Comparing Books to Other Books

Discussion Post

 

Recently, I read Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott (read my review). If you’ve heard of this book before, you’ve probably heard it being compared to The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

About the Books

If you don’t already know, basically, The Hunger Games is about a girl in a dystopian society who is forced to compete in a competition, to the death, against 23 other players in order to win fame and fortune. She volunteers for the competition after her younger sister is chosen, in order to save her.

Fire & Flood is about a girl in a contemporary society who chooses to compete in a race because she is promised that the winner will receive a cure for any disease, and her brother has a mysterious illness that he could die from. At the beginning of the race, each competitor is given an egg that, at some point, will hatch into a magical animal that will help them succeed.

Similarities and Differences

So okay, yes, they both have some sort of competition in which there can only be one winner. But that’s about it. Personally, while I only read 25% of Fire & Flood before having to DNF it and therefore my opinion could be slightly wrong, I couldn’t really see the resemblance between the two. Some people obviously disagree with me, but I don’t think that it was like The Hunger Games at all. The setting was different, the family dynamics were different, the main characters were totally different, the fantasy element was different, the competitions were different…I could go on and on.

Why Does This Matter?

This is only one example of this problem, but my point is that maybe we shouldn’t be comparing books to other books. Occasionally it serves to make a point, like with issues of plagiarism/fan fiction/etc. But, more often than not, I think that it hurts both the reader and the book.

Because I’d been hearing, for weeks, about how similar Fire & Flood was to The Hunger Games, I went into the book with a completely different perspective than I would’ve if I’d heard nothing about the book. I went into it expecting it to be The Hunger Games‘ twin, but it really wasn’t. I was sort of caught off guard by my opinions on the book, because I was assuming that it was going to be so different than what it actually was. Maybe I would’ve liked it more if I hadn’t seen it compared to The Hunger Games so much! And that’s unfair to both me and the book.

Comparing one book to another paints a picture in a person’s head about a book. If you read a review for a book you were uncertain on, and they compared it to Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey, and you hate those books? I bet that you’re probably not going to add that book to your to-read list. And what if that person was wrong, or had a different perspective on the book than you might? What if you actually would’ve liked that book if you read it?

This is one of the reasons why I try to go into a book completely blind. Unfortunately, I just simply couldn’t avoid hearing the comparisons of Fire & Flood to The Hunger Games, because so many people have said it. But usually, by avoiding book reviews of books that I haven’t read yet, or tweets with certain books’ titles in them, I can read a book without having much outside influence. This helps me be completely objective about a book and decide if I like it without having the opinions of other people in the back of my mind.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

But, of course, it goes both ways…sometimes it’s helpful when a book is compared to another book. Like what if somebody compared a book to Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey and they were right? I bet you’d be happy to have figured out pre-reading the book that it probably wasn’t going to be for you. Those kinds of comparisons can help you narrow down your to-read list and save you from an ugly DNF.

But you’ll never really know whether a comparison is helpful or harmful unless you read the book for yourself. Everybody was comparing Fire & Flood to The Hunger Games. If I hadn’t already had an ARC of the book, I would’ve assumed that, because so many people had that opinion, that they were obviously right. But only through reading the book myself did I realize that I disagreed.

Personally, I’m on the side of not comparing books. But what about you?

Have you ever compared a book to another book in a review? Do you like it when you read comparisons like that in a book review? Has it ever influence your decision to read a book one way or the other? Which side are you on…pro-comparison or anti-comparison?

 

 

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24 responses to “Comparing Books to Other Books

  1. I do tend to mention book comparisons in my reviews, but I realize that not everyone sees what I see. When I read a book, I’ve learned to turn off all those parts of my brain that worry about comparisons and just read the book for what it is. I like to “live in the moment” in real life, and I do the same when I read. Knowing ahead of time about a comparison never seems to bother me, even if it’s incorrect. I just move on and judge the book for what it is. In fact, I like to know comparisons going into a book and then judge for myself if I think they got it right!

    • Wow good for you! I don’t know if I could ever turn that part of my brain off. Even though I totally respect that whole “live in the moment” way that some people are able to live their lives, it’s so not for me. I WISH I could be like that, but I’m way too much of a worrier and a thinker haha. I constantly have a zillion different thoughts running through my mind; it’s hard to ever “turn it off” with me. So I’m kind of jealous of you!

      I think it’s interesting that you LIKE comparisons going into a book, too. Maybe it’s because, once you’ve seen the comparison, you can ignore it while you’re actually reading the book. That’s so cool. I just personally can’t do that :/ Ugh.

      I think that it’s perfectly okay to compare books to other books in reviews, because obviously everyone is going to do their own thing and I can’t really judge that. I just know that, personally, I’m not a huge fan of having that comparison in my mind beforehand. But since I choose not to read reviews of books I haven’t read yet, it doesn’t really come up as a problem for me. And I think that I actually would be interested in hearing somebody’s comparison after reading it.

  2. Rarely I will compare books, but not to BIG huge fad books like The Hunger Games or Twilight or HP. Those books are just too well loved (or hated) to have other books trying to live up to. I think that they (and by they I mean the book industry people) just slap “compared to The Hunger Games” on any dystopian that has a competition in it to sell books. Just like every vampire book says “Just like Twilight or Vampire Academy”. Instead of comparing books we should just be saying, if you liked a book like The Hunger Games, you might like this one… but I definitely think it’s safer if the book gets compared to a less popular book.

    • This is a really good point! It’s weird, though, because I don’t even think that Fire & Flood was billed as a “if you liked The Hunger Games…” book, it’s just a bunch of people have mentioned it in their reviews and stuff. I think that you’re right — comparing books to the BIG books/series is just a bad practice. There’s a lot of different opinions about them out there, and you’re automatically dragging TONS of baggage onto a book by even mentioning a similar book.

  3. Yes, I completely agree with you. I’ve given bad ratings to books because I went in with such high expectations after a friend said “this book is so much like that book!”. And if my expectations hadn’t been so darn high, the rating for the book probably would have been higher. Great post, you made excellent points! 🙂

  4. I think there are fine lines to walk when comparing books. Personally, I’m not really a fan of when publishers, for instance, market a book as a “cross between book a and book b.” That does create certain expectations, which usually frustrate me. Either I think the book isn’t as good as the two books it’s supposed to be a blend of, or I think it’s too similar, which isn’t very interesting.

    In my own reviews, I usually describe books as being something fans of book a or book b would like, which is different from saying the books are “the same” or even comparable. It just means they have similar themes or writing styles or something.

    I also think it’s possible to oversimplify plots, which is how some people come to the conclusion books or movies or whatever are “the same.” Reducing something to the summary “a poor girl works hard and becomes rich” or “a Cinderella story” makes a lot of books that are very different in execution sound as if they have the exact same plot. So, I agree with you that having a government-sponsored competition doesn’t automatically make something “like The Hunger Games.”

    • Hmm that’s interesting. I actually LIKE it when a book is described or marketed as being a cross between two different books or TV shows or whatever. For me, it’s like it’s almost a comparison, but instead it’s still leaving room open for it to be its own thing. But I can understand why it might be frustrating to some people and still give them certain expectations.

      The “fans of book a” point is a good one! I should’ve included that in the post, so thanks for bringing it up 🙂 I don’t mind when people say that. It’s not necessarily a comparison between two books, just more of a recommendation for fans of a certain book which could depend on a lot of different things. Like how you could say that about The Hunger Games because of it’s violence or suspenseful qualities…but the book you’re talking about could certainly have nothing to do with a competition or even be in the dystopian genre.

      The oversimplifying plots is another good point. I think people were too quick to point out its overt (and basically only) similarity to The Hunger Games just because it’s so popular and it’s virtually a reference for everybody. So, as a reviewer, you know that you’re making immediate connections with your reader, unlike if you compared it to a less popular book. It’s such an easy thing to say off-hand in a review, but it can end up leaving lasting impressions with people that ultimately could negatively affect their reception of the book.

      • Good points! I agree saying a book is blend of two books does leave a little more room for originality, but, for me, it still draws attention to those two books. I guess I’d rather discuss genres and say something is “historical court fantasy” rather than say “It’s a mix of Downton Abbery and Harry Potter” or something (not that Downton Abbey takes place in a court….).

        I definitely think publishers and reviewers often find picking a bestseller to compare books to is a necessity. As bloggers, and people who read a lot, we sometimes forget that other people don’t read a lot or they don’t follow the book industry as closely. Publishers in particular need to pick books with name recognition when marketing. Just about anyone knows what “like Harry Potter” means.

        Within publishing houses themselves, however, that tends to be slightly different, depending on the setting. I interned at one, and the editors have to pitch the manuscripts they want to acquire to the publisher. Part of that process is comparing the book to already published books (to indicate you think a book of that genre/plot/whatever would actually sell). The last thing you want to do is compare something (sales-wise) to The Hunger Games because you know you’re probably not going to sell quite that many copies. I also had editors ask me questions like, “You don’t think this dystopian is too much like The Hunger Games, do you?” Yet, there’s a good chance that, once marketing begins, the publishing house will be telling consumers that the book is like The Hunger Games.

      • Really good point about how publishers choose to compare books to other books because “normal” people (ha.) don’t read as much as us. I guess it’s easy to forget that. I’ve actually heard somebody say once that they like that tactic because, after having finished a popular book that they liked, they can just easily find another similar book that they will also probably like. For people who don’t use Goodreads or have a book blog and don’t have friends who read, I guess it’s way for them to get a kind of personal recommendation.

        I definitely get what you’re saying about the blending two books still being a sort of comparison, though. Even though I like it personally, I can totally understand why somebody wouldn’t…and I’m not even really sure why I do, because it doesn’t really make any sense with me being anti-comparison, haha. I think that maybe, sort of like what you were saying, that they do that because it doesn’t fall into the trap of being a direct comparison, but still gives readers an idea of what it might be like. I think that unseasoned readers might not understand what “historical court fantasy” would be. Or maybe “bookish” terms would scare them off or make it sound unexciting.

        It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that publishers aren’t marketing their books to us. That would be way too easy…we read everything. They’re marketing the books to non-readers, people who read every now and then, and people who only have read Divergent and The Hunger Games because they saw it on their local Target’s shelf and it looked good. So I guess we just kind of have to go with the flow, because if they think it’s going to work and encourage more people to read…then I guess I have to be behind that, because of course I want more people to read! But while it might sell books, I still think it can and does take away from the reading process itself in some ways. Although this problem probably affects the blogging community a million times more than it does the average person.

        That’s funny how they encourage authors to compare books, but then discourage TOO much comparison, and then end up comparing it as a marketing technique. That’s so convoluted, haha. But I can understand the reasoning behind it at the different steps in the publishing process.

  5. Rarely do I compare two books. Though sometimes if I am reading along and see a similarity I’ll be like ughh. I don’t normally talk about it in my review though. I do avoid books though with blurbs on the cover like “if you liked twilight then you will like___” . Those drive me nuts!!

    • Yeah I’m not a fan of when books are called “the next…” or whatever. It’s just annoying and is pretty much never true. But, like I mentioned in a previous comment, it might be just me, but I actually kind of like it when books are billed as “book x meets book y.” Or like how Landry Park is being marketed as “Downtown Abbey meets The Selection.” It helps me get an idea of what the book might be like, without directly comparing the two or giving me certain expectations about it. For some reason, that doesn’t bother me…but direct comparisons do. I just feel like they’re not fair and are barely ever necessary, so it’s probably just better to skip them in reviews and marketing campaigns.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  6. Mostly the comparison is just marketing hype, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t have expectations of books – other than I will like it which is why I’m reading it! But if it doesn’t compare, then to me, it’s just another thing to talk about when discussing the book.

  7. Miranda, you read my mind. I saw some tweets comparing those two books the other day and went on a bit of a sarcastic twitter rant!

    (First, I just have to say, I don’t think The Hunger Games is so much about winning fame and fortune as it is *trying not to die* lol.) I couldn’t agree more with your reasons for why comparing books to other books can be a bad thing. Generally, I really dislike it. I do think that it CAN be helpful sometimes, but I just think it needs to be done carefully. Blanket statements like “if you liked The Hunger Games, then you’ll like Fire & Flood” are grossly inaccurate. But saying “If you really enjoyed the father-daughter relationship in This Book and are looking for another, try That Book” seems like a better option because it’s more specific about one aspect of the book, not the WHOLE book. Y’know?

    • Haha okay you’re right, that’s a good point about The Hunger Games. I was trying to explain what they’d win by making it to the end. I guess life would’ve been the obvious answer that just kind of went over my head lol.

      I really like what you said about how it can be done right in some circumstances…I totally agree! I think that it’s just important to remind people that they need to be careful in how they’re comparing books. Because MOST of what I see is the general blanket statement, that’s why I said I’m against it. But, hey, if every comparison was super specific and didn’t give confusing expectations, then I’d be all for it!

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  9. Great post! I personally didn’t think the book was TOO close to the Hunger Games, either. But could see how someone people could make the connection so I advised in my review not to read it if that would bother some readers. I have little patience, which means I tend not to like repetitive storylines so if I read a book that reminds me of another book (especially if it’s a BAD copy of it) I’ll probably DNF it. :/

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  12. Interesting post! I’d never really thought about it but I don’t think I’ve ever compared a book to another in a review. Like you say, it doesn’t feel right to reduce a book to the carbon copy of another (unless of course it’s an obvious case of plagiarism). I think sometimes I’ve recommended books to friends saying things like “you liked that other book so I think you’d like this too” but it’s a different thing in my mind than saying “this book is just like this other book”.
    Something I like is when people compare single aspects of the book, though. For example saying that a book has the same sense of humour and witty dialogue as another book, or that the protagonistis just as badly written as the character in another book. So I would side-eye someone telling me that book X is just like book Y, but I do like comparisons because they can help me decide what to read.

  13. I don’t really compare books. If I would think about another book, I’d most likely say that ‘I think you would like X books too if you enjoyed this one.’ It can be really helpful to name other titles, because if someone tells me that I might like that book if I loved (let’s say) Throne of glass, I’m more tempted to pick it up 🙂

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