Once upon a time, not so long ago, I declared that reading is social. I don’t think it’s possible to become untethered. Neither do I wish to become unplugged from the social aspects of reading. However, at times I do feel somewhat conflicted about it. Once in a while pre-publication hype wears me out. That’s why part of me yearns to read off the radar (again).
Defining the Radar
Hyped up books are on everyone’s radars while underrated books somewhat seem to escape those very radars. Then there’s this one huge radar that you almost can’t escape if you read book blogs, watch booktube and/or follow bookstagrammers. You know what the most popular upcoming releases are because everyone’s gushing about them. On a more massive scale, it encompasses books a multitude of bibliophiles have read — The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Outlander, and not to mention, Harry Potter. Of course, there are many more examples beyond these books.
Books on the radar very surely have their merits. They did become popular for a reason. At the core, they have mass appeal. While not everyone will come to love every popular book, the essence is that many did come to love them. In a way, that should encourage an even bigger audience since these books have been tried and tested many times over by a whole lot of readers.
Elusiveness of New Experiences
Setting a parallel with travel, popular books are akin to popular destinations. They encompass Santorini, Paris, Rome, the Maldives, Bali, and so forth. All of these are lovely places, no doubt. Barring the fact that I’ve been to Bali, Rome and Paris, the more photos of these popular travel destinations I see, the more I yearn to travel elsewhere. Maybe seeing the same photos on Facebook over and over again makes me feel like I’ve been close enough to those places.
Similarly, seeing the same covers everywhere as well as book review, after book review, after book review almost makes me feel like I’ve already read the books. Naturally, I know I haven’t. Seeing a photo of a place dwarfs the experience of actually setting foot on its soil. Reading a book review is nothing like reading the actual book.
These sentiments stem from my constant search for new experiences. A partial experience, however slight, undermines that. The element of surprise loses its impact.
Trekking of the Grid
In light of this desire to call discoveries entirely my own, I yearn to read books that are off the radar. Between two books that sound equally appealing to me, I tend to reach for the lesser known book of the two. Should they both be popular, I will more likely read the book of which I’ve managed to read less about. The more I can trek off the grid to find something truly amazing, the more excited I get.
Once in a while I get ahead of myself and mark books way before their release dates. Their synopses sound intriguing or I’ve loved books from those authors before. When I stumble upon these books myself, I derive much glee and the anticipation builds for the chance to trek off the grid with these books.
The Arrival of Others
Alas, the early intent to read a particular book occasionally lands me right back on the radar. Prominent examples to me of when that happened are Paperweight, Passenger, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Ink and Bone, and Made You Up. I found these books independent of recommendations and hadn’t seen those books around until after I added them to my list of books to read.
Over time, others arrived and picked up on these titles, making it impossible to satisfy my yearning to read off the radar.
Lose, Surrender or Celebrate
Whenever this happens, I’m faced with choices: celebrate, surrender or lose. To lose means to forgo the book entirely. That’s a route I will choose if ratings are so dismal, I succumb to reading spoilers. Spoilers are such a deterrent to the enjoyment of books, I basically lose the will to read said books.
Surrender & Power Through
One step up is to surrender. I read the book but accept that the hype has gotten to me and my expectations have reached unrealistic proportions — I’m all set up for a likely disappointment but my original interest will carry me through. During these circumstances, I try to remind myself that the book hasn’t inherently changed for the worse or better. Hype or the absence of it are circumstantial and technically don’t have bearings on books. They’ve been written and published, thus the word remain the same, regardless of how their reception.
Celebrate the Greatness of Books
The last option is to celebrate. Undeterred, I set forth to read the book. There are two ways about it: 1. I’ve managed to maintain complete ignorance of the content of the book despite it floating around everywhere ; 2. Others have become so starry-eyed that I want in. In the face of my excitement though, I try to pick up on things that others have glossed over. In a way, this expands my range of experiences and so makes up for my wariness over the popularity I previously hadn’t factored in.
Striking a Balance
Depending on the book, I find myself following these three paths when faced with a book that was off the grid but has come to be on the radar, ie. pretty hyped up. The will to celebrate does show that not every book has to belong to my quiet sphere. I can readily accept and even enjoy the shared love for a whole range of books. Still, I also like going my own way once in a while. This is becoming increasingly difficult, hence my yearning to read off the radar.
Resultant Lower Engagement
A core difference between travelling off the beaten path and reading books that not many have heard of is this: the former generates extensive conversations due to the curiosity over your adventures. The latter results in much lower engagement.
When it comes to books, it is easier to discuss them when you know what they’re about. On bookstagram, many tend to double tap on photos that feature familiar covers. On blogs, readers show lower interest for books they’ve not seen anywhere else before. It’s an odd dichotomy — the claims to searching for new books is undermined by perpetuating the popularity of already hyped up titles.