Discussion – To What Extent Should We Compare Books?

Hello everyone,

It is about time I wrote another discussion post! Today I am looking at how we compare certain books to others and how useful this is for us as readers, as I believe it plays a very subtle yet critical role in shaping our overall opinions and impressions.

We all love to compare things. It can be things such as clothes, cultures, or musical styles. For me it is often statistics; how the five departments I work with at the University of Bristol do things differently; random lines in a book, film, or television show that remind me of something else, or a goal scored in football that was fairly similar to another one from a match that took place several years before.

However, comparing books to one another is a fascinating concept because it is something we do regularly, perhaps even subconsciously. There are various aspects of a book which inform our expectations, and usually our past reading experiences have a big say in that, so I am going to provide a small breakdown of these aspects and summarise where I stand on this issue.

Genre

We all have our favourite books from a particular genre. They contain more or less everything that we are looking for in that genre in regards to their specific qualities, while also possessing a captivating plot, beguiling characters, and a writing style that we effortlessly connect with.

The question is however, do they set a kind of benchmark? In other words, should we be looking at each book we read and seeing how they measure up against our favourites?

I think that the timing of when we read a particular book is a key factor. It may happen sometimes where we have just read an absolutely amazing book which we really love, and then pick up another from the same genre and that one seems to be somewhat less enjoyable or is just missing something that the other story had.

On the flipside, it might just be possible that we have still not properly moved on from that last book, and are simply not able to appreciate the new one in the same way we usually would. This has happened to me once or twice (though perhaps not completely in the way I describe), and that is one of the reasons why I now change genre for each new book I read.

My own thoughts on the question of setting benchmarks for a certain genre – and I say this as someone who is absolutely not a mood reader – is that I believe each story should be judged on its own merits. After all, while authors may take some inspiration from other books, they ultimately set out to write with their own ideas and techniques. It is fun and in many ways useful to compare books in the same genre or indeed in general, but for me it is also important to keep an open mind and not enjoy a story less just because it does not share something outstanding in common with one of our favourites.

This idea of considering each story by its own merits transcends almost everything I discuss in this post. A specific genre brings with it certain expectations, but the individual aspects of a book such as plot, characters, writing, and setting should form the main basis of our opinions of it.

Plot

There are many occasions where we notice that the plot of the book we are reading has something in common with one we have read previously. Most of the time that is not a problem depending on the individual qualities of that story, but it can be off-putting when it contains clichés or it lacks originality in the way it unfolds.

This ties into the regular discussions we have as book bloggers about tropes and how often they are used. If, for example, we happen to read a lot of books which contain love triangles, we would inevitably compare them and come to our own conclusions about which books utilised that trope well and the ones that did not.

Once again, timing is very important when considering this. I especially look at mysteries and thrillers and think that if I had read it earlier, I would have potentially given it a higher rating because at that stage I had not experienced as much of the genre. There are thrillers I read now where something happens or there is a twist and I think, ‘yep, I’ve seen it all before’.

For me, this is where taking each story by its own merits is less of an essential thing. I like to see originality in the books I read and any clichés or well worn tropes are usually met with an indifferent reaction.

However, I do think it is important to at least give each book a chance. If we hear a book compared to another it does not mean it is exactly the same. Incidentally, one of my current reads happens to be Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, in which a heist involving several characters plays a central role in the plot.

A short time after that was released, we then had The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, which is also a heist novel. The two have often been likened to each other, mainly because of the fact they have that in common as well as other things such as multiple POVs and an antihero main character. In reality the two books are very different, but the comparison has stuck.

It is completely normal to compare the plots of different books and I do it a lot of the time. We all do! My only worry is the kind of sweeping comparisons that we occasionally see and Six Of Crows is a good example. It may be the most popular heist novel out there, but others are allowed provided that they are noticeably different 😉

Author

The type of bookish comparison that I engage in the most is comparing one book against the others I have read by the same author. You may sometimes see me do this in my reviews – indeed in some of the first reviews I did on this blog I wrote whole sections on how that book compared to the author’s previous work. It is something I really enjoy analysing!

This is much different to comparing books by genre or plot as here it is a bit more subtle. With authors, we are looking for recurring themes in their writing style and storytelling techniques, maybe also how they have evolved or matured since their debut.

I would say that this is a more harmless way of making a comparison, though the only pitfall would be having very fixed expectations of the author and what they choose to write.

Summary

I think comparing books is a lot of fun and is something we do naturally and that is great! It is just important to take each book in isolation when forming an opinion on it, before and after reading.


Let’s Chat

Do you agree with my thoughts on comparing books? Do you compare books often? Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading 🙂

18 thoughts on “Discussion – To What Extent Should We Compare Books?

  1. I love this discussion post, Stephen!! ❤️ Usually if I really like a type of plot or some specific trop I like to read more of it, obviously it can fall worse in comparison. I confess that anyway, although for example, I love the trop of the protagonist who doesn’t remember who he is, but I cannot read about it often because it would end up boring me, so I prefer the original plots that I’ve never read before. Comparing books is very common, though, the same happened to me comparing Gilded Wolves with Six of Crows, since it’s inevitable and in this case it can be detrimental to the book that you read second, since the expectations will be high.
    Super interesting discussion! 👏🏻👏🏻✨

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    1. Thank you so much, Sofii! It is always refreshing to have an original plot, and I agree that reading a similar trope fairly often would make it less enjoyable. Comparing books is common, and that’s definitely not a bad thing! I’m so glad you liked the post ❤

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  2. Great discussion post Stephen! I find comparing books to be inevitable but dangerous, and by that I mean that it can place unfair expectations on each title. I also think that comparing a book to one you haven’t enjoyed could result in an unfairly negative opinion overall. However, it’s hard not to draw comparisons, particularly if you read a lot of books from one genre – I know I’m guilty of it with thrillers even if I don’t want to be!

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    1. Thank you, Jess! I completely agree – comparing books is something we do naturally but when we hear about it in advance it can alter our expectations. I am quite good at not being influenced by any comparisons before reading the book, but once I have started I am definitely guilty as well! 🙂

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  3. Great post! I think it’s okay to compare books and all but there should be specific mention like what is the similarity and if possible where similarity ends because if there isn’t any mention and we just vaguely say it’s like Grishaverse or for fans of Leigh Bardugo, it’s going to end in disappointment. And while we are seeing the comparison we should keep in mind it’s not going to turn our as same as the book it’s being compared with. It’s always better to go in without expectations.

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    1. Thank you, Yesha! I agree, these comparisons should be less broad and maybe focus more on the areas where it does have a lot in common. The reality is that there are likely to be a lot of different aspects, but there is less emphasis on those things. Going in without expectations is very important in this sense.

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  4. Great post. I think you have some good points here especially in terms of timing when it comes to reading and comparing books. I read a lot of historical fiction and fantasy and I’ve definitely noticed that I compare books that are similar with some of my favorites. It’s very hard not to do and I’ve had to put down books and pick them up later because I just wasn’t enjoying them as much as I thought I would

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  5. This is an interesting discussion topic! I personally don’t like to compare books a ton but if I do I’ll mention why one book specifically reminded one of the other. I tend to trust comparisons that book bloggers make if they’re detailed comparisons as well, but when it comes to the ones in the blurb I tend to not pay attention to them, to be honest! I feel like the ones in the blurbs are rarely truthful and set false expectations.

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    1. Thank you! That’s a really good point you make about the blurb and I wish that I had discussed it more in my post. We so often see blurbs that say ‘perfect for fans of…’ and that creates certain expectations for the reader. I usually trust comparisons from other book bloggers too – and yes it’s always good to offer an explanation for why one book reminds us of another!

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  6. Yes, we can’t really help comparing books, but we really should judge each book on its own merits. Obviously, you’re right in that a recently read book on a certain topic and genre can influence your reading of another book on a similar topic and genre. But if the authors are original enough, it shouldn’t matter if they’re about the same thing. For example, I’m reading one book about women who were transmitting intel during WWII from inside France back to the Allies. I’ve read other books about these women. The book mentions known resistance people, including female spies in Paris, but doesn’t touch on Nancy Wake (from Code Name Helene, by Ariel Lawhon), for example, who did most of her resistance work outside of the city in the south. It doesn’t bother me that Wake isn’t mentioned, but that book is in the back of my mind (as it was one of my favorites of 2020).

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  7. This is a really intriguing discussion post Stephen, and I hadn’t really thought about it before! 🥰 I agree that we should try to judge each book on its own merits, as each one can add something new and original to its genre. I’m definitely very guilty of comparing books by the same author though! I’m quite a predictable reader and if I’ve enjoyed one book by an author I tend to like the others too, but it’s hard not to hold a special affection for the story that first introduced me to their work! 📚❤️ X x x

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    1. Thank you so much, Florence! 🥰 When I had the idea for this post I realised there were things which I hadn’t considered before either and that made it more interesting to write. I agree, no two books in the same genre are ever exactly the same. And that’s completely understandable, I think if we like something by a particular author we are usually likely to enjoy most of their other books. That’s a really good point about having that special affection towards the story that first introduce us to their work – I can relate! As for being guilty of comparing books by the same author, well that makes two of us!!! 💞

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