A literary phenomenon, a best-seller, an influential non-fiction book, the latest in a successful mystery series, the breakout novel that overcomes the limits of genres—media buzz, reputation, and hype, all feed and manipulate a reader’s expectations. Price is a factor, too. Do you read a $2.99 indie novel with the same expectations as the $15.99 e-book edition put out by a major, conventional publisher? Probably not.
Many books are crowding my Kindle library. It grows particularly FAT before I travel, as I feed it extra books for long plane rides, jet lag, and plenty of leisure time reading. So right now, I’m likely to forget how much I’ve spent on a particular book. With the notable exception of the ‘treat myself’ expensive titles, this is easy and I like the fact that price diminishes in importance.
There’s not much I can do about the other factors and I’ve begun to note, if not actually monitor, the gap between expectations and experience. When I reread IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE by Sinclair Lewis, I recalled more about the very young person I was when I read it the first time, than I remembered about the story. The book was a disappointment. It’s prescient and important, but it’s terribly dated and slow. Oh, well…
One of the other books I read recently was one of those “talked about” new, important, non-fiction books. HILLBILLY ELEGY by J.D. Vance was a huge disappointment. The author’s disdain for psychology limited the parts of the book in which he attempted (or pretended) introspection and his sociological conclusions were surface only. He didn’t seem to have any of the perspective needed to really talk about his extended family and his community in a meaningful manner.
I’d been led to believe that his book was both a personal story and a cultural anthropology study of an American community that would give insights into the recent U.S. election. There wasn’t much there, there and unfortunately, I remembered how much I spent on the e-book (top dollar at $15.99). My expectations were high. I pushed through to the end of the book, growing angry at myself for wasting both my time and money. The media buzz raised my expectations.
On the other hand—with little or no expectations OR with no memory of when or why I purchased a particular e-book—I’ve read many books without any preconceived notions. Sometimes I’ve loved them and others I haven’t bothered to finish. This goes for books in mystery series, indie books outside my usual genres, books hyped by Amazon (with special sale prices), and books I read about on blogs.
I’m growing very fond of NOT knowing, or remembering, why I bought a book in the first place. The lack of expectations opens up some interesting possibilities and the freedom to say “fuhgettaboutit” 25 or 30% into the manuscript.
What role do expectations play in your reading experience?