And people wonder . . .

It’s Labor Day. I had planned to take the day off from blogging, only reminding everyone that the 2nd Annual Indie Author Labor Day Sale is coming to an end. But no, that day off isn’t to be. It can’t be. Not when one of the first things I see when I boot up my computer is a supposed screen capture of someone saying that reading a book is a “terribly inefficient” way of finding out if it is any good. I admit, even recognizing the name of the person who supposedly made the tweet and the person who posted it, I had to wonder if it was real. After all, it seemed so out there — well past the left field fence — that it had to be a joke. Right?


I went to the twitterverse and looked it up for myself. And, yep, there it was, in all its glory.


Now, my head didn’t explode on that but it was a near thing.

My first thought as I read the comment was to wonder how the tweeter thought we ought to go about finding out what a book is about if we don’t read it. What could be more efficient that reading it? A blurb only gives the general feel for what a book is about. A review is one person’s opinion about the book and may or may not be accurate. We could listen to the book as an audio book but that would be even more inefficient, at least if you talk the time it takes to listen to a book vs. read it. So what would be more efficient?

My next thought was to wonder how, if reading a book wasn’t the most efficient way, we are to determine if a book is any good. Best sellers lists are artificial lists based on pre-orders of a book. Pre-orders. That means only reviewers, beta readers, a few lucky fans and editors and agents have read the book. Oh, wait, maybe I’m starting to see something here. Maybe we should pay attention to what the so-called gatekeepers say is good. Hmm, the problem with that is it leaves out so many books that are either small press or indie published or aren’t being pushed as much by the traditional publishers.

Maybe we should wait to see what our teachers tell us is good. The problem with that is it means we won’t be reading much that doesn’t already qualify as “classic”. And what about those of us who are out of school? Are we supposed to just stop reading because we don’t have an educator guiding our reading?

All of that may be true but the sheer gall of the tweeter is what gets me. From this one comment, it is easy to draw the conclusion that he believes a reader isn’t smart enough to be able to judge which¬†books are good and which ones are not. Worse, he apparently feels we need help discovering the meaning of the books we read. That apparent arrogance is part of the reason why there is a rift right now in the science fiction family. There are too many who feel the reader isn’t capable of determining what is or is not “good”.

Now, “good” to me might not be “good” to you and that’s okay. We each of different tastes and different reasons for reading something. But to say that reading a book is not the most efficient way of finding out what it’s about and telling whether or not it is good is beyond me. What are readers supposed to do? Have the author on speed dial so they can call and ask for a detailed description of not only the plot but all the themes and messages in the book? Give me a break.

Yes, it is just one tweet but it is indicative of the attitude of a vocal group of folks who would like to keep the fans (as opposed to Fans) out of the Hugo nominations. The unwashed masses who buy their books and recommend those thy like aren’t, apparently, capable of knowing what a book is about and whether it is good or not. (The only reason I saw the tweet in the first place is because there is someone who has taken it upon themselves to keep an eye on the anti-puppy folks and keep us informed about what’s going on.)

Note, the tweeter said “good”, not “classic”.

So here’s the way I feel about it. Reading a book is the most efficient way of determining what a book is about and whether or not it is good. Why? Because you will have actually read it. You will have had the chance to see the way the author wove together the different elements into a plot. You will have seen the nuances, the character development, the emotions she was able to evoke as she painted her story with words. There is no more efficient way of finding out what a book is about than holding it in your hands and seeing the author’s words at work. Every other way of finding out what a book is about and whether or not it is good relies on the attitudes and tastes and impressions of others and that, in my opinion, is inefficient.

Let me put it to you this way. There are all sorts of books out there that “people” tell us are “good” and that they are quick to tell us what the book is about. We are told we should like the book because it’s “good”. Yet, not matter how hard we try, we just can’t like the book and what they saw in the book we don’t. No way, no how. Then there’s the flip side of the coin. Books we are told are horrid and awful and yet we find are entertaining and with meanings we can identify with or at least understand.

For me, one of the books I was told I should love because it was “good” was Da Vinci Code. I hated the book. The history and research was more than questionable. I didn’t like the writing style. The message, if you want to call it that, was trite and done many times before. But, according to the critics and best sellers lists, it was “good”. Books I shouldn’t like because “bad” would be John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series. After all, it’s bad because it is written by a white male, comes from Baen Books, has guns and explosions and not nearly enough (check off the list of whatever type of character). Yet, to me, the series is good because 1) it held my interest and entertained me, 2) it doesn’t hide the fact that good people can and possibly will do bad things in a bad situation if survival depends on it, 3) it is an example of a family fighting to stay together and survive without losing all their humanity in the process, 4) it paints a scenario that is scarily possible, and 5) it had characters I could cheer for — and hiss at — and who I cared about.

So, what about you guys? What do you think?



  1. If I read that out of the blue, I’d think he was trying to be droll. Read in an English butler accent, it’s amusing. Otherwise, it’s a head-scratcher. How else would one discover whether a book is any good? Ask the crowd? What one person enjoys, the next might not, and I might have a totally different opinion from either of them. Personally, I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code. It held my interest all the way through – which is what I buy books for. My daughter loves Jane Austen. I can’t stand her. ‘Good’ is subjective. If he’s really advocating not reading books to determine their value, but instead looking to the herd, he can certainly do that, but I’ll keep thinking for myself, tyvm.

    1. Sadly, if you look at his other tweets, you can see he’s not joking at all. In particular, he’s saying it’s fine to give awards to books you haven’t read, based on other criteria that he hasn’t articulated yet but is easy to guess.

  2. He has also flat out said that an author’s politics is important in considering if the work is award worthy… Maybe he’s saying, about his own books (He is an author, isn’t he?), let he and his friends advise you about which books you should buy. They don’t let pesky considerations like entertainment and value-for-money cloud their thinking. GAH! People like him are the reason I was always reading in English class, just never reading the assignment.

  3. It’s a stupid frakken premise. When I read a book, I’m not thinking ‘What is my efficiency in determining if this is a good book?’ In fact, I don’t use that term at all. What I am interested in spending time being entertained, uplifted, educated, or otherwise stimulated to think & enjoy. If I WERE to use the term, I might say “Spending the weekend reading an alternate history series was an efficient way of spending my time,” but then you’d think I was a dork. My way of determining if a book is good begins with seeing who wrote it, and then read the blurb, and then reading it. If it hasn’t gotten my attention pretty darn quick, it’s not a good book.
    Did you ever wonder if Phil Sandifer got the inspiration for his look from those magnetic drawing games, where you drop the iron fillings? And did you ever wonder what looks he considered and rejected in favor of what he’s got, because they would make him look too dorky?

  4. It’s not a premise, it’s a short succinct expression of his entire belief system.
    We the common readers are incapable of determining quality simply by reading a work.
    He and those such as him being a more discerning elite, of course he ranks himself amongst them, must tell us what is good and what is not.
    And such is why in their minds we shall ever remain wrong fans.
    Black Tide books, wasn’t that a series with no strong females, only weak rape victims? Oh, wait, that was the stuff GRRM writes. Ringo’s Black Tide is packed with strong competent females kicking ass and taking names in a zombie apocalypse, so it can’t possibly be any good, can it.

  5. Phildo has been behaving nuttier and nuttier as the days go on. I’m beginning to think he’s just a wack-job, rather than someone trying to curry favor with the opposition to Sad Puppies. At this point I don’t think he has any credibility outside that little clique.

    Personally, I ask friends/family about books to see what I might like and go from there. Some I enjoy, some not so much. Tastes vary. How to determine if something is good or not is going to require reading it.

  6. Rush Limbaugh says when he signs off, “not only do we watch the news for you, we’ll tell you what to think about it.” It seems that Mr. Sandifer has taken this to heart, albeit with different authorities than Mr. Limbaugh.

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