Reading with Hindsight, and Why Books are Like Music

It’s funny how revisiting a book can make you stop and think.

Recently I’ve not been doing much reading (it’s an unfortunate by-product of my depression that drives me crazy and depresses me more), but I picked up my Kindle the other day, turned her on (her name’s Ivy, ‘cause naming electronics is how I roll) and my latest purchase finally downloaded via the WiFi connection. It was Cinda Williams Chima’s The Gray Wolf Throne

I smiled; a wide, genuine, grinning smile.

Upon reading a single page on the Kindle, I remembered all at once how much I adore Chima’s work. In the UK it’s not marketed especially as YA fantasy, but in the US and elsewhere, that’s precisely the target audience and precisely who Chima wrote it for.  It’s one of those series where you finish the book, review it, and then read something else, without being quite aware of how much you actually loved it. I began to realise this whenever I would recommend books for my sister (who is new to fantasy, but tends to appreciate recommendations). I would always browse the shelves and my eye would eventually stop on The Demon King, the first of Chima’s Seven Realms series. I would then gush for about half an hour on how fantastic it was. I do this with a lot of books, and it usually reminds me just how much I enjoyed it.

Sometimes, you’re in love with a book after finishing, because of the experience it gave, and sometimes that can fade when you talk about it afterwards, and the feeling can be really odd. Whenever I talk about Mark Charan Newton’s The Book of Transformations, I sometimes see the things I didn’t like, more than the things I did, and I begin to question my review—especially when my fantasy chat-buddy really didn’t like it. Then I think that maybe books are like music: our reaction to them changes depending on mood and our current disposition. Perhaps this is why revisiting books is a good idea, to see if our opinion of them changes or was influenced by outside factors at the time. This is why reading a book when you’re fifteen will offer a different experience than when you’re twenty.

I think after reading The Demon King, (I’m only citing the first volume, as naturally it’s the first in the series and the first one my sister would read) I forgot just how much I enjoyed it. Funny, that. Funnier still, how the opposite can happen. You can read a book, loathe it, and then somehow manage to convince yourself it wasn’t as bad as you thought, or, that you just didn’t “get” it.

I did this with Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns.

My brother, Alek Cristea, started reading it. He’d already read the sampler we’d received from Mark Lawrence, and was just as excited as I was—hey, it was a “fashionable” story that everyone was reading, the author was on Twitter, and everyone thought it was cool, including the team over at Fantasy Faction, where the thread on it gave a lot of positive responses. It’s not hard to see where this might be going. Either way, I read it when I read it, and reviewed it when I did. I disliked it and found it very difficult to review.

My brother asked me to flick through the hardback to where the sampler had left off, and I did. And in those few pages of flicking through, about five months after, I was reminded of how much I hated this book.

Back when I reviewed it, I didn’t hate it. Except that I did, but didn’t realise it. It’s that hindsight thing again, mixed in with the hype. I thought I didn’t “get it”. Truthfully, I thought I was too “soft” to appreciate a book like that, with such brutality—brutality that people seemed to enjoy. I thought the fault was with me. I didn’t review it falsely, but I certainly was gentle in comparison with what hindsight makes me think of it now.

The crux of it is, with hindsight I think I know what I did. I’ll be honest: everyone loved it and I thought that in not liking it I was somehow at fault. It’s not hard for someone with depression to think the fault is with them. Now, I think that’s pretty dumb. It’s very dumb, in fact and I have actually gone back and altered the beginning (only the beginning for now, nothing else has changed, because nothing else felt false) of my review, taking out the part where I said I “didn’t hate” it, and haven’t given it a starred rating. Well, I have: I hated it and hated the experience of reading it. It’s got 1* now (and this has been updated on both Goodreads and Amazon), mainly because it feels incomplete giving it a zero. I wouldn’t give any book a zero as it confounds the point of giving a rating altogether.  I also looked back at (and deleted) a post where I defended PoT, and thought: “damn”. It was really more a big ol’ rant about a pile of mismatched, uninformed crap, than a blog post.

I’m actually embarrassed by it, mainly because I felt the need to insert myself into the PoT discussion at all, when frankly, I didn’t care either way. I’m not going to dwell on it and I’m just going to let it go; chalk it down to inexperience and being too impressionable at the wrong time. But I wouldn’t have thought twice about it without my brother having started reading it, and having hated it as much—if not more—than I did.

The next time I pick up and dislike/hate a book, I’m not going to bother finishing it. There are a couple of books I’ve started and gotten bored of, or it was the “wrong time” to start reading them, and I might go back to them—I also might not. I feel like I’m wasting the author’s time, and my own. To this end, I cancelled my pre-order of King of Thorns and I intend to quit Jorg’s story precisely where I left it. I’m not going to read it just because everyone else is eagerly anticipating it. I’m not curious as to what Jorg will do. I don’t want to know—I’m honestly not sure I have the stomach for it. It’s not on my anticipated reading list and never has been, so it’s no great loss.

Experimentation within the genre is fine; it’s how we find new stuff to like. Well, after my interview with Cinda Williams Chima, I’m going to look more closely at YA fantasy, because damn, I liked the Seven Realms I’ve read so far. In fact, I entered a competition to win a book, the name of which I can’t remember precisely (but I know how to search for), that sounded good. I didn’t win, but I’m going to look the book up on Amazon and buy it. The snippet about the book sounded good, so I’m going to give it a try. It’s YA fantasy, which I knew when I entered the competition. What I didn’t know, was that it’s YA fantasy romance.

Secretly, I’m a sucker for romance (romance written well has been one of my favourite aspects of a lot of books I’ve given 5*)… so who knows, maybe I’ll find a new branch of fantasy. In the meantime, I’m going to immerse myself in The Gray Wolf Throne, and wait for my US-ordered copy of Jon Sprunk’s Shadow’s Master to arrive.

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