Saturday, February 28, 2009

Is it okay to hate a book...ever?

Discussion time! I have a few questions for you. Answer if you will...

When is it okay to hate a book? And what does saying that mean really? Do you need permission to hate a book? Do you have the right to hate a book? Why do other people get upset when you hate a book that they love? Do you get upset when a book you love is hated by someone else? Do you expect everyone to agree with you all the time when it comes to books? To love what you love, to hate what you hate, to be bored when you're bored? Is it more acceptable to talk about a book you love, than a book you hated? Aren't both love and hate just opinions--subjective opinions? Does a reader saying that he/she hates a book reflect more on them--their response, their opinion, their experience--or on the book itself? Does one person hating a book mean its a bad book? What if there are twenty thousand people that hate a book? Is it bad then? What if more people love a book than hate it, is it a good book? What makes a bad book, bad? What makes a good book, good? If every "good" book has been hated by some reader, somewhere, does that make it any less "good"?

Okay, that was more than a few questions for you. I admit.

Reading is subjective. Rule number one. Consider it the prime directive. It will always be subjective. This is more good news than bad news. That means that while not every book will be unanimously beloved, adored, and praised, it means the opposite is true as well. It would be rare--but not impossible I suppose--for one book to be unanimously hated, abhorred, trashed and attacked. Every single book that has ever been published--will ever be published--will meet with a variety of responses: some will love it (some might even love, love, love it), some will like it, some will just give it a quick shrug of the shoulders, some will dislike it, some will hate it, some will get angry about it. That's a fact of life. I sincerely believe that every book out there has within it the opportunity to become someone's favorite book. That would be my rule number two. Every single book (or 98% of them at least) has this potential to become "the book" that one amazing life-changing book that flips a switch--if you will--and makes a person love reading. Every book has the potential to wow a reader. But it's also true that a person could read hundreds of books but still have only a fraction of them register as "favorites" or "must-reads."

What do I think it means to hate a book? Keeping in mind that reading is subjective, it means simply this: this particular book at this particular time is not for me. It doesn't mean that I think that a particular book couldn't be, wouldn't be, shouldn't be right for someone else. It doesn't even mean that the book couldn't work for me at another time. I could call to mind at least half a dozen books that I "hated" at one time just to do a complete turnaround and love at another point in time. Octavian Nothing, volume one. Frankenstein. Jane Eyre. The True Meaning of Smek Day. Silas Marner. Just to name a few. I'm sure I could think of more if I sat down long enough. The point is this, opinions change. Let's make that rule number three. A book you once hated could at some point along the way become a book you love. And a book you once loved, you could end up at some point not loving. I don't know if you could ever truly hate a book you once loved. But your opinions can definitely change over time. You can fall out of love with a book. A book that satisfied your needs as an 8 year old may not be as satisfying when you're 40.

Each experience reading a book is different. You cannot make someone have the exact same experience, same reaction, same response, same feeling as you did. No matter how much you want to believe that every single person should feel the exact same way about a book, it just isn't so. There are many people out there. In the blogging community, it's typical to find some that agree with you on some books--but never on every single book you've ever read. There are bound to be differences show up sooner or later. And the sooner you realize that it's okay--more than okay--to have different opinions on such matters, the happier you'll be.

Every opinion of a book is valid. It may not be an opinion you share, that you endorse. You may see things completely differently. But it's an opinion all the same.

Book discussions are great. And a large part of the reason book discussions are great is because of the diversity of opinions expressed. How boring life would be if every single person shared the exact same thoughts all the time. Discussing books with others is fun because you can see things from multiple perspectives. You can see how and why the other person feels the way he/she does. They might bring up a few good points in their discussion. You might come to an understanding and appreciation of your differences. It's good to feel heard, to feel validated. You may never see the book exactly the same. But that's okay.

I'm a big believer in the Readers Bill of Rights...the only thing which I wish it mentioned--and I think it's certainly implied--is the right to have your own opinion on a book. (Likewise, your opinion is never the "only" opinion of a book. But it is the only one you have to live by. So if you've discovered you don't like an author, you shouldn't keep forcing yourself to try over and over again (Dickens for me, cough cough) That doesn't mean you shouldn't ever try again. But be reasonable about it! If you didn't like it last week, chances are you won't like it this week. But give it a year and who knows?) You don't have to like a book because you're told it's good. No one can make you like a book. They can try. But it will only make you hate it more. You can make a person read--in a way--but you can't make them enjoy it.No one should be told how to feel about a book.

Readers' Bill of Rights (Daniel Pennac)

1. The Right to Not Read
2. The Right to Skip Pages
3. The Right to Not Finish
4. The Right to Reread
5. The Right To Read Anything
6. The Right to Escapism
7. The Right to Read Anywhere
8. The Right to Browse
9. The Right to Read Out Loud
10. The Right to Not Defend Your Tastes

That being said, I think I'm about to abandon Dune because it is just not working for me at all.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
If you're reading this post on another site, or another feed, the content has been stolen.


myza said...

Dune is on my TBR pile - my husband really wants me to read it but I keep putting it off. I guess I am just not interested. But maybe I will give it a try sometime soon!

Ana S. said...

I agree with you, Becky. It doesn't at all upset me when people hate a book I love, or love a book I hated. I'm actually interested in hearing why. Most of the time their reasons will make me spot something I didn't notice, or see things in a different way. They probably won't change my mind, but they'll help me understand where other people are coming from, and that's important.

And this is why it's a pet peeve of mine to hear people say things like "don't waste your time with this book", or "I don't recommend this to anyone", or "I can't imagine anyone enjoying this". How do they know? How can anyone ever know that the book they hated so much won't be life-changing for the next person?

anilee said...

It doesn't really upset me when people hate a book I love. I might not disagree with their analysis, but hey, whatever. Chances are, if they explain what they dislike, I'll understand it. And then sometimes, a book just doesn't sit well with you. Like when I read a certain popular, well-received novel, I loathed every. single. word. But it's a good book. My friends love it. For whatever reason, I hated it. I'm not even sure why.

Normally, if a friend likes a book that I hated or they hate a book I love, I won't say anything. It's not important enough, and it's too easy to say the wrong thing. It kind of annoys me when friends respond to low ratings I give without asking why. I'm just like, "Why? Why do you feel the need to say something? I know you liked the book. You don't have to tell me so again." If they ask why I don't like the book...well...I'm more okay with that, but if I didn't write a review, chances are I'm not in the mood to talk about the book. I mean, I don't ask why you gave a book five stars or three stars. Is it just because mine is the dissenting opinion that I have to defend it? I'm not sure that's necessarily fair, especially if it's just an emotional reaction rather than a logical one. I don't always want to write reviews, especially if they're going to be negative about books my friends love. Sometimes it sort of feels like you're being judged or losing respect or something. Even if you know you're probably not.

I've never gotten the whole mindset of, "Only talk about books you love." Bashing a book? I love to do that, and I might as well enjoy something about the reading experience. I understand when reviewers say that they will only review books they love. They have limited time and may only want to dedicate their blogs to recommendations. But if I find faults with a book and I want to say so, then I will say so and no one can stop me. Don't read it if it's going to bother you and you'll have to leave a rude comment that will have me bashing my head against the wall.

Besides, negative reviews as well as positive reviews are an important part of making a decision about buying a book. If I knew that people didn't like a book and listed reasons why, even if my friends loved it, I might not be so let down when I read it because I wouldn't feel so alone.

I think that hating and loving a book is always more of a reader thing than a book thing. Even if I find faults in a book that get in the way of my enjoying the book doesn't mean that everyone will either find the faults or care about them. And I'm not sure a book is "bad" exactly (which "bad" and "good" are subjective terms too) because it's commercial or trashy. It's all up to the reader to decide if a book is good or bad, but it's always for them and for no one else. Sometimes, a majority of people agree that a book is good or a book is bad, but usually, they'll be haters and lovers for every book. If enough people give negative reviews to a book, then I won't be tempted to read it, but if someone else loves it, then the book worked for them.

A book is neither good or bad. It just is until someone reads it to make a decision.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the students I work with will say they "hate" a book, and then, with a tiny bit of probing, I'll find out that they've only read three pages of a book assigned by their teacher. I don't mind if they hate it, but I think you have to give a book a chance before you make that opinion.
I can't recall ever hating a book. I've had books I wasn't terribly interested in, but never one that I could say had NO redeeming features whatsoever. (I have, however, hated some movies!)

Stephanie said...

I love your bill of rights for readers!

I totally agree with what you had to say, it is totally subjective. That is what I told my boys in the Jedi Reader book club I have for 8-9 year old boys.

I think books we enjoy give us something we need at the time, even if it is just escape, that is why some books we end up liking at different times.

Tricia said...

I think folks throw the word hate around when they really mean dislike. I don't think I've ever hated a book, but there are a few I dislike intensely. I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas for a book club and found little good to say about it. Others loved it. I suppose I could have set it down, but I read to the end to see what all the buzz was about. I also wanted to see if the author could change my opinion.

I don't often put a book down before I finish. Given that I don't have as much time to read as I would like, I really shouldn't feel bad about putting a book down I don't like or can't get into. That said, I'm going to take numbers 2 and 3 to heart more often!

Love the list in general. I'm going to share it with my son. It seems like a good way to let kids know it's okay not to like every book they open.

Becky said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. I would like to amend what I wrote one tiny bit. I don't think a reader should choose the word "hate" if they don't finish the book in question. Abandoning it says enough already. And I think hate is something that should be reserved for something you've read completely.

So I agree with you, Janice :)

I think Dune is an intimidating book. It doesn't make any apologies for being difficult. Strange names. Strange places. Strange customs. Strange languages. Throwing new characters in the mix every few chapters with no introduction or background. It's a book that thinks its good to keep the reader confused and guessing. There were parts of the book that I enjoyed. But every other chapter or so, they'd have the narration switch. And those chapters made no sense whatsoever. Maybe having a friend who could help you out would make a difference. I just know that reading the book made me feel stupid because I couldn't keep up with it all. And Nymeth, it is very idea-heavy in my opinion. I loved your post yesterday by the way.

For almost every negative review I've ever written I try to stress that the book could work for others.

I do think negative reviews can be tremendously helpful. If they list why and show what the book is about. If they're objective enough to say "I hate this book because of x, y, and z" then as a reader if I love x, y, and z...then I can say, "hey, that sounds like something I'd like."

Lezlie said...

These are all things I keep in mind when I write my thoughts on my reading. Just because I didn't like a book doesn't mean it won't be great for someone else. I hate when people book bash for this very reason.

My husband *loves* the Dune books. I've read the first two and I was a little bored. I'm trying to work up to the fourth one eventually anyway, because he says God Emperor of Dune is really amazing. It may take me awhile to get there though. :-)


R.J. Anderson said...

LOL on the last line. I love Dune, but I can also completely understand why some people can't get into it. And while I liked the 2nd and 3rd books in the Dune series I hated the 4th so much I swore off reading any further books in the series at all, so it is absolutely true that everybody has different "dealbreakers" when reading and that a book that thrills the pants off one person may leave another stone-cold.

There are a lot of books I've seen widely praised, only to come to them and find myself disappointed. In some cases I really do think the book is objectively flawed, but in others I just have to conclude that I am not the right reader for that particular book...

And then there are the books I am completely nuts about but hardly anybody else seems to share my glorious madness. That is always saddening, too.

Anonymous said...

great post, Becky!

I also abandoned Dune. But it was thirty years ago, probably. Maybe I should give it another shot.

I have some books I love to hate. They are so poorly written that I just LOVE to hate them. And yes, I've read them all the way through. I felt I needed to so I could honestly say I hated them.

Cheryl Vanatti said...

Though I rarely care if others don't like a book that I love, I'm always concerned when I don't like a book that so many people are raving about. Examples: Life of Pi and Time Traveler's Wife.

Ditch Dune. You've got better things to do!

Laura H said...

I cannot tell you how many times I have kept reading a book because it was a classic or everybody "loved " it.

I now live the Readers' Bill of rights.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. It's more than okay to hate a book. In fact, in my book destruction book one commenter told me she has thrown away perfectly good books because she hated them so much and couldn't stand the thought of their existence in the world. I'm not going to give her any grief. It's her book.

avisannschild said...

Interesting post and wow your blog looks completely different from what it looked like the last time I visited!

I love what Madison said: "A book is neither good or bad. It just is until someone reads it to make a decision."

I'm with the "skip Dune" folks!

valentina said...

Oh the reader' bill of rights! I love them and I firmly believe in them! I gotta put them on my blog:D

have you read the whole book "The Rights of the Reader?"

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I had a professor (of creative writing) who told us that if a book was bad, we should stop reading it. He pointed out that there are more books waiting to be read -- more than we'll ever get to in our lifetimes.

As for Dune... it was okay. I had to read it for a college course, but if it's not setting your world on fire, chuck it. Go in search for something more your style.