Can too much praise spoil a book?

Surely every writer aspires for recognition and praise? From award nominations to swooping up the biggest prizes and critical acclaim. Isn’t that what all writers secretly dream off? Acknowledgment for a book well written, Promotion in an increasingly tough industry? Surely excessive praise can only be a good thing?  But recently I’ve being wondering, can too much praise spoil a book?

Praise leads to hype, hype leads to inflated expectations and inflated expectations can lead to disappointment and big feelings of being let down. When a book has being shortlisted for more awards than you can remember it’s easy to get carried away and expect brilliant things. It’s no wonder then that so many books fall short of our expectations. So perhaps praise isn’t always such a good thing?

Too much praise also seems to cheapen some books, categorizing them as flash in the pan novels that are having their heyday. But does this kind of hype pigeon-hole certain books?

Two books that really come to mind are Room by Emma Donoghue and Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson. Both books have spine tingling plot lines and with their release came much eager buzz in the literary world with people either recommending them or anticipating their release. A nice steady sense of excitement seemed to gradually build but then over night it was as if you couldn’t escape either book. Suddenly no short list was free of Room and every magazine, newspaper, blogger and bookstore was talking about both books. Expectations suddenly sky rocketed and if you’ve seen my review of Before I Go To Sleep you will know that a few of my book group members felt let down by the book. In this case too much hype definitely spoiled the book.

When Room was nominated for The Orange Prize for fiction in 2011 I read many comments and articles from people tired of seeing this book everywhere and anyway, people were ready for fresh material. They  disregarded the book, exclaimed that it’d had it’s moment and it was time to move over.

And yet both books are brilliant in their own right. Off course the media attention they got wouldn’t hurt sales and I’m sure both writers are pleased with the attention their books got, but I wonder if too much praise spoiled their books? Both books seems to have being pigeon-holed as ‘best-sellers’ well surely that isn’t a bad thing….or is it?

Amongst serious literature loves this phrase can have real negative connotations. Do you want to read a book that every reader out there is reading? What is so special about it? Does the book lose a certain elite charm? become mainstream? too easily accessible and therefore cheapened? Being nominate for the big name awards is great but what about when less revered and respected prizes are associated with your book? Perhaps I’m wrong and some writers would gladly welcome all praise for the simple appreciation it offers, but I will admit that I myself have toyed with reading certain novels because they have become recommended by extremely mainstream critics or awards.

It would seem that too much praise really can ruin a book, altering it from serious literature to a throw away paper back that will soon be clogging up every second-hand book shop.

So what does everyone else think? Would you agree with the points I’ve raised or would you completely disagree? Perhaps find yourself stuck somewhere in the middle? I’d love to know what you all think.

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7 thoughts on “Can too much praise spoil a book?

  1. I sometimes fall for hype, which is why I have Room on my shelf, along with many other books. I buy them, generally because they are on offer, but end up reading them months, if not years later.

    Sometimes I think we reach saturation point with a book, Room I am thinking of here, it seems that it is everywhere you turn. I am not sure whether it is a good or a bad thing? Probably a bit of both.

    The trouble with book awards is there are so many books that get missed off, that certainly in my opinion deserve recognition, but plenty of others that don’t. As reading is such a subjective experience, it must be very difficult to run such book awards and even such things as the Richard and Judy book club et al.

  2. Reading means different things to different people, and mass market success means selling to people who think books are less important than you and I do. To some people all books are disposable!

    But I suspect Room and Before I Go to Sleep werar thin when they are so high profile because they are both plot/idea driven, and once you are familiar with the details there is little reason to go back again.

    Other books can be everywhere and I’m delighted to here about them every time – Wolf Hall for example – and generally they are the kind of books that have much to offer even if you know them already.

    What I would really love is to read more books with much less foreknowledge. It works with older used books, but mot with contemporary writing. To learn everything as you read is wonderful!

  3. That’s exactly what I’m thinking about the last weeks. What are the odds! 🙂
    Too much hype couldn’t be good for a book. Sometimes. I’ve read some of the hyped books and was badly disappointed. But on the other side I’ve read some and they were really good. And sometimes I’m only curious and want to discover for myself what this book is and if the hype is justified.
    The thing with the book awards I try to ignore a little bit more. Jo is right, when she said: “reading is such a subjective experience”.

  4. I’m so very glad that I found this blog! I love everything about reading and books; so much so, that I have dedicated 3 years of my life to studying them (yay English literature!).

    Anyway, in terms of hype and craze surrounding books, I have been known to fall for hype. I have read both Room and Before I Got To Sleep, and rather enjoyed both of them! I have also, I admit, fallen for the hype for The Hunger Games. See, now my comment refers mostly to the latter. For the longest time I was avoiding The Hunger Games due to its increasing popularity. It wasn’t until a friend of mine, who shares similar tastes in literature as I do, shoved a copy in my hands and said “read it. now”. And I did, and I loved it. Now, I was updating my GoodReads today, and I noticed a couple of people who were going on about how much they hated it. To be honest, I felt a bit guilty about loving this book so much. However, I stopped myself and said, “But, Athena, you like them, right? Who cares if they don’t. It’s their opinion. All that matters is whether or not you enjoyed it”. I agree with Jo, reading is just so personal. I even gave in to Twilight a few years ago, and you know what, I hated it, and I came to that conclusion on my own.

    It is for that reason that I almost never read book reviews. I don’t want to know what other people think, especially if I liked a book that most people didn’t like, or hated a book that most people loved. There is nothing, in my opinion, wrong with giving in to hype, just make your own conclusions and don’t let others make them for you.

  5. Hi everyone,

    Thank you for your comments, it’s great to get a varied sense of how other people react to explicitly praised books. Jo I like that you buy these hyped books but read them at your own pace when you want to and not just when other people tell you too. Your right reading is subjective and it is best to keep that in mind when choosing you a book.

    I like what Fleur said too, that some readers do just think books are disposable and so are happy to pick the most highly recommended best selling books, but your right it’s nice to read books that come with less foreknowledge, it seems like more a of a special discovery and it allows you to look more objectively at the book.

    Mrscoffee I’m glad to hear someone else has noticed that too much hype can have negative implications. It’s good to know I’m not the only one thinking that 

    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog athenavictoria, that’s what I studied too! Such a wonderful experience if not a slightly stressful one too! It’s good to hear that you also appreciate the subjectivity of reading and how it’s important to read things for yourself. If you’d heard all those people saying they’d hated The Hunger Game and then hadn’t read it imagine what you would have missed out on.

    Thanks again everyone for the comments and for helping put the ‘praise’ question into perspective.

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