Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hype and the Law of Diminished Expectations

This post started out as a review of Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.  

In a nutshell:  I liked it, it was good.  It was fast paced, well-written, did some very tidy world building and had an interesting take on the whole science-fiction dystopia trend in YA Lit. 

However, it wasn't great, I had issues with the central conflict, didn't really care about the two main characters and ended awkwardly.  Overall, it just didn't rock my world.

That being said, I walked away from Ship Breaker profoundly disapointed, and I've come to realize, the disappointment had nothing to do with the quality of the book, and everything to do with the hoopla around the book.

Ship Breaker is darling of the YA Lit Universe.    It's considered a strong contender for the Printz, its been shortlisted for the Cybils.  Many bloggers and critics consider it the best YA book of the year.

So, what's wrong with me?  Why did it disappoint me so?

I think that this book suffered from what I have coined "The Law of Diminished Expectations."

While I'm still working out the bugs in the theory, it goes something like this:  The more an artistic product is hyped, the less impressed with it I will be when I see it/hear it/read it.

With Ship Breaker, I first read about it on Reading Rants back in May 2010, this was shortly after it was released.  In the intervening 7 months, you couldn't avoid the praise for this book.  So, by the time I finally got my hands on it, I was expecting something transcendent.  Something world-moving.  A true monkey-touch-the-monolith moment.

And of course, I didn't get it.  I got a good, but flawed story.  And that's fine.  But I also felt let down, and somehow, personally insulted.  And, dear reader, that got me thinking.

I don't know if it's our hyperbole rich society, chronic and serial bandwagon jumping, or just the sheer number of opinions available in our plugged in world, but it's become increasingly easy for any artistic product to get drowned in a sea of rhetoric - both positive and negative.  This isn't a new observation, but I had never considered how much damage positive buzz could do.  A pile-on of fawning reviewers, bloggers and Facebook commenters can negatively skew my perceptions of a book as much as a group of trollish naysayers.  Maybe more, as relentless boosterism sets up an expectation that can never be met.

As a professional, I can't unplug myself from the YA Lit-o-sphere, and retire to a lovely cave somewhere with a Diet Coke and form completely uninfluenced opinions.  Nor, do I think I want to.  It's part of my job to keep a watchful eye on the trends and chatter surrounding my field.  Also, I have honestly come to respect and depend on blogs, comment boards and other feedback sources.  

But I will have to come up with a way to remain aware of the impact those sources have on me and my opinions, both good, and bad.

No comments:

Post a Comment