Expectations have a lot to do with how readers read books. If there’s a lot of talk (positive or negative) surrounding a book, readers might take a few different approaches:
- Be extra critical of the book
- Be afraid to read the book for fear of not loving it but hesitantly start reading it
- Not even read the book at all
The thought process is that readers don’t want the book to disappoint them, but at the heart of it, what they really don’t want is for the book to deviate from what they want/expect. But maybe there’s more to it than that.
First, let’s talk about when folks are extra critical of a book (yes, I’m guilty of this).
Unachievable expectations happen to everyone. You’ve set the bar so high that it doesn’t matter how good or great the reality is, it won’t meet your expectations. What do you do when that happens? Well, I’ll tell you what I’ve done in the past – I was extra critical; seemingly nitpicking at every little thing. It happened here and here. Expecting too much can make a good book seem like a not-so-good book. Is it the hype? Maybe. I mean, I do have a category named “Everyone Loved But Me“. On the flip side of that though, I have a GoodReads shelf named “Just As Good As The First“, where my expectations for book number two in a series were met or exceeded and usually it’s the second books in series that have high expectations – something to live up to.
So then, how did some of those authors do it? How did they exceed my high expectations? Is it because they didn’t deviate from what I wanted? Hm, maybe. But here are two examples of books that strayed from the path that I thought they were going to go down (and how I reacted differently):
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
On October 22nd and 23rd, 2013, my twitter feed was full of tweets from people who were so unhappy with the way that the book had ended. (John Green had a few tweets regarding the matter.) For me, the most interesting thing was that Em and I fell into two different camps with our reactions. Em hesitantly started reading it, and I didn’t pick it up at all (though after the second one, I’m not sure I would have read the third book unless there had been raving reviews); though I did ask Em what happened to make everyone so angry (yes, I sure did!). Needless to say, the author deviated in a way that displeased so many readers and therefore, they didn’t like it.
The Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
In the month of December, I decided that I really wanted to read the Chronicles of Narnia series – I’d seen the first movie and really enjoyed it and since not all of the books have been made into movies, I thought I’d listen to the audiobooks (Em said that they would be wonderful Christmas reads).Well, I loved all of the books, some more than others (Voyage of the Dawn Treader was surprisingly my favorite and The Silver Chair was probably my least favorite), but the overall ending of the series CRUSHED me. I found myself sitting with my mouth (literally) wide open. The ending was happy in its own way, but it was such a jarring experience for me as a reader and it only took the last 20 or so words of the book to totally throw all my expectations right out the window. I wasn’t exactly “happy” with the ending but it went with the story – it was fitting.
And for me, personally, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about fit and not necessarily whether I liked it, what my expectations were, or how the story diverged (ha – see what I did there?) from what I predicted would happen. The question is more “Does it make sense?”. Do I understand why that part (or parts) of the story was necessary to the story itself. I think that’s what makes expectations and deviations so much more complicated than they initially seem; people bring so much of their own lives and backgrounds to their reading that those things change their understanding of the story and how things fit together. One person does not always see the fit the same way that another does.
I don’t disagree that it’s not an author’s job to make readers happy, but at the same time I must admit that I do especially enjoy a book when I’m happy with the story and its ending. And yet, even when I’m not thrilled with the ending, if it makes sense to me in regards to the integrity of the story, I don’t find myself upset with the ending.
So, now, tell me your thoughts on the matter of expectations and deviations in the comments section below!