Do Comparisons Help Or Hinder A Book?

We all do it don’t we? You cannot help comparing books to other books; it is how we gage what we think of them after all. You need to read some duds, or a few ‘meh’ ones, in order to work out what you like and what you don’t even when the books couldn’t be further apart – for example tonight I will be recording the third episode of Hear, Read This! and will probably end up comparing Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Marina with Ursula le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness to make various points. Those two book are around 30 years apart in publishing and have two very different audiences in mind because of their genres. Comparisons will be made though. Yet in the industry there seems to be this need, which is know is marketing, for books to be compared to other books and I sometimes wonder if this helps or hinders those books?

An example of this would be my thoughts/review of The Silent Wife yesterday. Throughout the review I couldn’t help but allude and compare it to Gone Girl because that is what the quotes do and that is how the publishers are pushing it. In many ways this completely makes sense as a) Flynn’s book was huge last year and people are always looking for the next ‘x’ author b) there are some similarities between the two books – as I discussed. Yet this can also be slightly detrimental as not only might a reader have certain expectations that aren’t fulfilled can leave them feeling less favourable or indeed with the hype of the amazing book it was compared to give a reader such high expectations it could fall because of them. For me the Gone Girl comparison got me to read The Silent Wife  but my expectations were massive because of it. The book may, who can say for sure, have done better with me if I had just read it as a thriller, simple as that.

Gone Girl is a very specific example yet currently it perfectly highlights this trend. Not only are lots of books for 2014 coming with the tagline in the press release along the lines of ‘a thriller with more twists than Gone Girl’ and ‘a literary novel that will appeal to fans of Gone Girl for its twists’ (those are two word for word examples) but also I have noticed that some books coming out next year don’t mention Gone Girl but have its look. For example (see below) the stunning cover of Peter Swanson’s The Girl With A Clock For A Heart, which arrived this morning and I am very excited about, it doesn’t say Gone Girl  anywhere on it but the imagery is there, just a touch but there nonetheless. This happened with Twilight and even a Bronte got an apple on the cover.

The other problem with this is at the opposite end of the spectrum. I know lots of people who loathed Gone Girl (the crazy fools) and who if see a book that looks like it or is said to be like it makes them veer away as fast as possible, possibly missing a trick. I remember seeing many a book with ‘the next Stieg Larsson’ and thinking ‘well I definitely won’t be reading that then’ and almost cutting my nose of to spite my face as I might have missed out on Yrsa Sigurdardottir, who regulars here will know I love, because she was referred to as ‘Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson’.

It is a tricky one though because what do I want to hear people saying? The only one I can think of is the commonly used, and therefore highly unoriginal, quote of ‘a new and original voice’. Poor publishers, they can’t win can they bless them. Food for thought though isn’t it? Which books have you read because they have been compared to a book you loved and how did they compare? Have you ever avoided a book because of another it was compared to and if so what?

10 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

10 responses to “Do Comparisons Help Or Hinder A Book?

  1. I loathed Gone Girl, but I’m not sorry I read it – I feel the same way about Love in the Time of Cholera.

    I only find book comparisons frustrating when they aren’t explained, I dislike the comparison between The Silent Wife and Gone Girl for this very reason. To me, these are two very different books, other than general themes (breakdown of a marriage, death and mystery) I can’t see any deep connections.

    Where as, when recommending books to other friends etc.. it is so useful to have others that are similar, but which aren’t ‘the next blah blah blah’.

    I’m probably just one of those people who can’t be pleased.

  2. I think comparisons work when they can be explained, either in a podcast or in a conversation with a friend, but they seem to become more of a problem when they’re just thrown on a book jacket – for many of the reasons you mentioned.

    This issue really jumped out at me recently with the Gone Girl craze, too. I think the one that frustrated me the most was with Herman Koch’s The Dinner, which is SO very different from Gone Girl, that comparing the two would just seem to lead to nothing but unhappy readers.

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I haven’t read Gone Girl, I confess – mainly because I tend to resist books trumpeted as the next best thing! However, comparisons are really stupid sometimes, and also this reflects the publishing industry’s need to jump on the bandwagon for the latest genre or bestseller. What is wrong with individuality in books? I *hate* reading things that are all the same. Maybe this is why I don’t read a lot of modern fiction!!

  4. I’m torn. As a bookseller comparisons are extremely helpful. As a reader, however, I could do without them.

    It’s easy to spout off a slew of 50 Shades-esque series to a customer, but I’ve personally found these publisher-pushed comparisons never work in my favor. Books claiming to be The Next Harry Potter/Hunger Games/Dan Brown rarely live up to those expectations – regardless of how high those expectations might be.

  5. I had to laugh when I read about your reaction to Stieg Larsson – I too have been put off many a Scandinavian writer because of this comparison! (Luckily, I then decided to make up my own mind – and some of them were really good and some of them were… the next Stieg Larsson…).
    I loved Gone Girl, but do I want to read another book like it? Probably not. One of each kind is enough.

  6. Col

    It kind of reminds me of that ad on TV where an elderly lady says “Sometimes my husband likes this tea ( well known brand name). But he also likes this tea (cheaper supermarket own brand ). Then she pulls a glass from behind her back, pauses and says “I don’t drink tea. I prefer gin!!” Apart from being bloody hilarious it does seem to crystallize the essence of making comparisons – some work and some don’t and some get ignored in favour of something completely different! I’m a bit old lady with gin really – sometimes I’m influenced by book comparisons but usually I do my own thing!
    I do know what you mean though about Gone Girl – I was a little underwhelmed by it so comparisons to it don’t do it for me – equally I really liked Larsson so comparisons there led me, thankfully, to the wonderful Sigurdardottir!
    Anyway that was a long comment – time for gin!

  7. Ed

    Whenever I hear the hype of “The next (insert author or book title”, it always makes me think “Second Rate Clone”. It is a turn off for me, which is probably doing the new book or author a dis-service.

  8. I tend to *not* read the blurbs, so I usually go into a book not knowing what it’s been compared to.

    If someone is comparing two books and has examples of the books to back their comparison up, I’m fine with that. If someone is saying two books are similar just to get sales, or because the books are the same genre, then that’s crappy. After I read The Dinner I found out it was also being compared to Gone Girl, and it was nothing like Gone Girl at all. That ticked me off a bit.

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