I think every reader has had this problem. You buy a book that critics are raving about but then, when you read it, you end up not liking the book. You might even hate the book that everyone seems to love. And then, you start to search your bookish soul about what you missed. This is certainly what happens to me when I read a critical darling that ends up not agreeing with me. I still feel like I’m on the wrong side of things when it comes to The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, classic books that I loathe. Curiously, I don’t feel the same sort of bewilderment when I love a book that doesn’t wow the critics. On second thought, it’s probably easier to espouse a guilty pleasure read than to admit that you’re not sharp enough to see what everyone else sees.
One thing that comforts me when I’m feeling particularly confused about buzzy books I didn’t like is something I learned in library school: S.R. Ranganathan’s five laws of library science. The second law is “Every reader his or her book.” The third is “Every book its reader.” Taken together, these two laws mean that all readers are free to read what they like and that every book has a potential audience. These laws are a mantra to remind me that not everyone has to have the same taste in books; there are books enough for all of us to love.
Even with this mantra in mind, I sometimes return to the critics looking for that thing I missed, especially when books that I really didn’t like end up nominated for awards. That second look frequently reminds me that the critics who write book reviews have very different tastes than mine. Or the reviews remind me that these critics always have different expectations of what they read than I do. (Having the wrong expectations can ruin a reading experience, which is why a lot of readers I know refuse to read books reviews so that things don’t get overhyped.)
And, sometimes, I find a review that confirms my opinions. Finding some else who also goes against the grain is a fantastic confirmation that it’s not that I missed something, but that it’s all just a matter of taste after all.