Why are poorly written books so popular?

This is a re-post of my answer in Quora.

When I crack open the books my kids read and even re-read, I’m appalled. These are books that are published, and sell. They’re full of too many characters and everyone “smiles happily” or “grins.” All the time.

Is there more to it than dumping endless barrels of money into marketing?


I have a circle of book-loving friends who are never able to recommend books to one another. Most people find this strange until I ask this question:

What matters to you in a book?

  1. The plot.
  2. The characters.
  3. The writing.

Each and every single person in my circle answers this question differently, and I suspect it is also the reason why these “poorly written” books have become “so popular” (I put these adjectives in quotes as they are quite subjective, which warrant a separate question).

Once while reading a popular YA novel I had to stop because of a page where the author couldn’t seem to decide whether she was writing from a first or third person point of view.

I thought, Doesn’t this author know what she’s trying to say? What kind of editor lets a book like this get published?!

For reference, I’m a writing >> characters > plot type.

I asked a friend how she managed to survive reading the same book, and her answer was she was too engrossed in the story to notice the tiny stuff like I did.

She’s a plot > characters >>> writing type.

These popular books probably have plots or characters that appeal to a large audience—the kind that thinks good writing is “the tiny stuff”.

So in a way yes, it is marketing. There’s a market out there for readers who don’t mind good writing as much, and publishing houses are selling for that market.



Read Danna Lariba‘s answer to Why are poorly written books so popular? on Quora


Storytelling with Data: a book review and my takeaways

As a child, I loved telling stories. I’d take my favorite book and TV characters and create a world where they would oh-so-conveniently meet. Say, a magical anime girl wanders Narnia until she encounters the now-villainous Power Rangers.

As an adult in the corporate world, I still want to tell stories. But now I find that people are more critical of which stories I tell them.

It must be in the form of numbers, they said.

It’s a data-driven world, they said.

In Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s book Storytelling with Data, she argues we can do just that: tell stories with numbers.

language + math = data storytelling

She takes traditional storytelling concepts then re-interprets them for “adult-appropriate” tables and charts. She teaches us to edit our charts, the same way authors do their stories, by borrowing principles of visual design.

My key takeaways from the book can be found below (click for larger size), but they can be summarized as follows:

  1. Context is king. The form your data will take depends on your audience and what you want them to do with the data.
  2. Choose the right graph to best express the key message (I’ve made a flowchart in my notes to help with that).
  3. Following on #1, design around this message.
  4. Present your data as you would a story, with a beginning, middle, and end.
“Storytelling with Data” notes, by dannaisadork

P.S. Sorry about the terrible handwriting. My normal penmanship’s already pretty bad, but writing on a tablet made it worse!


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Blind book reviews, March 2017

Another month, another set of blind book reviews.

For those of you who are joining us for the first time, Welcome!

The blind book reviews series is the result of my compulsive need to visit the bookstore once a week. Sometimes during those visits, I’d see a book that looks interesting, but not enough to buy it (yet).

These blind reviews are my attempt to verbalize that interest. A sort of pre-review for a book I’ve yet to read.

These books were on-shelf in FullyBooked between February to March 2017.

A Little History of the World, by E.H. Gombrich

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who did horribly in social science and history. 

Math, English, Science? Oh she did just fine. But ask her to memorize a name or a date, and she’d zero out.

That is, until one teacher taught Japanese history in a new way: A series of tragic love stories, maniacal villains, with ninja and samurai side-stories galore.

Suddenly, school became just as interesting as fantasy books, and so the little girl learned to love history.

I am that little girl, and this book is–I hope–like that teacher.

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Blind book reviews, December 2016

I meant to make a follow up to that post from November. The one about going to bookstores, keeping tab of the books that catch my eye. The one where I make mental notes on why they caught my eye. The one where I talk about why I think they might be worth the read, even though I’ve never read them myself.

Today I write that follow-up.

And because I want to give this a catchier name than say, “books I’ve been seeing on the shelf”, I’ve decided to call them blind book reviews.

These books were on-shelf in local major bookstores (mostly National Bookstore and FullyBooked) between November to December 2016.

A History of the World in 12 Maps, by Jerry Brotton

I can’t remember if it was National Bookstore or FullyBooked, but I’m confident its one of the two! FullyBooked.

I have this not-so-secret fascination with cartography. Back when Waze and Google Maps weren’t a thing, I always kept an atlas in my car’s front compartment.

My excuse was that I needed it, but really I just wanted it.

I’ve always found maps pretty. I guess its because it brings me back to the fantasy books of my youth, where the first few pages were dedicated to maps of the places the story will take place.

That said, this book discouragingly doesn’t have a lot of maps (just 12!). It does talk about those maps in detail and covers history as well, so perhaps that makes up for it? We’ll see.

Continue reading “Blind book reviews, December 2016”

How to find books that are actually worth reading

I’m a self-confessed bookworm. But I also confess to struggling to make time for reading. I may get a few free minutes or so a day, but rarely enough to actually settle down to read a book. So when I do manage to make time, I want to make sure what I read is worth it.

I like to read at night. On the bed, the book propped up on my tummy. I like to read until my eyes are so weary they start to close on their own. I like to be invested in what I’m reading, so intensely focused that I forget everything else.

This means:

  1. I need a conducive reading environment.
  2. What I read has to engage me wholly.

I’ve got the first one covered. Its why I read at night; for the peace. I lock my doors and don’t look at my phone until the next morning.

I still struggle with finding an engaging book though.

That’s why when I started to track what I read, I  also started to track what I should read.

Note I said should.

I no longer have a TBR (To Be Read) pile. It’s been replaced by the  “Potential” list.

I pre-assess any book that catches my interest. Read thorough reviews especially the critical ones. I regularly weed out the books I no longer have interest in, and re-prioritize the list according to what I should read next.

But most importantly, even before I start on all that…

The books are already pre-curated by someone else even before they make it to my list. 

And its those someone else-s that I will talk about today, those someone else-s that give me great books to read.


Continue reading “How to find books that are actually worth reading”