Here’s something a lot of book bloggers would be scared to admit: some books just really suck.
There, I said it. That’s my blog post for the week, thanks for tuning in.
Oh, you want me to expla- oh- yeah it is kind blun- ok yeah I see what you mean.
Well. Maybe the situation so much isn’t that the books are inherently bad, so much as they are a really bad match with the reader. Ever read a highly recommended book and couldn’t finish the first chapter? Or drag your feet through a “classic” novel only to find yourself shaking your head? I’ve been there. I like to think we all have.
I was that same way with “Rabbit, Run” by John Updike. Many moons ago, I was excited to pick up a copy (along with two other books in the series) at a library sale a few years ago, but was horrified to discover that 1. this book is about basketball???? 2. this book is about boring couples who hate each other. My absolute least favorite topic, and unfortunately a common theme in books from the 1960’s. So with this revelation, I then found myself with THREE books I knew I was never going to read. A quick stop at my local used bookstore rid me of the books (even if they don’t buy them from you, you can usually donate them to their $1 bin), but it still left me wondering – Why can some people love a book and others hate it?
It’s easy to say that it’s just a matter of opinion, or personal taste, but I think it boils down to something a bit more specific, which is time. Like I said, I absolutely detest books about a pair of depressed couples who all cheat on each other. And yet it seems all of the famous books from the 1960’s are about that same topic. Why is that? Well, divorce was a concept that was just really being introduced and gaining popularity at that time. People who found themselves in unhappy marriages felt a freedom to express that and had a way to escape from them. Naturally, the art of that time period would reflect that. But as a millennial born in ’95, divorce is not something new or exciting to me. It’s just depressing. So books that focus completely on that put a sour taste in my mouth. See? Timing. In this case, I was just off my like… 50 years.
A better example might be my experience with “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf. I first picked up this book about two years ago, read the first two pages, and put it down. I just did not have the mental focus at that time to follow that narrative structure. I picked it up again 10 months ago, and still didn’t get too far into it before putting it back down. At this point, I was bummed. Isn’t this supposed to be an amazing book? What am I missing?
Weirdly enough, it took me being in a cafe and reading a different book to be able to pick it up and fall in love. I was holed up in a coffee shop, trying to warm my hands over my drink in the dead of winter, when I saw that they had a lending library there, and lo and behold, Mrs. Dalloway was staring at me. I put my own book away, picked up that one, and dove right in. I can’t say for certain why – maybe it was because I was already in a very reflective mood, and the book matched that – but I fell in love with it that day and ended up reading the whole thing in about 2 days. I got emotional as I was reading it because the themes Woolf was touching on really spoke to what I was feeling at that time, and I even found myself writing down entire passages into my book journal that I wanted to remember. It had been a long time since a book had touched me so deeply, but this one did. I guess third time really is the charm.
So, to all the books I’ve hated before: It’s not you, it’s me.
“Augustus” by John Williams, I’m sure you’re great. You’ve got a lot to offer people, and I know I like your brothers, “Butcher’s Crossing” and “Stoner”. But talk to me in a year and we’ll see how we feel. “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton, I know you’re a good book. I can feel it. You just weren’t what I needed at that time. “Mr. Fortune” by Silvia Townsend Warner, it was my mistake for inexplicably thinking you would be a good vacation read. Seriously, what was I thinking? I’ll get back to you someday, I promise.
So here’s to all the books we’ve never finished, all the books we’ve hated, and to all the books we’ll someday give a second chance to. Reading is like love, it’s all about the timing.