52 Books in 52 Weeks, Week 25: The Devil Is in the Details

I'm a big believer in there being two ways to go with any book review. You can focus on the positive or you can sharpen your knife and go on the attack. Trust me, this works for any book, because no book is perfect. For example, I loved The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and I've written a rave review of it in the past. But if I'd wanted to, I could've written the opposite. Not because it would've been my true feelings about the book, but because, hey, you can make fun of anything, right? (It's a book about cancer. Kids who have cancer. Could that be any more depressing if you tried? And the main character is way too wise for a 16-year-old girl. And what's up with the character names, anyway? I mean, Hazel and Augustus? Give me a break.)

See how easy that was? And I LOVE that book, I really do. (And sorry, John Green!)

Anyway, this week for 52 books in 52 weeks I needed something I knew I could read easily for various personal reasons, and I noticed that Lauren Weisberger's follow up to The Devil Wears Prada, Revenge Wears Prade -- The Devil Returns, was on the NYT bestseller list, and so I picked it as the next read. And then I noticed its Amazon rating. (Its average rating is: 2.5 our of 5 stars). Thinking there must be some mistake I went to Goodreads where I found the same thing (Its average rating is: 2.78 out of five stars). And then I started reading through the Amazon and Goodreads reviews to try to see what the hell was going on. I mean, could the book really be that bad?

The answer to that question is both yes and no, and so my dilemma posed above: I could go two ways with this review, but I think I'm going to put my knife away, and here's why.

I thought The Devil Wears Prada was a good book. It was fresh, and sharp, and while parts of the plot followed along a fairly traditional path, there were some real and funny insights into the New York magazine world. It was not the best book I had ever read, but I definitely enjoyed it, have read it at least another time over the years, and have read Weisberger's other books, which, while not quite as good as Prada, were definitely readable and enjoyable books.

Then the movie got made. It was an excellent translation of the book and Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep knocked it out of the park. A lot of people fell in love with that movie and I think this colored their perception of the book, in a good way. They liked the book more because the movie was so good.

And then, in my opinion, Weisberger was in a pickle. The same pickle that the authors of The Nanny Diaries (a book I really loved) also found themselves in: their subsequent efforts just didn't measure up, in terms of sales, to that first big book. So what's an author to do? Well, I'm betting there was a lot of pressure from their publisher, their fans and themselves, to write a sequel. Even though neither of those books were ever meant to have a sequel. Even though it was essentially impossible for the sequel to live up to the original. I mean, think about it. Can you name one commercial fiction sequel (which leaves out The Hunger Games et al.) that was as good as the original? (No, the Shopaholic series doesn't count. Be honest.) The closest I think exists is The Bridget Jones sequel, Edge of Reason, but to the extent that it might be almost as good as the original, that's the exception that proves the rule in my opinion, and I'm pretty nervous about the third book, coming out in October.

My point being, writing sequels to books that were never meant to have a sequel is hard. This is especially true in commercial fiction because the genre provides, and readers expect, that the story is be wrapped up in a nice bow by the end. And a sequel necessarily means unraveling that nice bow.

So I doubt that there's anything Weisberger could have done to satisfy most of her fans, unless she essentially wrote the same book over again, and then, of course, she'd be criticized for doing that. Because honestly, the book is not that bad. It's not as good as the original, and there are some continuity problems and the ending felt rushed, but I would never have rated it 1 or 2 stars like so many people have. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but I think people should cut Weisberger some slack. Maybe she never should've written this book, but you can't blame her for trying.

And now, sigh, for next week. I promised myself two things when I started this project: no Fifty Shades and no Dan Brown. But alas, promises are made to be broken and Dan Brown's Inferno has a stranglehold on the top spot on the NYT list, it seems, so I'm going to read it. Here's hoping I'll be pleasantly surprised. If not, I can bring the knife out.