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November 15, 2010



Wow great post! It gives me a lot of new things to think about. Good point.


I see this first hand in writing workshop classes--instead of talking about what didn't work for them, people will talk about what the writer "needs" to fix. Reading for criticism takes away almost all enjoyment, and isn't that the point?

Excellent post! Thank you for your insight.

Je Reve

When I read as a (sort of) writer, I understand plot and motivation so much better, but I usually ruin the "twist" in the plot... Thank you for the post, I love this subject.

Jenni Elyse

I do agree with you in most cases. I think critics take the joy out of reading. In my literary theory class, I kept thinking, "Why can't we just read books to enjoy them instead of trying to figure out the author's motivations?" However, I do like giving star ratings for books because it helps me remember how much a liked a book. My ratings are very subjective to me and not meant for anyone else except me.

I do like the idea (a little bit) of being a critic, but not enough to actually become one. I think it would make reading less enjoyable after so long. It would be all about the technicalities and what a way to kill a passion. But, I am glad for those "bad" reviews because it helps me decide if I want to read the book. Although, most of the time, "bad" reviews just want to make me read the book even more so I can form my own opinion.

Amber Argyle

I'm just know begining to realize this. Even in my critique groups, I've learned that instead of explaining how to fix it, I tell them why it isn't working for me and let them figure it out. That way I'm not pushing my style onto someone else.

Debbie Barr

Thanks for the post! I've been thinking about this a lot lately, too. I recently heard Rick Walton say "there's no book for everyone, and no book for no one" and it's helped me to realize that, even with books I really hate, there's almost always something done right there. As a writer, I know how hard I work on a story, and from that perspective I've realized that every other writer works hard on their story, too, even if I didn't like it. No writer sets out to fail, and there's always something you can learn from the experience, as a reader.

Anna Elliott

I just want to hug this post, it's so well put! And I find that when I read as a writer, it's much easier for me to be detached about having my own books out in the world. Okay, not every story works for me, my story is not going to work for everyone. That's the magic of stories!


I like this post. When I started reviewing books, it opened my eyes to what works and what doesn't work -- for ME as a reader. I try to make that clear when I write the reviews -- that this is how it struck me.

And if I could figure out exactly how you manage to win my heart completely in your books, maybe I could write a book as good! :)


I totally agree. I always try to think of why I did or didn't like a book and why other people might feel differently. I do sometimes have the gut reaction of "This is a terrible book/terrible writer," which usually means that the book REALLY didn't work for me at all. I'm much more generous about books that I love: they're brilliant and the author is brilliant!


I completely agree. Why waste time categorizing books as either good or bad when there are so many different varying tastes and genres out there? I also like what Jenni Elyse said. My english class always likes to say that there's no way the author spent so much time thinking of symbolism and hidden meaning for their book as we're forced to analyze into it. It really means more when books become personal, certain scenes call up memories of where I was or what I felt like at the time I read a chapter, things no one else connects with that passage, which is totally cool!

Alexandra Wood

That is something I have never thought about.


Shannon Hale! You've done it again! You've posted about something that has caused me to pound my fist in frustration numerous times! I used to be an English major (being obsessed with reading and writing, it seemed a good idea) but I could not stand the way people would just presume to know what the author was thinking, and cast out ridiculous speculations! Especially the semester I took a children's literature class. Children's literature, you think, "Yes! Some of the best stories we have!" Unfortunately, according to the professor I had, every single book we read was somehow disgusting and dirty and meant more for adults than children, based on the presumptions she made. Obnoxious.
Anyway, I agree! Go with the internal reader, not the drab and ridiculous literary critic that permeates the modern world!


I tend to think about this a lot whenever I hear reviews of books, music, or even movies. To assume that the book wasn't right for you so it must be a bad book not meant for anyone...and the author must have made a terrible mistake...it's pretty sad.


So do you agree with the new critic school of thought, completely separating the author from the work at publication? (I'm curious because we just did this in my AP English class.)


Wow! Thanks so much for that, Shannon! You really just opened my eyes to the way I perceive books.


are you ever going to write another Book Of Bayern?


Hey I forgot to say, what a great post!


On the other hand, some books and authors make promises that they don't deliver, and some are better at what they do than others. While that judgment call is necessarily subjective, I think it's still valid. I have found myself making those kinds of critiques more often than before I started writing.

btw, thanks for the shout-out on the dragon naming over at Nate's site :-)

Also, question for a future author advice post: What went into designing your website and online persona? Any tips for a (hopefully) soon-to-be-published writer?

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

Kind of like in english class, when the teacher tells you that Shakespeare put this in there, because he wanted to portray such-and-such, and I think... yes. He did. But HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT'S WHAT HE MEANT? Maybe Shakespeare is a bad example, and I don't mind analyzing literary works. But that always frustrated me in english class. I really appreciate that it can applied to books we read today.


This came at an interesting time for me. I just finished (like, literally, just put it back on the shelf) a book that I have read before (several times, as it happens). This time reading it, I felt a message that I don't remember feeling before. I hadn't analyzed it yet, but I think you hit the nail on the head. This time reading the book, I was in a different place in my life and needed something different from it. My relationship with it was different because I'm different this time around. Hmm. Something to think about...Thanks.


Strange. I was just thinking about that exact book tonight.

I was thinking about what I liked about it. Then I was thinking about what kind of story the author was trying to tell and where she had to go in her story to do that. Then, thinking about the parts that went too far for me. It helped me realize I couldn't go that far in my book but that in some places, I'm not going far enough to tell the story I want to tell.

I find I am often a slower reader since becoming a (sorta) writer. I read a sentance then go back and analyze it. They're all doing something well or they wouldn't be published.

There's a lot to be learned. Each author has their own story to tell and they have to be true to that.

Paige (Kreed's Pancreas)

Great post Shannon! I remember reading that original post after reading Breaking Dawn. I was a fuming, angry reader then and your post helped me sooo much ( I'm just getting around to saying thanks ="Thank you for that post!") It helped me grow as a reader and I find that in the last year or so I haven't been angry over a book ending. Disappointed or frustrated, sure, but not angry. It's not the authors' fault. They wrote their story and it is how it should be.
As for my grown up reaction to this last trilogies ending? well, I have learned that if a character is acting different than what I think they would do then it's not the authors' fault. It's mine for misunderstanding that character and not seeing the clues along the way that that is how they would eventually turn out. On a reread of Mockingjay I loved it even more. I might have hated if you hadn't taught me to be a reader two years ago :)
(sorry for any major grammatical mistakes and the overall rambling of this, my excuse is that my son's diabetes is making me overly tired today so my brain is mushy :P )


I think that people who look at books as you do would be much more interesting to have in a book club. However, sometimes I think it's fun to speculate about why the author wrote a book a certain way. I do recognize that my speculation says more about me than the author. I do recognize that when I say a book is "bad" or "good" it says more about me than the author. So? What it is that we are trying to avoid, here? Hurting authors' feelings? If I am ever lucky enough to get published, I think it would be entertaining to no end to see what people think about my books. I do not like every book I read, and I would never expect everyone to like my books. In fact, I would worry if they did. I would not expect everyone to limit their responses to how the book effected them personally and express themselves solely in those terms.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I would not, as an author, mind the "literary critic" readers. I would welcome everyone's opinion.

melissa @ 1lbr

This makes me want to think even more about my reviews and stupid things I think authors "intend."


I love You Shannon Hale , Your My f'nn Hero ! <3 :D
-Arianna Carrillo

Your Moom

I will look for you , I will find you , And I will kill you !
Raaawrr ! (:<
-Your Moom

Miss Erin

I love this post, so much.


I do think the call to worry less about the author's motivations and to look more deeply at what works and what doesn't for a reader is a great thing. "This book sucks" or "This book rocks" are never very helpful as critiques :-)

However, I do think that a person commenting thoughtfully and specifically on their opinion of a book's quality and craftsmanship isn't such a bad thing. I don't think that's necessarily the kind of thing that Shannon is talking about avoiding. Still I'd hate to say in a book or writing group, "Page 15 is a bit overloaded with adjectives" or "The character's behavior in Chapter 5 isn't reflective of his introduction in Chapter One" and be shouted down over it because it isn't directly responding to my experience as a reader.

Thanks for the thought provoking posts, they are always a treat.


You are so right. I do enjoy reading critically, though, as I am an editor at heart as well as a reader and a writer. But I think it might be nicer and more beneficial to the writer side of me to read as you describe. I think I want to try it.

When I understand better what I want out of a story I will have a better idea of how to write a story I like.

Abby Minard

Oh wow, this was a wonderful post. It really opened my eyes to the way I read the book you were referring to as well as others. It really should be as you said, and even a learning process for me as a writer. I really do think of myself and how I would do books differently now when I read. I've kind of always felt like that. Thank you for this post Shannon!

Rose Green

So true. It's nice in a way--it means that even though a million people can be reading the same book, it's still a personal experience unique to you, because of what you bring to it.

It's frustrating, too, though, as a writer. Especially if people bring preconceived notions that have nothing to do with your story and in fact, fly in the face of what you've spelled out.

Shannon Morris

Thank you for your post, once again. My first two copies have gone out for review and it's quite terrifying knowing that I am now fully exposed to whatever cruel things people may say about my writing. I'm hoping for the best, but first, I hope my readers read your blog first. Wish me luck!! Oh, and I'm sure you've heard, a certain very cool author will be at King's English this Saturday, noon. Nice guy, gray-ish hair, awesome books!


Gee, I wish you were my English teacher. The one I have now is the queen of overanalyzation. Sometimes we'll start a book discussion in class, and by the end we will have torn the story apart so ridiculously that I feel quite sorry for it. But I love the point you made in this blog post; I needed a reminder that reading is about more than why the author did this and that... My English class is now in the process of ripping apart Cathcing Fire by Suzanne Collins! Poor book. Never did anything to me.


When I read a book, I dont identify it as a good or bad one when I'm finished reading it and tell someone about it.
*Never judge a book befor reading it.*
I think that goes wih all of us as a thumb rule about a books personality and its influence on someones imagination created by it.
Of course we all have inuendoe feelings from books that craves our attention. That is what makes a book readable when it captures our mind and soul.
That makes a book.


It's important for us to remember that the author, in a way, is pouring out his soul's greatest desires, and putting them in his own words. Everyone desires different things, and if we critique the book by whatever it is we want, we will never enjoy any of the many pleasures in life. Instead of looking past all of those pleasures, modify our own, and our life will be lived to the fullest, hanging on by the fingernails to every day, every minute, every second. Be a "selfish reader".

Anna P

thank you for this post. i've been trying to read this way for awhile and i'm glad to know that i'm not the only one that struggles with it! in regards to the book i believe you speak of, i can honestly say that all the problems i felt it had all had to do with me as a reader. when discussing said book with others who had read it, it made it more enjoyable for me to share my opinions rather than just my critiques.

Luan P

When work is handed around in writing workshops or in writing classes, you blog post would be an excellent companion piece.


When I do read a book that I think is okay, I always have trouble keeping my spot. Whenever I read with my full attention like with your books, I know my place. This post gave me a lot of things to think about. Thank you!

Kelly C.

That is an interesting point of view. I agree with you on the part of not judging the author and looking inside yourself rather than trying to look inside an unknown person that you can only guess about.
Thank you for taking the time to post this on here, I find it very interesting and highly useful. It tells me a little more about not only how I could read, but how I could write. It's another point of view and thank you for sharing it.

Kristine A

soooo . . . . my favorite thing about books is that two different people can read the exact same words and take them two totally different ways (i.e. hate jacob black, or he is a breath of fresh air - he is a jerk or he is funny and sarcastic, etc.).

That being said I see a LOT from authors lately shrugging off (or hating on) the rating system . . . sure you hate it when people rate you poorly - but authors have no problem shouting from the rooftops of receiving a starred review from such and such to help sell their books. It's part of the SYSTEM. When you eat grapes sometimes you get a sour one.

I appreciate the ecouragement to look deeper into reviews instead of just stars - which is exactly why one of my goals last year was to review EVERY book I read. And attempt a somewhat intelligent analysis of what I did and didn't like, what it made me think about, and if it changed the way I see the world or how I operate. I say I give it 5 stars for enjoyment but writing is ok. Or I enjoyed it ok but the writing was pure lyrical, literary 5-star genius.

Stars don't ruin reading. Reading is personal, but one of the joys of reading is sharing and discussing. Stars WITH analysis is a great tool of accomplishing those - methinks.


I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

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