Have you ever had a negative reaction a book that many of your friends and fellow book lovers adored? How has that made you feel?Our reactions to books are often deeply personal, of course, and what one reader loves, another may absolutely despise . . . and yet another reader may not have strong feelings one way or the other. This is one of the reasons that I enjoy talking about books with others; in fact, it would be pretty boring (and creepy!) if we all reacted to books exactly the same, wouldn't it? Instead, we all bring our different backgrounds, experiences, and literary tastes to the table when we read a book, and that's why it's usually so interesting to have a discussion with others who have read the same the book.
But it can be an extremely odd sensation, I find, when you have a negative reaction to a book that many others seem to love. When this happens to me, I often feel very disoriented. I don't doubt myself . . . I trust my own feelings about a book, but I do tend to wonder how my reactions can be so different from those of friends and other readers whose opinions I respect.
I’ll be brave and throw an example out there . . . Here is a book that many seem to love with an unabashed passion:
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is the first in a series of books, beginning with the first installment published in 1991. Now it is the subject of a TV series. Because I read historical fiction, I have had this book recommended to me a number of times, I’m sure with the expectation that I would love it.
A few years ago, I tried Outlander . . . and I did not like it. I read more than the half of the first book, and I couldn’t finish it. I gave it a good-faith effort, but it simply was not the book for me.
I don’t want to write a full review of the book--that isn't my goal here. But I’ll give you the general gist of what I thought (I’ll assume everyone knows the basic plot summary of a woman’s sudden time travel back journey into 1740s Scotland). I couldn’t feel any connection to the main character, Claire, who I thought seemed curiously unconcerned that she had traveled back in time, and not terribly interested in whether she could get back to her own time and to her own husband. Especially after she married a new husband in her new time period.
And then the violence . . . I was deeply troubled by it. I get that the 18th century was a violent time, and beatings happened, rape happened. I read literary and historical fiction, so of course I read scenes of violence and brutality all the time. But Claire’s reactions to, for example, her new husband savagely beating her, were disturbing to me. She didn’t seem to question it, and quickly forgave him. I’ve heard others say that they loved Gabaldon’s portrayal of a strong-willed heroine, but in fact, I felt like I was reading the exact opposite.
My point here is not to trash the book or question the judgment of those who loved it. I’m trying to describe and explain my own reactions to it. Perhaps, if I’d read the complete book, I might have come to a different conclusion, but after close to 500 pages, I decided it was just not working for me and I didn't want to continue.
Many other readers, I know, have loved Outlander. It has a 4.14 average on Goodreads and a strong fan base. And now that the TV series is going, it’s getting talked about more and more, and even recommended to me as a book I should read. So yet again, I’m feeling alone in my reactions.
Have you have had the experience that your reactions to a book seemed very different from what others thought?