Reader Expectations

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?

A photo of summer reading on the roof. What expectations lived under the red Kindle cover?


    • Candy Korman

      Let me know what you think!

      The book—and the author—were hyped to the max. At the very least, I expected him to be more personally insightful and reveal the results of deep introspection but… it’s a surface look and a series of pat conclusions. His explanation of the battle ready Hillbilly honor code—punch first and don’t bother asking questions—on how he grew up and its impact on him as an adult functioning in a complicated world is simplistic. I’ll spare you my rant about his ZERO understanding of other communities (ethnic groups, religions, races. Perspective is not just putting your own life in a context, it’s about stepping back and seeing the larger landscape of similarities instead of the shortsighted perspective that only sees other people having advantages that are not given to you.

  1. To be honest, I haven’t read many non-Indie books since I bought my Kindle. Part of the reason is that I can’t afford them, but a bigger part is that I get so angry at what I see as the price gouging of trad. publishers. Plus, I’ve never been ‘into’ best sellers. I think the last one I read was the Da Vinci code by Dan Brown. It was very entertaining, but left me feeling somehow dissatisfied. For all that hype, I expected something more. Can’t define what that something might have been, but I didn’t find it.
    By contrast, Hugh Howey’s sci-fi blockbuster, ‘Wool’, didn’t disappoint at all…and I bought it at a very reasonable, Indie price.
    There are still a few favourite authors whose work I will buy at any price, but I don’t think any of them have ever hit a best seller list.

    • Candy Korman

      Do you expect more when the price is higher? Or when you’ve read about the book in advance? It could be an indie book promoted by another blogger. I know I’ve bought books that sounded incredible and then… The gap between the expectation and the experience is interesting.

      I’m with you on the favorite authors at any price! Indie, conventionally published… extraordinary storytellers deserve our attention!