In Defence of WOOL


9781780891248The First Tuesday Book Club, sorry now just The Book Club, recently reviewed Wool by Hugh Howey

Watch the Episode online here or on iView

I was very apprehensive when I heard they would be discussing the book. I am a huge fan of Wool and the book club does lean towards the critical when discussing books on the show. Which is fine, that is what a book club is all about. So while I was not surprised that the book did receive some criticism I was surprised what the book was criticized for and felt compelled to come to the book’s defense in some small way.

There were three key criticisms from the panel which consisted of regulars Jennifer Byrne, Marieke Hardy and Jason Steger. They were joined for this episode by China Mieville and Shamini Flint.

1. The book was too readable
This type of criticism for a book drives me nuts. A book is supposed to be readable. If a book is unreadable then nobody is going to read it, so how is being readable a negative? I also resented the analogy used comparing Wool to eating take away food. Yes some take away food is unhealthy and not good for you but other take away food can be fresh, original and very good! (actually maybe it is a good analogy!)

2. There was a problem with the structure
The panel knew that Wool was originally written in 5 parts yet criticized the book-as-a-whole’s structure. Yes, the structure of Wool would probably be different if it was written as one story. But Wool wasn’t written as one story. It started as a stand alone short story, that is why there is a big plot reveal at the end of part one because that is all Hugh Howey originally planned to write. The subsequent parts were all spaced out over a matter of months. This type of serial fiction does alter the structure and also means you need to add more hooks to keep readers interested in the next instalment. You are also forced to reiterate some of the themes in the book as the reader might have read the last instalment months ago. What is amazing about Wool is that it does actually work as both a serial and bound together, it is just not your usual novel structure. There was also criticism that the ending was unsatisfactory and left unanswered questions. I actually like when a book doesn’t answer all the questions but there are also two sequels to Wool which means there are more answers to come.

3. That Hugh Howey crowd-sourced ideas and changed the story to suit his readers
Wool was self-published by Hugh Howey. He did not have an editor or any other assistance that a traditionally published author receives from a publisher. Wool was originally a stand alone, 40-page short story that found an audience who wanted more. This audience feedback spurred him on to explore and write more about a universe he had created. A select number of these readers have helped him shape his books but how is that different to the traditional editorial process? Doesn’t an editor (or 2 or 3…) and author work together to make sure the author’s intentions are being conveyed to the reader in the best way possible? Why can’t Hugh Howey use readers he trusts in the same way? There was also an odd comment about not giving readers what they want but making them want what you have written which I’m not sure I totally agree with.

I am a big fan of Wool and readily admit to bias in my defence here. Wool is not the perfect novel (if that even exists) and nor is it a literary masterwork of the 21st century. But it is an enjoyable, fast-paced, thought-provoking read by an author who has found a massive audience and has done so in a new way.

8 thoughts on “In Defence of WOOL

  1. Criticizing a book for being too readable smells of book snobbery.

    And I agree that relying on a handful of trusted readers for feedback and ideas is exactly what goes on in the editing/publishing process, and also usually for a long time before editing if the writer is lucky enough to have beta readers available. That particular criticism rests on the myth of the singular authorial voice. If you have good collaborators/critics then the book will be better than if you didn’t.

    I didn’t like the book, couldn’t get past the first chapter. Even though the ideas were intriguing the characters didn’t click with me. Dissapointing because I was hoping for another The Passage.

  2. I was clapping my hands furiously while watching the podcast because Marieke Hardy had nothing much to contribute to the Wool discussion. I am waiting for the day when they replace her on the show. Period. She is a total turn-off and should not be allowed to sully books/writers with her snarky and always negative opinions. She lives so far in the past that she should just stay there and leave the 20th and 21th century to people who don’t have her narrow niche in reading material. I counted and she has never approve of more than 20% of books reviewed over the years. Yes. I don’t like her or respect her opinions. They are not mutually exclusive. She is just difficult and positively irritating.

    1. A bit harsh there. I would much rather an opinionated book club member and reviewing in general seems to have to be negative these days, by everyone. She does offer a different opinion and if all the panel agreed every week the show would be pretty boring. Her reading taste is certainly different to mine and she can be quite unfair (e.g. her opinion on Jasper Jones which I loved and she totally dismissed and then attacked its readers). But she also brings books to the programme that nobody else would and you know when Jennifer or Jason win her over that the book must be really good!

      1. There is only so much vitrole and negativity one can take after watching years of the book club. She whines and complains. None of the contemporary books will EVER be good enough for her. Jennifer tries so hard to look for the silver linings but she (and I am being gender neutral here coz guys are just as bad) bitches on and on about how she hated the book reviewed. It’s almost Palovian in her DNA. She just can’t resist bad mouthing form/structure/context. Love to see someone do a hatchet job on her novels if she ever writes one. The sad thing is that she is probably too thick skinned to even feel it!
        Argghhhh! I have to learn to swipe through her section on the podcast when the camera falls on her. (taking deep breaths and feeling Zen)

      2. I’m not criticizing the panel here. I like the mix they have, the more different opinions the better. This post was a response to analysis of Wool by all the panel members, regulars and guests.

  3. Thank you for this post. As a debut author I am experiencing the online reviews and blog comments ‘thing’ at the moment. I am very happy with the reviews, with only the occasional negative comment (and, like you I don’t take it as a negative – but it hurts a little) that there are unanswered questions at the end. But (again, like you) book two (March next year) does pick up a couple of threads. I do love your response – “I actually like when a book doesn’t answer all the questions”. I may be quoting you!

  4. I don’t recall Howey writing these books by committee, I believe he has some beta readers which checked for inconsistencies as is only prudent and all his works were professionally edited.

    Could you imagine the goldmining lawsuits now if he had…..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s