At this stage, most people don’t want to believe that the book they depended on for entertainment, enlightenment, comfort or information can really be that bad. Typical reactions at this stage are, “Maybe it’s just the first chapter that’s a bit slow,” or “I’ll just put it aside for a day or two; guess I’m not in the mood.” Some people, in fact, remain in denial about a bad book and finish it entirely. This could very likely be the reason why so many poorly-written novels still sell as well as they do.
If you catch yourself in denial about a bad book experience you are having, it’s wise to pay attention to it. Denying your reaction doesn’t allow you to get through your real feelings about the novel and may lead you to remain in very unhealthy patterns. You might even buy the next book by that author without being aware of what you’ve done!
During this stage of the process, the reader becomes fully aware that she or he has been taken in by a terrible book. When you consider the cost of books these days, and the investment of time and energy that reading demands, it’s no wonder people get furious when a book turns out to be bad. It’s easy to take this kind of thing quite personally, and really, it isn’t fair that something one’s looked forward to turns out to be a waste. Typical reactions during this stage are, “I cannot believe I spent ___ on this piece of ____!” or “How can any publisher call this a novel?” or simply, “@#$%!”
If you find yourself angry about having read a bad book, understand that anger is a perfectly normal and healthy reaction to having spent your time on a book that wasn’t worth the effort. You’re best off finding a healthy outlet for that anger. Hurling the book against a wall is one option, if the wall is solid. However, hurled books can chip paint, tear plaster and otherwise cause damage. A very sturdy dumpster is a better idea.
You should also be aware that taking out your anger on the offending book could put you in an awkward position at the next stage (See below). So you may also wish to consider some other outlet for anger.
The next stage in coming to terms with a terrible reading experience is bargaining. During this stage, readers often try to lessen the effect of the bad book. For example, it can be extremely tempting to take the book back to the bookstore and ask, “Can I have a refund, please? This was a terrible book.” Or, the reader may be overwhelmingly tempted to contact whichever online bookseller sold the book and ask if the price of the book can be counted towards a book with an actual plot and realistic characters. Some readers may even contact the publisher and offer to promote the publisher’s other authors if the publisher publicly breaks off all contact with the author.
If you feel the urge to bargain with the author, the publisher or the bookseller, there’s nothing wrong or unusual in that. Do understand, though, that it’s not likely to be successful.
The fact is, booksellers, publishers and even authors tend to deny that a book they’ve written, produced or sold is bad. So they’re unlikely to refund one’s money. Even if they did, reading or listening to a book is still an investment of time. That time cannot be refunded. This stark reality often causes a great deal of depression.
On the negative side, depression can cause a number of unpleasant side effects. Depression over having read a bad book can, for instance, make readers swear off a genre, wonder in vain how they can ever look at a book the same way again, or worse, give up reading entirely, devoting themselves to mindless television. This is dangerous.
However, depression is a natural part of the process of dealing with having read a bad book. If this happens to you, understand your own need for extra-special kindness during this period. Chocolate helps. So does the awareness that this feeling will pass.
At some point, most readers come to a point where they are resigned to having had a terrible book experience. This can take quite a long time, depending upon how bad the book really was. Common reactions at this stage of coping are, “Well, at least it was only a library book,” or “Thank goodness it wasn’t a very long book,” or “At least I got it at half-price.” At this point, the reader is ready to accept that the book was terrible and move on.
Once the reader has truly accepted and internalized what happened, it’s good to know that solid reading health awaits. There are always other authors…
Hopefully an understanding of what really happens when people have a terrible reading experience will be helpful if you ever have this kind of experience. If you have, perhaps you’d like to share what you did to get through it?
Now, please excuse me while I remove my tongue from my cheek ;-).
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Phil Collins’ I Missed Again.