Going Against the Grain; Or, When You Disagree with the Critics

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.

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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.

3 Comments

  1. I can relate so well! I often don’t care for a book that everyone else raves about- or only find it lackluster- I really liked Catcher in the Rye but couldn’t at all stand Great Gatsby. Never got past the first chapter or two in that one. Keep feeling like I ought to attempt Catch-22 one more time, maybe it will finally ‘click’. So many times I try beloved classics, or books friends/family have highly recommended, and feel like there’s something “wrong with me” that I didn’t like the book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I spent my younger years reading “pulp” fiction (detective stories and sci-fi horror) and enjoying the easy reads. The simple plots, with simple characters and simple language. What can I say – mindless entertainment suited me and helped me to unwind.
    BUT as I got older I thought I should take a look at some of the classics. Some of the more renown authors works. Most of which I am enjoying, although One Hundred Years of Solitude sent me into a deep coma….but since it was recommended to me by someone I have great respect for I shall endeavour to finish it…. someday. The Great Gatsby, however, is still on my shelf untouched so I can’t comment on that one yet.

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  3. Sometimes when you dislike a book “everyone” else seems to love, you begin to question your own judgement. What did I miss is the question we ask ourselves, somehow thinking that it’s all our fault that we didn’t love the book. And when its a classic, well we kind of think we’re inadequate as a reader. Sometimes reading another perspective can help you see things you missed but we have to also accept that there are some books that are just not for us.

    Liked by 1 person

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