Today, I wanted to chat with you briefly about hyped books and why hype will almost guarantee that I will never pick up that book. After reading Nandini’s post, about the current titles circulating around Bookstagram and Tumblr, I was inspired to write this post. My brain sort of had an “AHA” moment and I came to realise that this is a topic I have never discussed openly and seriously here on BiblioNyan. Well, the time has arrived, particularly as the culture of hyped books seems to be growing evermore.
Now, if you’re wondering, “What the hell is a hyped book,” or “what makes a book hyped,” allow me to momentarily explain. These are novels that are super popular, usually on Instagram where hundreds of folks photograph them, or on blogs and BookTube channels, where reviewers have nothing but excellent things to say about the book in question with very little to no short-comings at all; a seemingly perfect book. It becomes quite difficult (albeit, not impossible) to find people who aren’t raving or praising the book.
Some of the current spotlight hits consist of: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Circe by Madeline Miller, From Twinkle with Love by Sandhya Menon, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, and pretty much anything written by Sarah J. Maas.
Books that have been glorified as an “absolute must-read” always make me feel very wary of them for two reasons: 1) most of them tend to have problematic content in one way or another, and 2) they never live up to the hype surrounding them, and oft times turn out to be average or less than average overall. It does not matter how many things that I may inevitably end up adoring about the narrative in question, I will never find them to be as mind-blowingly brilliant as it’s made out to be.
The Wrath and the Dawn and A Flame in the Mist by Renèe Ahdieh are perfect examples of the first reason I mentioned above. The Wrath and the Dawn romanticises abusive relationships and non-consensual sexual acts. As a victim of both, I found it to be wholeheartedly disgusting and anti-feminist. A common trope in the young adult genre is one where the female will “sacrifice” all of the qualities that may make her a strong and independent individual for the sake of a boy and his affections. This book is no exception to that rule. This social concept of how women have to be inferior to men to gain their romantic interest or respect is preposterous and so devaluing to anyone who identifies as a woman or is already threatened by this ideal (that men should be bowed before, essentially). I was appalled that such a thing was so damn popular.
A Flame in the Mist terribly appropriates East Asian cultures, specifically Japanese culture and history, by perpetuating offensive and harsh stereotypes about the Japanese people, and it also incorrectly uses cultural elements from Chinese culture and passes them off as Japanese, which is then just as offensive to Chinese people as well. When I read the ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of this book, I had an in-depth conversation with a friend of mine—who is Japanese and lives in Japan where he is a specialist in Japanese culture and history—about this novel. He read it also so he could give lectures on what appropriation means and how it dehumanises a cultural diverse group of people within Western countries. Most of the liberties taken in A Flame in the Mist seemed like they were ripped straight out a handbook of common Asian tropes in Western media, they were that horrid and clichéd and clearly lacking proper research. There were other issues I had with the book in terms of just bad writing, but as a lover and aficionado of Japanese literature and culture/history, this was the main thing that I detested.
Not all of my experiences with hyped books have been as shoot-me-in-the-brain craptastic as the ones mentioned above. Another one that is a sensationally recognised super-hit is An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. You can read my full review for it here. I inevitably decided to pick this up because as a brown South Asian person, I was very excited to read a South Asian inspired fantasy series with a strong female protagonist. Except there was one very important aspect of the book that was inherently left out: fantasy. I will openly admit that I did get swept away with the hype surrounding An Ember in the Ashes because for very personal reasons I’ve already mentioned, and I felt like I had been waiting my whole life for this book. Yet after reading it, I can safely say that this was the turning point for me in regard to overenthusiastically beloved novels; where I decided that they really aren’t worth my time, at least not until the hype has completely disappeared.
I’m not sure if it’s because my first fantasy experience, and almost all of them until this book, were adult fantasy novels, or if there is another reason behind it, but I felt like I was the only person in the world who believed An Ember in the Ashes was very predictably clichéd and didn’t have an ounce of world-building to it. There were small titbits of references to magical creatures and the different races of people, but nothing was ever explained or differentiated in a conceivably comprehensive manner, not even in the smallest sense. All of the “fantasy” aspects were there for decoration, nothing more. Even in the sequel, A Torch Against the Night, we didn’t get much more than what was given in book one. The strong female also ended up being one who fell into the insta-love trap and love-triangle-nope-this-is-a-love-square-instead-trap. Regardless, I liked the writing style and the action, as well as the political intrigue in book two. This was a case of average reading, not great or terrible, simply average.
There is only ever one book that was hyped that pleasantly surprised me when I read it and that was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I know… the shock! You can read my full review for that here, but essentially it was rich with authentic and well-researched world-building and history, and it wasn’t a sex-infested mediocre pornographic novel, like I was expecting it to be. Even the sex was written with a classy and respectable air to it, making it human and genuine. Blew my mind. Was it the most perfect thing ever? No way. Was it pretty close? Yeah, pretty close.
While I have not listed all of the hyped books that I have reluctantly tested out, these were the ones that made the most significant impact on me and my overall opinion of them. An honorary mention should go to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han as the first one was a decent young adult contemporary (not great), and the other two worked to fetishize unhealthy relationships, were anti-feminist as well, and had inconsistent representation of a biracial character. I read these soon before or after An Ember in the Ashes, so they went hand-in-hand with my decision to avoid books of the sort.
Now, an argument can be made that I’m being pretentious or childish or unfair in one way or another. I respect that as your opinion, which you are entirely entitled to (yay word fun), however. I believe that my reasonings behind why I feel the way that I do is completely justified and not at all any of those traits mentioned above..
So far, all hyped books have done is this: leaving me miserably disappointed and frustrated when my expectations fall short; expectations that would more than likely not have existed it if were not for the craze surrounding them. I don’t like having a preconceived notion or hope from a novel when I initially go into it. Within the walls of my squishy and cat-hair-infested brain, I end up developing very specific ideas of what I want the book to be. My brain will hear (or read) snippets of information on the book, catalogue it away while I’m not looking, and then very stealthily bring them out when I finally get around to the novel in question. I never really get an opportunity to muster up an opinion that is 100% authentically my own and untainted by the wants, hopes, and desires of the masses. I hate that. My opinion makes me unique and individual, and when that is taken away from me—no matter how tiny the stolen chunk—it makes me feel dishonourable to my work as well as unfaithful to my passion of reading with an open-mind. It’s difficult to be open-minded when one side of that boat is loaded with luggage I never asked for.
Nevertheless, being a book blogger and being vastly invested in the bookish and publishing communities means that I cannot avoid the culture of hyped books, no matter how much I try. Instead…I choose to opt out of reading almost all of them. I keep saying almost in that funky italicised manner because every once in a while, my damned curiosity will get the better of me, and I can’t help but try out a glorified morsel or two. Remember my mentioning of the title To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo way up at the beginning of this damn thing? Yeah… I checked it out from the library because the premise was too intriguing to pass up. Although, I have been taking excruciatingly disciplined measures to avoid ALL reviews of it. Even if I see it on Bookstagram, I double-tap the photo and move the fuck on so my eyes don’t get a chance to read the blurb/information/thoughts given. Yet, just knowing that it’s being circulated in such a fashion, I can feel that brain boat starting to tilt already.
So… yeah, that basically sums up in a not-so-succinct manner why hyped books are so UN-appealing to me. I promise that it’s not a random decision I made in a manner of five seconds, like my desire to get French fried instead of a baked potato (thanks Wendy’s), but rather one that I have made through many negative and frustrating experiences and with a lot of contemplation. The only thing about avoiding these sorts of novels that makes me sad is the backlash of hindered growth that goes with it. When you read things that are unpopular, your personal space to talk about said thing also becomes unpopular or grows ridiculously slowly. That is why you will see blogs who post regularly about popular titles getting all the love because they take advantage of the hype and the passion of the moment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not my style and that’s perfectly okay. I like my small nook and crook corner of the Blogpshere, where we chat about eccentric never-heard-of-its.
How do you feel about hyped books? Have they let you down? Do you tend to agree with the hype? Are you indifferent with not fucks to give? Please let me know in the comments down below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this discussion.