I love the Top & Bottoms lists created at the end of every year by the 4 Mystery Addicts book discussion group. The sheer diversity of favorite books is heartening. (I always make somebody’s list 🙂 But I’m more intrigued by the books that make both lists: favorites and least favorites. It reminds me again that every reading experience is subjective and that readers bring their own perceptions and experiences to what they read. A whooping 31 books were listed this year both as someone’s Read more →
Screenwriter William Goldman is famous for saying “nobody knows anything” about the people running Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Recent book discussion chatter about one of the Edgar winners leads me to think this is true of the publishing industry as well. (I’ve had my suspicions for a while.)
China Lake by Meg Gardiner won the Edgar for best paperback original. I have not read this book and, considering what my listmates at 4 Mystery Addicts and Dorothy L have to say about it, I probably never will. But based on dozens of comments, I have to wonder how it beat out every other paperback published that year.
Here’s just a sampling:
- “I felt the protagonist, who had the maturity level of a 10-year-old, spent most of her time being too stupid to live, the police were portrayed as complete idiots—from the very beginning. From the structure of the chapters, to some of the worst metaphors I’ve ever read, to terrible dialogue, there were times I felt as though English were the author’s second language.”
- “The only thing that kept me from throwing China Lake against the wall was I was reading it in e-book form and couldn’t throw the computer that far.”
- “Our mystery readers’ group read China Lake and the highest rating it received was ‘okay,’ otherwise it was rated ‘not recommended’ or ‘did not finish.’”
- Hated the Gardiner and DNF’d it. (meaning Did Not Finish)
If you’ve read the book, please share what you think.
The point here is not to criticize this author. We’ve all had negative reactions to our work. What I mean to say is that the publishing industry (and the awards process) isn’t logical. There is no scientific way to measure the quality of a story. Strangely enough, the contradiction inherent in this novel winning an award gives me hope for every talented writer who has yet to be widely recognized. If a book this criticized can win an Edgar, then your book can win over an agent, find a publisher, and be loved by readers and reviewers.
Do not ever give up because one agent said you couldn’t write or five publishers said no thanks. I’ve had publishers tell me they loved my novel, then say no thanks anyway. The lesson here is to try not to make too much sense of it. It will drive you crazy. Just keep writing and improving. There’s hope for everyone.
If I have learned one thing in these past few years of writing/reviewing, it is this: The reading experience is completely subjective. Of course, we’ve always known that some people like romance novels, while others read sci-fi. But even within a genre such as mysteries, the opinions about a single novel vary greatly. As proof, year after year, the 4 Mystery Addicts listserv asks everyone to send in their top 10 reads of the year and their bottom 10 reads. Inevitably, several books repeatedly make both lists.
This year, 17 books made a least one top and bottom list. Here’s the five most loved/hated mystery books (according to 4MA), with the first number in parenthesis representing how many top 10 lists it made, and the second number representing the bottom 10 lists:
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson (20, 3)
- Blue Heaven, C.J. Box (7, 2)
- Diamond Dove, Adrian Hyland (5, 1)
- Child 44, Tom Rob Smith, Tom (5, 1)
- The Various Haunts of Men, Susan Hill (4, 2)
Another mystery listserv, Dorothy L, also asks for best reads of the year, and oddly enough there’s very little overlap in the two groups’ favorite books (with the exception of Blue Heaven and The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly).
It’s also been interesting to observe reader discussion about Oprah’s recent pick, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Some readers rave about it; others find it completely unreadable. Stephen King’s Duma Key has generated even more conflicting reaction.
Why do some books make the lists for both best and worst of the year? You tell me.
What were your favorite books of last year? Your least favorite? Have you ever read a book and loved it, then read it later and hated it?