Why Do Readers Enjoy Objectively Bad Books?

Updated: Nov 22, 2019


Editor’s Note: One of my Facebook friends – someone I met at a convention a few years back – posted one of the most interesting articles the other day. So interesting, in fact, that I thought I would share it with you.


The title: “Why Do Readers Enjoy Objectively Bad Books?” instantly captured my interest. Because, really, why do readers enjoy objectively bad books? Like 50 Shades of Grey or The DaVinci Code? There’s absolutely nothing compelling about the former, and the latter is filled with so many logical, grammatical and artistic mistakes it’s ridiculous.


In completely inconclusive conclusion, the subject of how either of those books – and so many others – became best-sellers has all been a big mystery. At least to me.


Perhaps it doesn’t have to be though. Josiah DeGraaf certainly does a phenomenal job of exploring the topic in ways that, honestly, I don’t think I have the patience for. That’s why I’m letting him take it away…



Have you ever ordered a popular book and eagerly dove into it the day it arrived, only to discover it isn’t as amazing as it’s chalked up to be? It’s riddled with cardboard characters, confusing pacing, and a contrived climax. You can’t fathom why anyone would endorse it.


But a scroll through Goodreads reveals dozens upon dozens of glowing reviews. People talk like they read a completely different book. What gives?


Sometimes I call a book I loathe “objectively bad.” But that description poses a problem. If other readers rave over “objectively bad” books, how can any writer confirm that their work isn’t equally poor?


At our 2019 summer staff retreat, we attempted to resolve that question, and this article is the result. As writers, we want to avoid producing bad books. That begins with understanding why people enjoy them in the first place. Let’s explore three hypotheses.

To an extent, this answer makes sense. Until you’ve eaten a gourmet cheeseburger, you don’t realize how mediocre a Big Mac is. If people had access to better books, perhaps they’d frown at the titles that used to be their favorites (like I do with the books I adored as an uncultured teen).


However, people’s habits indicate that this theory is false.


Book subscription sites report that superusers read 1–3 books per day, devouring specific genres like candy. Statistically speaking, they probably consume content that I’d consider garbage. But they would disagree, despite their wide repertoire.


Alternatively, many kids study great works of literature in school but still disdain them. Yes, a poor teacher can influence how students feel about a book, but the reason they gravitate to junk isn’t that they haven’t been exposed to masterpieces.


However, we rejected this hypothesis primarily because the reviewers who praise “bad” books can clearly articulate why. They think about the words on the page. Thus, decrying other readers for assumed ignorance is both uncharitable and snobbish. While some readers (especially young ones) may enjoy bad books because they haven’t read enough to build discernment, that’s rarely the case after a certain age.


To read the rest, go over to StoryEmbers.org, or click right here.

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