Agree to disagree… on books.
As much as I love to talk about books on my blog and with other book lovers, I must admit that I am loathe to be asked “What book are you reading?” by a stranger on the elevator or while waiting in line. I know it’s idle chit-chat, or someone just passing the time, or another fellow book lover in disguise wanting to connect, but when I’m caught off guard like that I get nervous. I’m mostly nervous about the book I’m holding and what that person will think the title says about me. I understand that I shouldn’t care, but I just do. What if they’ve read it and they proceed to tell me how much they hated it and have a slightly disdainful look in their eye at my choice? It’s happened before. And I’m caught in the middle of a dilemma: yes, this person has a right to his or her opinion and so do I. But what if it’s a book I really love and I suddenly have to defend my choice?
I absolutely believe that there should be differing opinions among book lovers about the same book. The most successful of my book club meetings were the ones where things got very divided and very heated (champagne was flung and voices were raised at one event). Still, I’m curious and perplexed as to the reason why when I completely fall in love with a book and a fellow book clubber- one who even has similar taste in books- has the opposite reaction, or vice versa.
For example, I thought “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn was one of the best spins on the modern mystery genre I have read in long time. A friend in book club hated its guts! I found “One Thousand White Women” by Jim Fergus to be a total waste of my time and then I read today that another Goodreads friend just gave it 5 stars. After reading “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant a few years back, I proclaimed it to be one of the most important and poignant reads for women. I still have yet to meet anyone else who has read it to claim that he or she found it as thrilling or profound as I did.
Is it just me? Or is it them? When you are so divided- love it or hate it- on a book, where does the criteria fall? Now, I understand that I’ve started to judge books more harshly than I ever have before. Part of it is that I’m looking at literature in a new way, since I joined a book club and have taken to read a variety of genres, and another part of me just got tired of reading crap. However, I will go ahead and rate a book 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads if it simply filled me joy, even though it might not be anyone’s idea of a literary tour de force.
But why do I still get that shaky feeling in my stomach, as if I’ve already failed, when I encounter someone who either loved or hated a book that I, contrariwise, felt so strongly about. When I saw that “One Thousand White Women” was given 5 stars, I instantly thought to myself, “How did I miss the boat? What is she seeing that I’m not?”. I find it fascinating that two people can have such completely different experiences reading the same story, yet it’s also disappointing. We can both share our joy or disgust over it, but we will never sit on absolute common ground.
I don’t like to judge others on his or her reading tastes because books we love or read often cut close to our souls. I wish there was a perfect response to the “What are you reading?” questions. Next time I spot someone on his or her way to lunch, clutching a book that I may have read or want to read, perhaps the best method is: “I see you are reading XXX. I, too, have read it. May I approach?” Or maybe I’m reading (ha!) too much into things, as usual. After all, there are worse things to fight over. I’d much rather have a spirited conversation over books than politics any day!