and my anticipations were far exceeded. The book revealed new things to me about fiction, about writing and narration, about storytelling in general. I had certainly not expected any of that!

Today I started reading China Mieville‘s “The City and the City” – after what I’d read about this author, from Goodreads friends as well as from Wikipedia and other sources, my expectations were high. Words like “intelligent”, “interesting” and “original” were consistently applied to him, as well as comparisons to Kafka and Orwell. Since I began reading it, I have had to adjust my expectations, lower and lower and lower. I really don’t like it. The writing is nothing special to me. The “fantastical” elements are kind of a bore. “Intelligent” seems to refer to his use of unusual words, like “machicolation”. Basically, this book so far strikes me as a highbrow imitation Raymond Chandler set in some parallel universe Hungary where there is great cellphone coverage but only dialup internet (come again?), and there’s a cop and a dead woman (naturally assumed to be a hooker, as all dead women are!) and a whole lot of hard-to-pronounce names.

I spent more than twenty bucks on this paperback, written by a recognized “favorite” and published by one of the handful of megacorporations that defined the publishing “industry” and the book is nowhere near as good as many of the FREE indie books I’ve found on Smashwords. Who is really devaluing the written word? How about those in monopoly control of the stuff they permit you to read?

Anyway, as I was saying, perhaps if I keep lowering my expectations enough, this book will eventually match them and I’ll be able to finish it. Or maybe not. I have no problem giving up on a book. There’s no shortage of the danged things.


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