reading television

Can a Book be Compelling but Bad?

My book club is currently doing a series of hate reads, and our most recent book was Colleen Hoover’s It Ends with Us. This book is incredibly popular, garnering almost 3 million ratings on Goodreads so far, and it keeps gaining 7 years later. At an average rating of 4.23, it’s also well-received.

Yet, it’s still polarizing. The top reviews are, in order, 2 stars, 5 stars, 1 star, 5 stars, and 5 stars.

I myself gave it 3 stars because I frankly just didn’t know how to handle the paradox in the title of this post. On the one hand, I read this book very quickly. Cover to cover, I finished this book in maybe two days and kept finding moments to pull out my phone to read.

On the other hand, I was skeptical while reading the book, and after I finished and thought about it more, I liked it less and less. But how bad could it be if I gobbled it up?

To be clear, it wasn’t just that the ending was a letdown, like one immensely popular fantasy HBO TV show. It makes sense to me that a book can be both mostly good and fail to stick the landing.

Also, I’m not sure that this would fit my typical definition of “trashy” like, say, a reality dating show. In that case, there’s some pre-existing expectation that the entire concept or genre is fundamentally lowbrow but can be actively enjoyed in the moment.

How I felt about It Ends with Us reminds me of how I felt about Picard season two. I was sometimes confused and sometimes shaking my head, and yet, I absolutely wanted to watch each episode the day it came out. Secret Invasion also didn’t hit the mark each week, and yet, I had to know what was going to happen.

This compelling energy to an imperfect story feels linked to the suspension of disbelief necessary for most fiction. And unlike something obviously trashy, there’s just a tinge of hope that somehow, the story will suddenly fall into place and prove the reader wrong for every doubting the quality of the work.

For the moment, I’m sticking with three stars. If a story can’t keep me interested, it would dip to two stars, but even if it isn’t entirely working, it’s enough to keep me engaged in the moment. And that’s worth finishing.

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