Yesterday, I was discussing with another author her puzzlement that a reviewer had given her book one star on Goodreads but a C- grade on a website. “Doesn’t one star mean F?” (She was totally okay with the fact that the reviewer didn’t like the book, by the way, just surprised that the grade was so much higher than she’d expected.) Then, coincidentally, I oversaw a conversation on Twitter about the fact that a reader might dislike a book but recognize that it’s well-crafted.
I immediately thought of Moby Dick, which I had to read in high school. I found it one of the most loathesome, most boring books I’d ever had the misfortune to encounter. If I were giving that book a star rating based on how much I enjoyed it, I would unequivocally give it one star. In fact, I would probably give it zero. But I would be hard-pressed to say that Moby Dick is a poorly crafted book. It’s not badly written. I just didn’t like the story it had to tell or the way it went about telling it. But liking a work isn’t a measure of the *quality* of the work. And letter grades are a measure of quality, at least in my opinion. So, for quality of work, I’d be forced to give Moby Dick an A, even though I didn’t enjoy reading a single word of it.
What makes this disconnect interesting to me is that, while I can easily see how a book can be very good from a craft perspective but utterly unenjoyable to a reader, I wonder how poor the “craft” part of a book before the “enjoyment” part of the story is damaged for the majority of readers. Personally, I find that the craft of a book has to be at least a C grade for me to enjoy the book. If I am constantly being jerked out of the story by craft problems like poor mechanics, inconsistent characterization/world-building, or holes in the plot big enough to drive an elephant through, I really can’t enjoy it. Clearly, many readers feel differently and can overlook things I can’t. I suspect errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling in particular are less noticeable to many readers than they are to me, as are certain world-building issues (i.e., errors in forms of address in historicals drive me up a tree because I’ve spent so many hours trying to determine what’s correct that errors stick out like a sore thumb to me).
Do you have a book you hate that you recognize as great? Or one you recognize is terrible from a craft perspective but love anyway? I’d love to hear about them!