A while ago, I saw the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It is a delightful movie about a young Indian man who decides to open up a hotel for elderly British people who would like to spend the rest of their days in the warmth of India, where their pound will go a long way. Sooner than he expects, an assortment of British retirees descend upon his hotel and he is forced to make some quick amendments to get the hotel in shape. The retirees, played by Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy, make the best of their situation and soon become charmed with the hotel and with India and forge relationships with each other. It is truly a wonderful, heartwarming movie.
So, when I found out that the movie was based on the book These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, I immediately added the book to my wishlist. After all, books that movies are based on are generally much better than the movies themselves. I therefore had high expectations.
But alas, the book did not manage to charm and delight me. Of course I was trying to match characters in the book up with characters in the movie and I failed miserably in most instances. For example, Sonny Kapoor, played by Dev Patel in the movie, is a fat, middle aged man in the book. That was a shock! And in general, the book failed to impress me.
That made me wonder…would I have been more charmed by the book had I not seen the movie first? Did the success of the movie set the book up for failure (at least for me)? When we pick up a book and expect greatness from it, how often does it not fail to impress, when it may have been a pleasant enough experience had we not set our expectations to high?
This is exactly the reason I am often loath to jump on the hype bandwagon whenever a book reaches bestselling status. That is not to say I do not read any bestsellers, but I very seldom run out to the shop to buy the latest hype. I never read Harry Potter when it was a phenomenon and I am glad of it. I recently read the first two books to my son, and although it is a nice enough story for kids, the writing itself lacks too much to enjoy the books as an adult. In other instances, this backfires, as I refused for many year to read the then very popular The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulish, only to love it when I finally read it a few years later. Imagine my dismay when I realised I could have had the wonderful pleasure of having this book in my life years before.
But ignoring hypes – or playing them down – does take away my expectations of a book being great. With the result that even if I did not love the book, I did not feel completely let down by it.
And that brings me to my last point: it is thoroughly unfair to an author – and a book – to expect greatness from them before you even begin to read. All our reading experiences should be entered into with an open mind, and no expectations. “Surprise me”, we should say to the book. “Show me what you have and then I will judge you.”
Unfortunately, because we do not live in isolation, this is not always possible, and as a consequence, our expectations could ruin our experiences.