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When I buy or hunt for books in a library, I have certain expectations about the story I have chosen. I get ready to read in my rocking chair and my mind is all set to enjoy the book.  For example, a story that I am currently reading:

I have a cold drink at hand…check.

I am ready to suspend my disbelief and walk through the portal to an enchanted land…check.

The book is by a favorite author…check.

There are maps…extra fun…check.

I immediately sympathize with the premise and the main character’s view point…check.

There is suspense and more mysteries unravel as I read…check.

There is the possibility of some romance…check.

The world and the horse that is not really a horse and the man who is not really a man are intriguing and the magic world is new, not a copy of a previous fantasy story…check.

But…oh, dear.  After so many pages of trying, I just don’t like the main character.  I don’t hate her.  I just don’t believe in her.  Unlike Harry Potter who I believed in at once, this character is not acting her age and while everyone else likes her, I feel pushed and shoved into feeling as they do.  I am supposed to really like her.  But I don’t have any real reason to care about her.  I keep saying, “So what?”  If she were 15, I might be OK with how she behaves, but 19?

Maybe I was too much of a sober-sides when I was 19 to appreciate this character.  

The problem may be that I am comparing her to a different character in another fantasy series who is younger and who had a harder life when she hit the streets in the first book.  That past favorite character, Kaylin, of The Chronicles of Elantra series by Michelle Sagara, rebelled against the system, but she had a good reason.  She saved lives that way.  The first character misbehaves because she is selfish.  She is supposed to be uninformed of her powers and that excuses her behavior.  And yet?  

Kaylin also does not know her powers, but she questions and argues and fights to know more.  The first damsel just does not reach Kaylin’s level…but maybe I am not being fair.  Maybe the book is supposed to be more of a romance than I expected and all the men drooling for her are part of what I should have understood the genre to be when I opened the book.  But this is new for this author.  I had expectations that were high..too high.  If I had never read her other stories maybe I would not be so disappointed.  

So I wanted something grittier?  Then let’s consider the opposite where a mystery I just finished was grittier and slimier than I expected.  I have read many books by the author so I knew she was hard hitting, but something just felt off.  My expectations for a good story with progressive views was high when I started the book.  But by page 68, it seemed that the protagonist was just telling us how tough she is, over and over.  I have read many of the author’s books so I already know this and even if it had been the first book I read why keep hammering on it?  OK…so you are a tough lady.  A few pages of explanation is enough.  I get the picture.  I am almost ready to stop reading.  My expectations for a good story are trashed.  

I keep reading, but the plot is based on something that gags me and again it is mentioned over and over and over.  Not necessary.  I got the picture the first three times.  Maybe I am remembering why I stopped reading this author.  Also the PI lies so much.  How can you get into see people without lying?  Don't other authors have their characters do this?   In the stories with Joe Pickett by C. J. Box, Joe is in trouble most of the time because he won't lie.  He is so straightforward that he gets into danger fast.  But I like that about him, too.  

What do I expect from a mystery?   I am asking myself that question, tonight.

On the other hand, quite often a book title tells me exactly what I am buying from the start.  When I bought Destiny of the Republic: Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candace Millard about James Garfield, the title told me it was about his death, his murderer, and the doctors of the time.  I hoped for a bit more about his life during the Civil War, but that didn’t happen.  I was just told how much people loved him several times without much background for that.  I had read about him in Adam Goodheart’s book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening, so I had some background to go on, but again, I think I could have used some more about his life.  Still, the book delivered on what the title promised plus more about Alexander Graham Bell and a bit about Chester Arthur, the Vice President.   So I was not too disappointed.  It fit my expectations though I am still hungry to read more about Garfield.  

I am reading a book about London that is huge, with huge pages.  The paper is good quality and the print is not too small, but it takes a long time to read.  What did I expect?

The book is clearly written…thank the gods!!!  The research is good.  The things the author chooses to mention are interesting.  I have the time to spend and I can read it a few pages each day and pick up new things that I didn’t know.  But…

I had hoped for a less scholarly approach, I think.  I wanted to be led down the streets by hand through the eyes of a person who lived there and be shown the twisted alley ways, the Tower, the theaters in a lively way.  But that is the art of fiction not non-fiction.  So, I understand that I have a good book, really a great book, and I must measure up to it and be a good reader.

A History of London by Stephen Inwood

pages 321, 322

Although London lost its pre-eminence as a slave trading port to Liverpool, dealing in slaves and in the products of slave labour remained one of the chief sources of wealth for London's merchant elite.  The credit with which West Indies planters bought their slaves came from London banking houses, including Barclays and Barings, and from the Bank of England itself.  Many Bank of England directors, deputy governors and governors had slave and sugar interests, and together with the London-based plantation owners and the West Indies merchants and political agents they constituted a formidable force in London and national politics. They had no chartered company to represent their interests, but at first met in the Jamaica Coffee House in St Michael's Alley, near the Royal Exchange.  A succession of increasingly formal organizations was set up to regulate and defend the trade:  a Planter's Club in the 1740's, the Society of West India Merchants in the 1760's, and the West India Committee in the 1780's.  Through these associations and a strong parliamentary group the West India interest was able to exert remarkable influence over British commercial and foreign policy, taking a leading part in the campaign to force Walpole into a Spanish war in 1739, helping to shape the Peace of Paris in 1763, and forcing the City to accept construction of the West India Docks in the 1790's.  William Beckford, the organizer of the Elder Pitt's support in the City in the 1760's, was the greatest Jamaica sugar-planter.  But the West India interest's last great battle, to save the slave trade from abolition, ended in defeat in 1807.
My expectations need to be toned down sometimes.  And yet, so often I get more than what I expected and I am always so happy for that.  I get spoiled.  

I do not really expect that every book I buy will be a great one.  I am as careful as I can be when choosing a story to read, but I know there will be clinkers and clunkers and some that come so close to perfection that the book’s failure is more upsetting because of that.

I know in a series that some of the books will not be as good as the others and quite often I keep reading and later books get better again.  Once in a while, I say I have had enough and I am pleased to just quit the series at a certain point.  

Sometimes, I like some books by the same author better than others.  I like Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr so much more than his other protagonists.  I like Hercule Poirot better than Miss Marple.  Other readers disagree with me.  The author may like some of his creations more than others, too.

Am I too hard to please?  I have enjoyed and praised many books so I don’t think so.  But I am often surprised.  Sometimes the truth of a book is raw and I have to accept it without sugar coating.  That is fair.  For example, how could I expect a book about the Comanches to be less than terrifying?  

What are your expectations of a book?  What is fair and what is not?  What burns you up the most if a book fails to meet your hopes?  

Which books met your expectations and made you happy you read it?  Which ones were disappointing?

Diaries of the Week:

Write On! The Character As Audience
by quarkstomper

Thursday Classical Music, Opus D110: Samuel Barber, Violin Concerto
by Dave in Northridge

Redshirts by Scalzi made the list:

Hugo Award Finalists

(Hat tip to Rolanni)

NOTE: plf515 has book talk on Wednesday mornings early

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Wed Apr 03, 2013 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.


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