By Vicki H. Moss, Contributing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine
So many books—so many hours in one lifetime to read them. There’s no way to plow through them all. And that’s the reason book reviews are so important.
I recently bought a couple of books recommended for a trip I was soon to take. Since I was going on vacation, I assumed the books were nonfiction and I would learn about the country I would soon be visiting. The book I chose to read first had the least number of pages and I could finish it quicker to move onto the weightier tome.
Once into the book, I thought, this is an interesting adventure this character is having. Three-fourths of the way through the book, call it whatever you want—getting suspicious or feeling something wasn’t ringing true—I searched Amazon for the book so I could read the reviews, not caring if I spoiled the ending. In those reviews, I found one where a reader had penned words describing the same feelings I had been feeling. Something wasn’t quite right. The reason why? The book was a novel—not nonfiction—and the writing was called wisdom literature. The author had been trying to convince me of his beliefs—his own wisdom and beliefs I didn’t share.
What exactly is wisdom literature you might ask? Here’s Wikipedia’s definition: “Wisdom literature is a genre of literature common in the ancient Near East. It consists of statements by sages and wise men that offer teachings about divinity and virtue. Although this genre uses techniques of traditional oral story-telling, it was disseminated in written form.
“The literary genre of mirrors for princes, which has a long history in Islamic and Western Renaissance literature, is a secular cognate of wisdom literature. In Classical Antiquity, the didactic poetry of Hesiod, particularly his Works and Days, was regarded as a source of knowledge similar to the wisdom literature of Egypt, Babylonia, and Israel.
“In ancient Egyptian literature, wisdom literature belonged to the sebayt (“teaching”) genre which flourished during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and became canonical during the New Kingdom. Notable works of this genre include the The Instructions of Kagemni, The Maxims of Ptahhotep, The Instructions of Amenemhat, and the Loyalist Teaching. “The most famous examples of wisdom literature are found in the Bible.”
Nothing wrong with wisdom literature, but why hadn’t the publisher and author clued in readers from the beginning by stating on the book cover that the book was wisdom literature or at least let readers know it was a novel? Couldn’t this have also been stated in a prologue instead of at the end of the book?
When I finished the book, there was an explanation at the end explaining the book was indeed—wisdom literature. But still, I felt as though I had been duped. All that time wasted when I could have been reading nonfiction and learning about the place I was to visit. Again, why hadn’t the author put that tidbit of information in the beginning of the book rather than waiting until the end after I’d wasted precious preparation time? Sigh. I should have read the book reviews beforehand. Once “tricked” like this—I highly doubt I’ll ever read another book this author has penned. The trust between author and reader was broken.
What about you? Do you read reviews before buying a book and do you like knowing you’re reading fiction or nonfiction from the beginning or do you like surprises?