Are Formulaic Books Bad?

I've heard a lot of complaints about books being "formulaic." This is typically brought up when discussing very popular authors such as Jodi Picoult, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, etc. And I completely understand this.

One great thing about reading is that it introduces you to new worlds and people. 

It can stretch your mind and present ideas that radically change your world. It can make you more open-minded and compassionate.

So if you read the same type of book over and over, you aren't getting the "dedicated reader" experience. And, sometimes you just get surprised and love things you wouldn't have thought you would love. It's a great thing to read widely, and it's needed.

But today I want to argue in favor of formulaic books.

For one, sometimes you just need a break.

Reading diversely and complexly is important. But it is hard. Stretching your mind and heart can hurt. And you can't do it all the time. Or at least I can't. Sometimes I need to return to something familiar and stand on steady ground for a minute. 

Secondly, it's a good starting point when recommending books.

I think of formulaic books as the foundation of reading, actually. Especially if you are talking to someone who isn't a big reader, it can be easier to grab their interest if you can confidently say "Well this is XYZ and it involves XYZ" and they can go in knowing what to expect. And then you can figure out what it is about those formulaic books and dig deeper into more diverse stories with those same enjoyable characteristics. Sometimes you gotta crawl before you walk, people.

As with most things, moderation is key. 

It's really easy to hate on authors who "sell out," or to laugh at books like Twilight or, God help me, even 50 Shades of Gray. And those books can definitely be problematic- but they can also be a great starting point. I know women who literally haven't read a book in 20+ years who read 50SOG. And as a reader, I have to believe that the act of reading itself is a valuable thing that should be celebrated. I have to believe that reading itself can grab people no matter the subject.


  1. Totally agree! I've been trying to read more "stretch yourself" books lately and I'm so burned out. I finally gave up and reread the Percy Jackson series because my poor brain just needed a break. And yeah, for people who don't really read, anything is better than nothing. If I could get Ryan to pick up a book and actually finish it, there would be no judgement, no matter what he decided to read.

  2. I know we discussed this a while ago. I believe you're right. Getting into reading, no matter which books you choose is the key.

    Also, it does pain me to say that I've considered reading the newest Nick Sparks book. Something to get me out of the WW2/Outlander groove I'm in and enjoying. :)

  3. I agree with you. I enjoy a lot of "formulaic" books. The key is to not just read those back to back. I try to vary the types of books I read. If I read novel, I might follow it up with a memoir or some non-fiction. If I read a crime novel, I might switch to young adult after that. I think Jodi Picoult is a great writer and, yeah, she kind of has a schtick, but she always has the talent of getting me emotionally invested. I am totally pro-formula on occasion.