Friday, September 12, 2014

Discussion Topic: When You Don't Like a Book That Many People Love

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?

24 comments:

  1. I am probably the only person in the world who dislikes the Harry Potter series. Oh, and The Hunger Games. But you can't ever mention that to anyone---people look at you like you just admitted to drowning kittens or something.

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    1. Ha, there you go! I will not call you a kitten killer!! But when people really love a book, why is it so hard to accept that there will be some readers who don't like it?

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  2. I didn't finish Outlander but I didn't even get as far as you did. If I had read the beating that Claire got and accepted it without problem, that would've been a red flag for me right there. I know it's historical and all that, but not my cup of tea. I just didn't enjoy Outlander because Claire turned from her husband so quickly to another & I found it not quite believable. I wanted more of the era's description of their way of life and less of the constant rolls in the hay.

    To each his own, thank goodness. Now here's another ultra-popular series that I didn't enjoy enough to finish more than half of the first book: A Game of Thrones. Oops, did I say that, lol. Ready for bashing...

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    1. Oh, Game of Thrones--another great example! So many people insisted I MUST read it! I did finish the first book, but I thought it was a long slog ....I was interested, but not enough to devote so much reading time to it when I knew I could just watch the series.

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    2. Naw girl I'm with you on the Game of Thrones. While there is a lot about women's representation that squicks me out in the books, what turned me off right away was Martin's writing style. It is boilerplate and dull as dishwater.

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  3. I read the first Outlander book, but refused to go on. Same with Harry Potter... read the first one aloud to my girls, but after that they were on their own. My most recent example is A.J. Fikry. It was just okay for me and I kind of felt bad giving it just three stars. But you're right - how boring would it be if we all loved the same books?

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    1. Yeah, thank goodness for the variety in our opinions! Keeps things interesting. I haven't read AJ Fikry . . . and now there seem to be so many good fall releases out there, I don't think I will. I think it would have been just so-so for me as well.

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  4. I've read several books where everyone and their mother loved it, but I didn't. It's a weird feeling but I think we all come to books with different histories and tastes, so we are bound to enjoy different books!

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. True! I think I just need to get used to that odd feeling.

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  5. I'm pretty sure Outlander isn't my thing, so I never picked it up, but I've had some differing opinions on some well-loved books. I definitely think it's nice to see an opinion stand out every once in a while, especially for books that everyone seems to be raving about...it kind of helps keep expectations in check.

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    1. Yeah, I agree it can be nice to hear an opinion that goes against the grain... I actually like reading a variety of perspectives on any book, particularly new releases. I'm interested in comparing the 5 star with the 1 star reviews and trying to figure out what made people react strongly in one direction or the other.

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  6. I've been on both ends of this. One book I really liked but that many other people didn't was A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. I thought it was really good, but lots of other people thought it was boring! I tried Outlander on audio book and just couldn't get into it... historical romance or whatever it is just isn't my thing, I guess :)

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    1. Mine neither, I guess. I did really like A Casual Vacancy! But yeah, I know a few who thought it was boring :(.

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  7. I usually second guess myself too, but we all can't like the same books, right?

    I can't think of a book off hand that I liked and others didn't or vice versa.

    Great question. Thanks for sharing.

    Elizabeth

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    1. Yeah, I guess even if we second guess ourselves, then we need to remind ourselves that it's ok to have different reactions . .. and in fact, it's good. Thanks for dropping by!

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  8. Ooo! I liked A Casual Vacancy too... Just like Shannon, I've not picked up Outlander because it doesn't look like my cup of tea. But yes, I've been there. AJ Fikry was good - but not great for me as well.

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    1. You know, I need to learn to just NOT read a book if I strongly suspect it's not going to be my thing. No matter how many times it gets recommended to me. Although with Outlander, I guess I thought it would just be a mildly entertaining historical romance . . . not literary, but maybe some fun. I did NOT expect the wife-beatings and rapes.

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  9. We can't all like the same books, so that totally makes sense. Outlander is not for everyone, and I'm still kind of shocked at how much I enjoyed it since it is not at all my usual read.

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    1. And you never know what you may like if you don't try different things, I suppose! I have certainly loved books that were out of my usual type of reading.

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  10. I always feel sort of guilty when I don't finish a book, as if I took the easy way out instead of doing my duty. I know it's absurd, but feelings are not always rational, as we all know.

    I couldn't finish A Casual Vacancy for some reason. I did care about what would happen to the teenage girl, and I give Rowling credit for that. But something the book about it bothered me enough so that I couldn't finish. So of course I feel a guilty not only because I "failed" to read until the end, but also because I can't explain why I "quit."

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    1. Oops, should have proofread my comment above

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    2. You don't have to proofread! It's just a blog; mistakes are expected. :) I think it's so weird that we tend to feel guilty or like we failed if we don't finish a book! Probably most people don't feel like that when they don't finish a movie or TV series; they just think, "I didn't like it," or even "it wasn't good."

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