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.
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.
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 😉
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.
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.
Do you agree with my thoughts on comparing books? Do you compare books often? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading 🙂