This is a periodic discussion feature here at Snuggly Oranges about the many problems one can run into as a book nerd.
#20. The Hype Train
The Problem with Hype
Usually hype starts out when prominent readers in the community are in love with a book. They express their love with SHOUTY CAPS and as a logical consequence, people take notice. They read it, shout, etc. We covered that. (I do wonder, quite often, if the social desirability bias comes into play here – but heh, this is no place for academics, back to nonsense.) But when every single day I hear someone go SHOUTY CAPS over the same book? I start to back away in fear. When it becomes a herd and they start targeting the SHOUTY CAPS at me, that I MUST read this thing?
Already in general I don’t like to be told that I MUST DO a certain thing. More likely than not (except for close friends), if you tell me in a shouty way that I must do some thing, that thing goes down the priority list by 10 spots. This is an instinctive reaction. I dunno. I like my actions to be my own, I guess.
But aside from that, the problem with hype is that when it builds to this critical mass and so many people are swearing that that book gives them ALL THE FEELS and is ROMANTIC PERFECTION and IS HEARTBREAKING OMG, I become less and less excited. You’re promising some extremely extravagant things. Going by experience… unlikely that that will be the case. It’s been really rare for me for a book to actually deliver on those promises. If a book is made to sound like it’s the best thing since sliced bread, the best book in the world, and it’s so amazing, beautiful, gripping, etc., I’m going to be heartbroken when it just… isn’t. Because, truly, not every book has the same effect on every reader. I think we’ve all been the black sheep before, and it’s not fun – especially not when people have PROMISED you you’d love it.
The result of hype
Last year, I read If I Stay and (reluctantly) Where She Went by Gayle Forman. And this is where the “not every book works for every reader” thing comes into play. This book got massive hype, 5 star ratings all around, and MANY reader and blogger friends LITERALLY promised me I would cry and my heart would be broken, etc. etc. It wasn’t. I didn’t. Because grief stories don’t work for me, I discovered. And here I felt really guilty about that. Friends had expressed how this was one of their favorite series and, indeed, that they cried so much because of it. I felt like an emotionless robotic jerkface.
Back in November, I halfway committed to participating in The Midnight Garden‘s readalong for The Book Thief. I simply marked the book as currently reading on Goodreads, and within minutes the reactions on GR and Twitter started flowing in. “OMG THIS BOOK IS AMAZING.” “AHHH I LOVE THIS BOOK.” “YOU’RE GOING TO CRYYYY.” “THIS IS MY ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOK.” The list goes on. Some of this happened before I actually started reading, but I shrugged it off. I went to read, got about 15 pages in, put it down, came back, saw the comment explosion and knew… I couldn’t do it. Nope.
In January, I read The 5th Wave. I had purposefully already waited over half a year to get the hype out of my head. However, some general things are hard to truly forget: the fact that my GR friends average rating was 4.5, for one. The fact that supposedly this book would be HORRIFYING and creepy, for another. It did not go well. And if I’m honest, I might have rated that one higher than 1 orange if I didn’t feel so badly deceived.
In February, I read The Winner’s Curse. Now mind you, I still thought this book was great (4 oranges!). But with the amount that EVERYONE was gushing about this, I thought it would be absolute mindblowing perfection. This should have been the greatest thing since sliced bread. This should have been my new favorite book of all time. It….. wasn’t. And in this case it made me wonder if I would have liked it better if I hadn’t heard anything about it beforehand (I think I would have).
And now, my most recent example. It is… These Broken Stars. And now it’s a different kind of hype, because though most people loved this book, I knew some black sheep, so I wouldn’t be alone in that case. I still thought the book was great, but my reading experience wasn’t. Why, you ask? Because I knew some heartbreakingly shocking thing would happen. It would be HEARTBREAKING. It would be SHOCKING. I wouldn’t be able to believe it. With the massive hype, I knew the exact page number it would happen, even, because EVERYONE and their mother marked that page in a status update on Goodreads. So my whole reading experience was spent guessing what it was and checking how many pages to go until that moment and… I wasn’t as absorbed by the story. And yes. I guessed it right at the beginning. (Christina will attest.) I was not shocked.
How hype is changing my habits
- I’ve disabled Goodreads from posting my status updates on my feed. I’m still updating, but to myself, mostly because of reactions like my example about The Book Thief. It’s better for me to read in isolation, in a bubble, until I’ve formed my own opinion, I’ve found. Super duper hyped books, like The Book Thief (if ever), I will be reading in absolute tip-top secret. (And do note that if you comment telling me to read it, you’re only tacking more months on until I finally pick it up.)
- I’m becoming more objective in my reviews. I take more time nowadays to think about why a book worked for me, why it might not for others, and what kind of readers would like the book. And I try to make that clear so that even if I have sections where I shout and flail, the reader can still derive the probability that they will like it themselves.
- I’ve found that I can best read those super hyped up books either before the hype wave or LONG after it passes. I don’t like to rain on anybody’s parade, and I also don’t like to go into a book when those promises are so fresh in my mind.
- My ratings sometimes might try to compensate for overhyped books. Like with my example about The 5th Wave, I might feel the need to set the record straight if I’m deceived by hype like that. I mean, the hype contributed greatly to my rage. It’s hard to remain objective when the hype caused you such disappointment.
- If you closely follow me, you may have noticed that in general, I’m less excitable, particularly when discussing books on Goodreads/Twitter. This is a combination of two factors (a) I’m trying to keep myself from getting swept up in hype, and (b) I’m trying not to be the person who makes these huge hyped up promises to others. I’m mostly sticking to my reviews for my flails and shouty caps, and outside of that I remain relatively quiet. I don’t know what to say. Some days I feel like I’ve just…….. broken my smolder. Or I’m just constantly doing the “lower your expectations” dance.
Wondering how to get me to read a book then, if shouty caps and insistence won’t work? Gillian tweeted it best once upon a time (though I lost the tweet). I laughed then, but also acknowledged that it’s so true. She likened me to a frightened baby bird (or something), which you have to approach with caution. Tell me calmly that you think I’d like that book… and then watch from a distance. Otherwise your words may in fact have the opposite effect, and I’ll scamper off.