Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why Is Personal Taste Taken So Personally?

Well. I thought yesterday's post was extremely informative, not least of which because hopefully people were reminded that J.D. Salinger is still alive.

It really was alternately fascinating and gut-wrenching for me to see all of the beloved books that people loathed. I'm sure everyone who read the comments had one of their favorite books stepped on in a big way.

I know in particular the skin on my neck prickled whenever I saw Faulkner thrown under the bus. I mean, sure, I can understand not liking MOBY DICK. I know it's not everyone's cup of whale lard. But Faulkner?? Really?? Say it ain't so!

I know books are subjective, but it's amazing to see HOW subjective. And what's fascinating/horrifying to me about personal taste is the way personal preferences morph into a die-hard nasty Amazon review style slam. People don't tend to say, "Oh, you know, I really couldn't get into X, but I can see why others enjoyed it." Run a personal preference through the Internet and somehow it becomes: "That book was AWFUL and I HATED IT and in fact I weep for the oxygen that was consumed by the author during their pitiful lifetime."

I mean, just imagine if I rejected someone's query with "This is a piece of trash and I wanted to gouge out my eyes while reading it." And yet this is how people very regularly talk about books online? This is an ok thing to do?

Why is taste so personal? And not just personal as in subjective and individual, personal as in people take it personally when someone likes what they don't like, or vice versa.

I mean, I'm guilty of this too -- I get that pit in my stomach when I see my favorite authors trashed. I get actually physically angry! What is so threatening about a dissenting opinion? How does a personal preference turn into an ironclad judgment?


Adaora A. said...

Yea I'm not going to lie, I felt like screaming when people were insulting THE SCARLETT LETTER. I can't believe it. It's one of the books that got me into reading literature. And THE GREAT GATSBY? How can anyone hate it.

Ok onto why 'personal taste is taken so personally.' I think it's because people tend to feel intensely for things, and they kind of let it out a little bit too much. Personally I believe the word 'hate' is used a little bit too easily. I know hatred and I've felt it. I've had a marked reason for feeling it and I don't let the word out easily unless it's how I genuinely feel about something.

Writers (of which you have a lot of on your blog), tend to feel keenly and intimately with words that connect to them and words that might be against everything they believe. The feelings are strong that they express it a little too much with their words because words are taken so personally. You know, whoever made that saying 'stick and stones may break my bones but names will never heart me," is out of their mind. That is absolutely not true.

Adaora A. said...

Also wanted to add (because I always seem to have a lot to say so I hope you don't mind) about this bit of your post:

I mean, just imagine if I rejected someone's query with "This is a piece of trash and I wanted to gouge out my eyes while reading it." And yet this is how people very regularly talk about books online? This is an ok thing to do?

The internet is a tricky thing. It has good and bad. It lends a sense of secrecy that is unlike anything before it. From it you have great blogs like this which make it so much easier to get a sense of the people you want to represent you but it also leads to people speaking a bit more carelessly, they don't keep themselves in check as much, and you get a lot of cyberbullying that comes from it. The internet is really difficult to police and to monitor. You've got so many people coming together from so many different life circumstances. Things can get a bit messy at times.

I told you I had a lot to say.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I think you project your own good nature and ingrained politeness onto other people, including your blog readership, where it doesn't always fit.

Asking what books people didn't get quickly became mistranslated into which books people hated. Unfortunately, it was a loaded question from the start, but because you are a kind person yourself, it seems you are surprised by the unkindness of others.

I don't want to say that you should have known, though.

Anonymous said...

I believe it's the Internet ... if a group of your readers was sitting around a table in person, discussing these books, the conversation would probably be much more civilized. But grant someone anonymity, and next thing you know, mild-mannered Mrs. Jones from next door is dropping F-bombs like a Marine.


R.J. Keller said...

When you read a book, you truly become part of a world. The characters' faces and voices, the walls and trees and music...the blueprint is sketched out by the author, but it's actually created within the reader's mind. If you come to love those characters and places, then it is easy to take it personally when someone else spits on 'em.

Oh, and those obnoxious Amazon book reviews? They make me want to gouge my eyes out.

Natalie said...

I think people love reading and writing criticism. And with the internet everyone gets a turn at what was once just a page in the newspaper. It seems to be more interesting for people to come up with creative slams than to just say it wasn’t for them.

I try to stay away from judging too harshly, especially when a book is popular. It is loved for a reason. I may not see the reason, but there has to be. I’ve found I learn a lot about a person when I ask their opinion on popular books. Currently I ask people about Twilight, which either gets swiftly praised or swiftly reamed. I find it fascinating that there can be that contrast. But still it sells, there has to be a reason. And the reason can’t be “that everyone is an idiot.”

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nancorbett said...

Well, reading is an intimate thing, at least for me. When I read a book, I start out skating along the surface, waiting to see what's going to happen. When a book is great, it pulls me under the surface like a speeding dolphin and takes me anywhere it wants. Even after it ends, I still feel it all around me for a time. I'd even venture to say that I feel it all through me. The closest thing to it that I know of is being in love.

So, for someone to say that venturing into the same space made him want to puke or gouge his eyes out is kind threatening. Did the book over-serve me? Cause me to think I'd gone to bed with Harrison Ford only to wake up with Hannibal Lecter. But it really feels like someone's insulting a friend or loved one. Maybe I need to get a life.

Scott said...

A favorite book or a favorite song becomes such a part of our souls that, even if we know better, we can't help but feel personally assaulted when it is attacked, or even when somebody doesn't feel the same way about it as we do.

But all of the arts are subjective. We all have great classics that we just can't stand to be around. For example, Frank Sinatra makes my ears hurt. I don't know why. He just does. It's not the genre. I can listen to Tony Bennett and I like that old swingy stuff. But Sinatra's voice shakes the fillings out my teeth.

Yeah, I know. I've heard it before. This song or this album or how can I possibly? And I don't know why. But I don't think there's anything wrong with the kazillions who disagree with me. In fact, I feel like I'm missing out. But when I try to overcome this dislike, it hurts. So I finally gave up.

Same with Star trek. And tapioca pudding. What kind of person doesn't like tapioca pudding? Me, for one. And I'll eat anything. Really. Try me.

I don't really care if somebody dislikes or even hates my favorite book or song or singer or movie or team or whatever. I got over that years ago. Besides, I can pretty much guarantee that I probably feel the same way about something they love.

Art speaks (or doesn't speak) to each of us in a unique way. That's what makes it so cool. I love that there are things out there that people love and that make them happy, even if I disagree violently with their taste.

Morgan Dempsey said...

I'm going to quote a friend of mine: "I always thought opinions were personal thoughts on something that had no bearing on someone else’s thoughts on the subject. But apparently, opinions become concrete fact once they’ve been expressed. So the fact that you disliked the book immediately makes the book irrevocably bad, but then the comments immediately reverse that and now the book’s good again. If I make a comment about the book without having yet read it, does that make it a bad book once more or do you have to read it first?"

Kathryn Harris said...

Amen and very well said, Scott.
I would like to add that I think we're all looking for acceptance from peers, and we learn in grade school that to be accepted we need to like the same things as everyone else.
Developing, admitting and defending your own likes and dislikes takes a lot of self-confidence. When someone knocks something we like, it sometimes feels like a blow to our self-esteem.
On another note, I think a lot of people's opinions on a certain piece are tainted by the overabundance of praise something receives. People sometimes expect too much when they read or hear or watch or see something artistic. I can't believe how many people hated The Lord of the Flies. I loved that book.

Anonymous said...

Your post yesterday and today really made me think.

(And I am one of the people who felt strongly about a few writers I didn't get. Sorry.)

What occurs for me, which may or may not be true for others, is that the writing I was required to read that really left me depressed and even scared was such a lousy experience.

I think that writing can affect the reader deeply.I don't think that is understood.
So, let me say it again, some writing can have a deep affect, and not always a good kind.

As an adult, I get to choose to stop reading at any point a book offends me -and so I don't feel so
helpless. In that case, I can walk away or say, not my taste. And as an adult, I have better psychological tools for dealing with certain kinds of literature.

But as a kid, it was kind of cruel -even like the adults around me, who were supposed to teach me and protect me, sometimes threw me in too deep.

I suspect that some of the strong opinions about the books yesterday (since so many of them came from THAT high school reading list) might have, possibly, also, triggered the anger about that.

I wish that my teachers -if they had to expose me to some of those books- had been able to explain why they were important better.

I was also astounded at the number of similar reactions to the same books I had trouble with. All these years, I thought it was just me, being too sensitive.

(By the way, I like Faulkner too and think Moby Dick, the great, is still out there somewhere, man.)

Lorelei said...

Nathan-- advice to a fellow Faulkner fan. Go over to and get _The Sound and the Fury_. The narrator is Grover Gardner, who has the most wonderful southern accent. Really spectacular.

And to anyone who says they don't like Faulkner, do the same. It's another experience read aloud. If you still don't like him, I'll come to your house and give you a dope slap.

Diana said...

I think Scott nailed it. When you admit to liking a book and someone else says that book was stupid, deep down, your soul hears, "You were stupid for liking this book. What's wrong with you?"

sl said...

People just feel so strongly about some things. For many people, books aren't something that they just read for the hell of it, for entertainment. It comes to mean something to them - it inspires them, motivates them, empowers them, gives them hope, gives them comfort... and when they welcome something like that into their hearts and mind, it becomes intensely personal.

Having a strong opinion or a firm conviction offers us a sense of purpose. Sometimes, a person will go overboard and paint many things - books, in this case - with broad strokes.

I think that books can be profoundly personal, and when we turn them into something like that, we all feel qualified to speak our piece. Although, it really does seem that we tend to forget that a book can mean any number of things to any number of people.

(I still maintain that Thomas Hardy was a bit of a rabble-rouser.)

Scott said...

I also think that the classics in any art form naturally polarize. People tend to feel strongly one way or another. Why? because it's art. The most artistic works challenge us, and anything that challenges us is going to create an emotional response, one way or another.

Anonymous said...

I think there are many people who confuse subjective taste with objective quality when it comes to talking about art. I know very few people who would bash a banana for being a banana simply because they don't care for the taste or consistency of the fruit; but many of those same people will quickly bash a work of literature or music or art simply because they don't understand or care for the aesthetic.

r.c. said...

I think that level of hatred comes from being forced to read something in school. As an adult if something doesn't appeal to you within a couple chapters, you can put it down. But being forced to finish something, and then write about it, well, that leads to strong feelings.

Heidi said...

Nathan, I am with you. I was so frustrated by some of the comments I had to rant on my own a little bit (and not leave a comment here).

There is a real difference between saying, "I didn't get this" and "that writer is awful." Writing is a subjective thing, and for one to summarily dismiss anything that doesn't fit his or her taste is ludicrous.

I was really glad it was confined to dead writers, because I think people get even more vicious about living authors, especially ones who are making a ton of money and experiencing a good deal of fame. As if that person took their place on the bookshelf.

I don't have any problem with someone "not getting" why I love a book. But when they start saying, "no intelligent human being could actually like that book," then it gets personal.

Yvonne said...

I was thinking the same thing earlier when I read a particularly nasty Amazon review of a book I really enjoyed. To actually say that something is flat-out awful, terrible, disgraceful with absolutely zero redeeming features when so many people have enjoyed it is strange. Even books that I've considered badly written have qualities that I've appreciated (interesting idea, quick pace, amusing dialogue...)

Maybe some people feel cheated if they've read something they didn't enjoy? A friend of mine says that eating a bad meal in a restaurant is like 'wasting a hunger' - if a book you've bought and picked up doesn't satisfy you, do you feel like you've been had?

Lauren said...

I can only speak for myself, but it bugs the writerly side of me (which is the biggest side of me) when I see other writers really out-and-out trashing good books. It bugs me because I feel that, if anyone, a fellow writer can at least respect the effort and time and brain power and creativity that went into a MOBY DICK or MADAME BOVARY or what have you. Not to mention the retyping that our authors of the past went through! It wasn't physically simple to write a novel back before the days of the word processor, and so Melville, James, Dickens, etc. get props from me just for that.

On Amazon, one of the 1-star reviews for THE SOUND AND THE FURY (my all-time favorite novel) was written by a friend of mine. Who's a writer. I can accept that she didn't get into the book. I can accept that maybe Southern lit or stream-of-consciousness just isn't her thing. That's fine. But c'mon, clearly Faulkner didn't just poop out that story. When I reread it, I'm flummoxed by the complexity of those first two chapters -- voice, word choice, family history, everything. They're difficult, yes, but they don't constitute a "piece of junk" and a "total lack of plot" like the Amazon reviewers would have you believe.

Jennifer Hendren said...


It never really bothered me when people didn't enjoy the books I did until I started doing reviews on my blog. Much to my surprise, my posts got some people to run out and buy the books I recommended! (That was too weird for words, btw...but pretty cool. (g))

When the books are well received, I get this warm fuzzy feeling knowing I helped connect someone with a novel they loved, too... when the books aren't well received, I feel GUILTY. LOL. And a little...unsure of myself. Was I wrong in my assessment?? Do I have bad taste?? OMG, am I recommending complete crap to people?!? IMHO, that self-doubt leads to defensive feelings and you come out swinging even more for that particular author. I guess no one wants to feel they love something that so many others hate.

As for the classics thread, I was also shocked by some of the works that got the big thumbs down. But then, I'm sure my choices inspired the same reaction from others... LOL. Oh well. To each his own.

jjdebenedictis said...

The knee-jerk human reaction to something that doesn't make sense is to either hammer it into something that does, or declare it an error that should be eradicated. You see this in everything from religious wars to parents arguing with their kids about hairstyles.

For whatever reason, empathy for the alien takes a bit of practise. It doesn't seem to be the default human response.

It does seem to be necessary to civil discourse, however.

Aerin said...

Um. At the risk of getting stoned (before I do, I should mention that Moby Dick is one of my very favorite books, judge me as you will), I have to ask -

why does it matter?

I mean, all due respect to Nathan and all that (Precie would kill me if I marred his name), but...even your question is redundant. Personal taste taken personally?

Now, if you'd said - "why didn't people actually read my original post in which I asked what books you didn't get?" - then we could delve into the whole psychological-scarred-by-Lord-of-the-Flies thing.

Which I'll do now.

Agents get paid to be somewhat subjective about literature. Thank god the rest of us do not. God forbid the day comes that literature does not elicit a personal, emotional response. (And for the business minded - isn't negative publicity still publicity?)

Unless we're basing our self-worth on them, why does it matter if we take others' opinions seriously?

Aerin said...

Uh. Objective. Agents get paid to be objective.

I need to not comment until I've had more caffeine than I've had today.

Sophie W. said...


I admit that I'm a bit confused as to why you've decided to blog about this today.

I don't think you should be preoccupied with other people's opinions. I've found that you can't really change opinions, only facts, and it's often pointless to try. So getting upset about opinions is never something I did.

However, when people start acting on potentially dangerous opinions (ie: they start ceremonial burnings of The Scarlet Letter or something), then that should be your concern.

But if you like The Scarlet Letter, then talk about how much you like The Scarlet Letter. I won't care. I just want to be able to say, "Oh, I hated that book" without getting looks.

Opinions are just that -- opinions. Nothing to get hung up on.

And those people who are being rude or intentionally flinging poo can be ignored. They're not worth it.

Heidi said...

flinging poo, eh? I may have to incorporate that into my lexicon!

I don't think it's so much the fact that someone hates a book I love, so much as the venomousness with which they hate it.

Is it mostly the books we are forced to read that we have this kind of reaction to? Or those that were good until suddenly, at some point in which we have invested in the story, it suddenly isn't?

Adaora A. said...

Sophie he isn't saying (so far as I can see), that it is wrong to disagree, he's just asking (possibly trying to understand), why people are being so intense in their answers. The original question was to name dead authors books which you didn't get. Several listend alive and living authors. Then folks started saying reading words wanted to 'claw their eyes out,' that they 'hated' the book or anything related to acid. I must confess I found it a bit extreme myself. It's not the opinion it's the way in which it is made known. Trust me (as someone speaking from acute experience), it makes all the difference in the world.

I think people become so invested in words and beliefs that it becomes tangled up with who they are and has an effect on how they explain themselves. Words are powerful things. I believe (again from experience), that they need to be used wisely. I believe people are too careless in the way they fling words without thinking. Is this really the way I feel? Is this really what I want to say?

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

I agree completely with Nathan, which is why I didn't comment yesterday.

First of all, I'm a high school English teacher (and writer), so I'm used to being accused of choosing the "worst" books out there to teach, yet I work with teenagers, and like all teenagers, I thought I knew everything too. Their comments about the books public school teachers teach (sometimes by choice, sometimes by force)I can take because they are from kids, and I try my best to work with them and bring a genuine enthusiasm and love for the literature to my class in hopes that it will rub off. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. I have learned to accept that I can't make everyone love Pip or Shakespeare as much as I do, but I keep trying anyway.

As for the posts on here and the Amazon reviews, what bothers me is that writers respond in such a way to the work of others. I didn't get Moby Dick when I was 15. I didn't get Madame Bovary. I didn't get Atlas Shrugged. I didn't get The Matrix either, but I respect the work of the artists who created these books or movies, so I don't trash them. I just say it wasn't for me. Obviously there is something credible about these works for them to have stood through the test of time and to have gained so much respect from others. And since I've now written one novel and am finishing my second, I really respect the work of others, even if I simply don't get it. As we all know, it is hard, hard, hard work, so we should show some respect to those in our company working at this craft.

I will say that although I didn't agree with some of the opinions mentioned on the blog, I did enjoy reading the titles, and like many others, I was shocked. The Great Gatsby? Hemingway? Shakespeare? It makes me sad, but I get that not everyone feels the same way I do.

Anonymous said...

Nathan asked, "What is so threatening about a dissenting opinion?"

Well, as writers we have to learn to deal with criticism. Readers, on the other hand, get to dish it out pretty freely.

I thought about being a writer myself, one day...but in the meantime, I'd like to know, what is there to "get" from THE GREAT GATSBY?

Sophie W. said...

Adaora, I gave my opinion in that comments trail about books I didn't get, namely, The Scarlet Letter. I had to read it in school and I disliked it. (Hated it.) I also gave my thoughts about Nathan's post in the same trail about this same topic... so I didn't want to be redundant.

"In any conversation when people are discussing their likes and dislikes, they're going to go into justification of their opinions and get dramatic. It's a chance to let off steam and justify your opinions."

My opinion (heehee) right now, in light of this new post, is still very much the same.

This part of your post stood out to me:

"I think people become so invested in words and beliefs that it becomes tangled up with who they are and has an effect on how they explain themselves."

But why should they? Words are tools -- as writers, we should not fear our tools. It is the intent behind them and the actions their wielders take that should be our first, and foremost, concern. It's like a hammer. You can use a hammer to build a house, or you can use a hammer to beat someone over the head. The hammer is just a tool. The action defines whether it is harmful or not.

The same with an opinion. If someone wants to be vocal about their likes and dislikes, I personally wouldn't dwell on it. I don't care if A Tale of Two Cities made you (general you!) want to claw out your eyes. Okay. Cool.

Did you? I doubt it. Did you take your copy outside and set it on fire? Did you run it over with your car? Start an I Hate Charles Dickens website?

Those last three options would be the most offensive to me. The opinion doesn't matter, but actions and intent do. I don't think any reader of Nathan's blog intended to insult or offend anyone on the other end... I think there was a miscommunication in Nathan's intent and the intent perceived by the readers.

That said, I still don't think opinions are anything to be dwelt on.

Heidi, "flinging poo" only because I don't want my parents to find out I use curse words on professional blogs. I think they might break something... or rupture something else...

As for me, I loved The Scarlet Letter's prologue. I was into it until that chapter when Hawthorne decided to take up a page describing a babbling brook. It was sad. After that, I lost all interest in the book.

kaigou said...

Yes, people may say, "this book wasn't worth the paper/pixels it used in creation" but this is as true of F2F discussions as it is of the internet, and of print -- think of so many scathing reviews over the past hundred years. The question, for me, isn't whether someone dislikes a book but whether they're able to justify/clarify their reasons (and, too, whether they're able to acknowledge that this reaction is equally personal).

I slash and burn on bad writing on a regular basis, but I also do my best to explain why -- and I'm willing to allow that some, possibly many, of those reading my critique may have radically different reactions.

There's a big difference between "this is a piece of trash and here are the specific elements that made me want to gouge out my eyeballs" and "this is a piece of trash and anyone who likes this crap must therefore have the brain capacity of a monkey on crack". The former -- even when I disagree -- at least lets me understand the reaction. The latter just pisses me off, and it's why I try to avoid that mindset when writing my own critiques/reviews.

When we empathize strongly with a character, to the point of identification, we can't always handle being told the character/story is stupid. It's like being fifteen again, having a crush on someone, and having a parent disapprove. The more you value the parental-standin's approval, the more you're going to kneejerk-react: you're torn because you want the two to see the good in each other as much as you see the good in both, and it's tough sometimes to reconcile. This is also why a critique/review from a distant source (like a scathing review in the NYT) won't prompt nearly as much of a reaction, because there's no interaction (as there can be with the author of a blog/journal); without that, there's far less anxiety/emotional attachment for a critic dis/approving of you personally for your literary crush.

Erm, I hope that makes sense. Bottom line is, a truly useful critique must explain which story points didn't work, analyze why this might be, AND explain what did work that kept the critic reading. The last is sometimes all it takes to assuage any hurt feelings before they explode into full-blown kneejerking.

Adaora A. said...


The point I'm making is that I'm not entirely sure they should be. Writers should know that words can be used for many things:

- To move people
- To make people laugh
- To make people cry
- To make people think differently
- To make people think fullstop
- To tell stories

...the list goes on.

I mainly agree with the school teacher (miss bookworm) who posted here. She said:

Obviously there is something credible about these works for them to have stood through the test of time and to have gained so much respect from others.

This is why I can't really bring myself to say I want to pour acid over my eyes and I want to do anything which describes unsanitary and physical harm to myself over the words in a book. It may seem dramatic of me to say this, but I've been threw a lot worse things in life then reading a book which didn't float my boat. To say that I want to do all sorts of crazy things to myself, and to say I feel all sorts of extreme things because of it is a bit too much in my opinion. And I'm not trying to offend anyone with my words.

I also can't help but think that these people were published to begin with. These people are a part of history (dead or alive - as some people who are still living were incorrectly mentioned). Someone believed in their words enough to publish them. I can only hope someone gives me the same honour.

Furious D said...

A little note... Not only is JD Salinger alive, but he's still writing novels, under the pen name of CORMAC MCCARTHY!

Just kidding, he really publishes under the name of Don Pendleton.

Taste is highly subjective. In high school I was assigned to write reports on two novels by Margaret Laurence, hailed as the greatest Canadian writer ever. And to be brutally honest, I found the books tedious, self-indulgent, and the characters in them shallow, annoying, and obnoxious.

And because of those reports I currently have a bounty on my head from the Canada Council for the Arts.

I actually liked the Great Gatsby, but that was because I saw some humanity, and a little inhumanity in the characters, but I can understand why it's not to everyone's taste. It's about a time, and a place, and the interactions of social strata that don't really connect with folks in this more egalitarian and classless tabloid age.

And I'm sure that there are some people, though a very tiny minority of the mentally deranged, who don't like my work. And that's okay by me.

Kaz Augustin said...

I hope if I link this right, Richard K Morgan may scoot over here and read the opinions, because he's been wondering the exact same thing about SF&F. And it may reassure him (a little bit) that this sublime-or-crap treatment is not as restricted to SF&F as he thought it was.

The article itself is also worth reading, for any genre fan.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I really loved this thread and everyone's opinions.

Sophie W. said...


I see. That wasn't immediately clear to me from your post.

I agree with you and Miss Bookworm, about thinking carefully about my words, but I'm not going to take it upon myself to regulate someone else's words. And if someone feels the need to express himself by saying he'd like to gouge out his eyes, more power to him. They're his eyes. He can do what he wants.

As for all the unnecessary drama, it can be ignored. Too much dwelling on bad karma is bad for you.

Maybe I should say it this way: Personal taste is intrapersonal, not interpersonal. It really doesn't have an effect on anyone but the one person, so why get upset over its expression?

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

The only comments that got to me a bit were the ones about Faulkner. I love Faulkner, Capote and Warton. Makes sense since I was raised in the south. My first 12 years of reading (for pleasure)were spent with British novels. I find that the southern writers are very much akin to the Brits. I understand them much more than most of the older American writers.

Sam Hranac said...

I think it has to do with the passive nature of Internet communication. You're alone with your own bile as you type. It feels like you're insulting characters in a video game. I have seen people behave rough online and as sweet as kittens when faced with the person they were flaming.

Elyssa Papa said...

I guess I'm with Sophie in that I don't get what the big deal is either. When you ask about why a person didn't like or get a book (or anything that matter), you're asking for that person's opinion.

I didn't cringe when people listed books I liked that they didn't. I suspect some people were baffled by the books I listed. But at the end of the day, what does it matter if I hate Dickens and you don't?

Much like how I don't get how people are ga-ga over Faulkner, I chalk it up to personal tastes and preferences. Art, as Scott said, is bound to have differing responses and elicit reactions that other forms may not. (Although if you asked me how much I wanted to gouge my eyes out in Physics, I'd give you a detailed account).

But the question you ask does need to be examined... What is so threatening about dissenting opinion? Dissenting = different and not of the norm. When someone says/writes/etc. that they don't get what the majority gets, the majority doesn't like it because it threatens their place in society. Just using your example but if you like and value Faulkner and then you read post after post where people are hating on him, your reaction will be knee-jerk because how can anyone not like this author who's the voice of the South, etc., etc.?

For anyone, you have to ask yourself---why am I reacting personally? Is it because my opinion/judgement in this book or author is called into question? Or is it because the thought (such as book burning or book banning) is dangerous? If it's the first, then I think you need to let it go. You can point out all the great things that Faulkner does in his novel and point out audiobooks, but you can't change what someone feels about a novel. Even when they want to book burn or ban it, but then you use the Constitution for that argument and point out the lovely First Amendment (sp.).

Just because I don't like Faulkner doesn't mean I don't think he should be taught. Same goes with Dickens. It's all a matter of taste, which is subjective.

Mary said...
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Anonymous said...

Expressing such extreme sentiment about anything usually kills any chance of an exchange of thoughts and ideas on the subject. As writers we should be promoting discussion.

JES said...

I pretty much said what I had to say in yesterday's comments, so for now I'll just add: Amen,

jerzegurl said...

I don't think hate mean what hate is suppose to mean, concerning books that is.

It is much like the word love. We love our mate.

Yet we love FF and old movies. Surely they are not the same.

Maybe the word hate, much like the word love is use all to frequent in society and it has become a generic term.

One certainly does not hate evil the same way one hates broccoli.

Anonymous said...

Do you know how many times the word "I" appears on this page?

Marva said...

Who doesn't love Moby Dick? I'm going to gouge their eyes out!

Anyway, that's blubber, not lard, and MD lovers know that it's flensed, so to heck with the cretins.

It also has the absolutely best opening line of any book ever.

Okay, subjectivity aside, SOME of Faulkner is difficult and wordy. Why else would they have that "Write a Faulkner Sentence" contest. At least 5000 words or something like that.

As far as Nathan saying "this query is trash," I'll just say that's how it looks to the receiver. We're a tender lot, you know.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

When I read the title of this post, my first thought was, 'It's Personal?' How many others had that same thought?

I feel that many of the trashing comments stem from teenage angst. The person was forced to read a novel (or story) they couldn't understand and their feelings of frustration are still fermenting in their brains.

Maybe they should take another look at these novels that bring on the rage. From an older, more experienced point of view, they may just get it, finally.

Ethan Frome was a sad story, made me cry, but because of that story I would never consider suicidejyzw

Shelley said...

Nathan, I think instead of worrying why people take books so personally you should be congratulating yourself on a two day fiercely interesting debate about the classics. You have a fabulous way of tossing out questions that light a spark.

Others may take this sort of virtual outing for granted, but I’m still astounded by how a good moderator and technology make it possible to have a round table the likes of which King Arthur might salivate over.

Granted, the passions may have run to the negative here, but I feel that was set up by the question, however unintentionally. For those who think “didn’t get” translates to anything less than frustration, I raise my eyebrow.

Today's posts were even more enlightening as to how people feel about their books than yesterday's. So many good thoughts.

As someone else suggested, I would love to see you reverse the question. What books do you think have been overlooked or not given their due? I think you’ll find the passions swing quickly to the positive.

The classics are a set up. Huge expectation often delivers disappointment, this is the price of being put on a pedestal. Still, I felt invigorated by the discussion. It does my heart good to know there are so many who care to comment, who care that much about books, for better or worse.

Oh, uh, one other thing. Are we really surprised that writers can be, well, a bit dramatic?

Linda said...

I think we take others dissing of our favorite authors so hard because our preferences are extensions of ourselves. I read yesterday's comments mostly with amusement (at the vitriol), but admit: my hackles were raised when someone noted their loathing for Faulkner (I am a HUGE fan) and Hawthorne, among others.

But at the same time I loved reading the passion behind the dislike. It's really what sets writers - and serious readers - apart from most others - the passion. Peace, Linda

Kristin Laughtin said...

It's an unfortunate side of the internet. Even generally mild-mannered people can become snarky or mean-spirited when there's no face-to-face contact.

J.P. Martin said...

I can't relate to most people on here that posted yesterday and today. I LOVE the oldies. The oldies are the only books that I will purchase on a whim because the chances of me liking them are pretty good. With newer books/authors I'll either read the first fifty pages in the store or need a recommendation from somebody whose taste I trust.

I was holding my breath waiting for somebody to trash my favorite book: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. It didn't happen. Phew! I love that book.

R.J. Keller said...

Do you know how many times the word "I" appears on this page?

Yes. 302.

Anonymous said...

Emotions are involved. Plain and simple.

PS -- Nathan
I can't believe you haven't mentioned the return of Justin Bobby on the Hills. What's going on? Did you let The Hills bashers get to you??

Sophie W. said...

Betty said:
"I feel that many of the trashing comments stem from teenage angst. The person was forced to read a novel (or story) they couldn't understand and their feelings of frustration are still fermenting in their brains.

Maybe they should take another look at these novels that bring on the rage. From an older, more experienced point of view, they may just get it, finally."

Really? Really? Teenagers are completely incapable of coming to any sort of conclusion about literature? Any dislike we express is solely because we are busy being le angsty bunnies? Because we can't understand anything more subtle than MTV?

I guess that's why my AP English class is filled with 32 intelligent, talented and above all diverse teenagers, many of whom disagreed with me about The Scarlet Letter, or A Tale of Two Cities (most hated it), or Ethan Frome, or The Great Gatsby or any other novel we read that year.

RedDuck said...
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RedDuck said...

Mr. Bransford, you just made my day. I can't stop laughing at this line. "I mean, just imagine if I rejected someone's query with "This is a piece of trash and I wanted to gouge out my eyes while reading it."

That's just too funny!

Nathan Bransford said...

anon re: Justin Bobby-

Sore subject. My untrustworthy DVR and I are officially enemies.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Humans have always needed to belong to a group -- some tribe that will offer protection as well as feed the primal need to be accepted.

That's why tribes were formed by early man, why kids join gangs or fraternities, and why normally sane people paint themselves with their team colors and scream like morons at sporting events.

This tribal mentality makes those who are on the other side enemies and idiots.

The Internet has allowed this mentality to splinter in so many directions that we now have a vast culture of micro-niche tribalism. Books are just another example.

Some authors have bands of groupies who trash other authors, normally against the desires of the favorite author.

These people seem to have lost the ability to separate themselves from the author because they tie so much of themselves into the author's works.

There's also the problem of intellectual dialogue versus emotional monologue. People are no longer taught how to think, as opposed to what to think, they don't know how to use reason to express ideas, and they seem incapable of doing so. Instead, it's all about emotion and being led by that emotion.

We see that in what is laughing called political discourse as well as every other form of discourse.

That book discussions have reached this name-calling low shows how intellectually bankrupt even readers have become.

Marilynn Byerly

Tom Burchfield said...

As a blogger myself, I admit I'm not always the nicest guy in the world. I try to be tolerant of that which at least tries to show some honest effort, even when it falls far short ("An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England" which I'll likely comment on, soon). Still, when confronted with genuine sloth--the writing of Dean Koontz; say, or people who not only reject the challenge represented by writers like Joyce or Nabokov, but get preening and righteous about it("It hurt my widdle head! I broke my foot with my dictionary because of you!") Well, I get a little . . . peeved (I don't like "The Satanic Verses" . . but I didn't take it personally).

Oh, more about novel-writing this week at

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Hey, as a teenager I was reading way past college level. I should have clarified that I wasn't talking about teenagers, just some adults who, as teens, were forced to read novels they couldn't understand at the time and were frustrated.

My apologies to all teens who actually love to read. You are the future!

austexgrl said...

There are a lot of the books that were mentioned..that I too, do not particularly care for...but, I truly respect the authors.And, a lot of time, the writing is good..but to me the story is boring or goes on and on...however I truly do respect the author..their time, effort, what they bring to the table. People just have different taste, Nathan, but that doesn't mean we can't appreciate that a particular book we don't like may truly be great literature. Also, people that "trash" books...really aren't respectful people, and that tells us a lot about them, doesn't it?

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I have been online since 1985, when Windows had not arrived and if I wanted to talk to people on the Internet, I had to get a phone number to call their modem and post on a bulletin board.

Writing online has to be carefully considered, else, with no body language to decipher, words can be misconstrued and a fight can start.

Did you know that everything you write online can be read by the world. Words can come back to bite you.

And, to keep on topic, words can be taken too personally.

Suzan Harden said...


I hope you're not taking yesterday's blog comments personally. The subject got a little (okay, a lot) off-topic. There's big difference between disliking a book and still understanding the author's intent, not understanding the reason other people view the work as a "classic," and having a Homer Simpson moment trying to interpret the book. I took the meaning of your original question as Homer Simpson moments.

Another part of yesterday's discussion is the lack of other styles of human communication, i.e. body language, tone of voice, etc. If the commentors were sitting in a bar or coffee shop, speaking face-to-face, some of the comments would be interpreted in the spirit they were meant. I read a lot of teen angst in the posts, even though that may not have been the intent of the poster, because I have no other reference than the words posted. It was an interesting lesson in word choice.

I have to second Shelley's suggestion concerning which modern books aren't given their due. A much more positive topic. Or even which works influenced us most. No slamming, please. No matter what you think of another person's particular choice.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Great post Suzan.

Suzan Harden said...

Thanks Betty.

And thanks also to Nathan and everyone who posted the last two days. Y'all made me sit down and think about why I love certain "classics." The common theme in my personal choices? A majority of the works were considered commercial crap by their contemporary critics.

It makes me feel better about my own work. ;-D

mlh said...

Tis easier to dis books, authors, and people in general than it is to offer a kind word. Probably the reason why you had so many comments on yesterday's post, and they're still pouring in. The same reason a person guiltily finds enjoyment whenever a famous celebrity hits the bricks and goes into rehab.

It makes a person feel special whenever they vent and gives them an ego boost whenever they find other people who share the same dislike. It justifies their reasoning and makes them say harsh words because they're following the crowd.

I am so glad I didn't go into detail when I mentioned Lord of the Flies. It is just a story I couldn't place on an altar in the backroom, so I didn't have much to add. I don't ever use the word "hate" and could never coin the term toward something I might not personally care for but others love.

What surprises me more is that there wasn't a sparing match of comments between people. I was waiting for someone to take major offense about their beloved book being lambasted and to read, "This comment has been deleted by the blog administrator" when the fighting reached new levels of harshness. But this never happened except when you deleted posts because the author is still alive.

Anonymous said...

I'm a part of a specific internet fandom, and believe me, I see a lot of "eye-gouging" and similar stuff that was expressed in the comments of the last post -and much worse stuff, too. I've always thought anonymity plays a big part in it (you can express yourself much more strongly than face-to-face). Also, I've noticed constructive criticism tends to be much rarer online because many people don't like writing long blatherings (I do, though;-); communication has "crystallised" online: people quickly hit the main points and make them strong to make their opinion clear. Writing constructive criticism is much harder and more time-consuming. And we live in a speeding world.

superwench83 said...

Well, since I said I hated Ethan Frome, I thought I'd chime in here.

First of all, I really don't get why some people in this thread are saying that anyone who expressed strong dislike for a book was just doing so because they wanted "an ego boost." Um, why am I not allowed to very much dislike Ethan Frome? Why does this mean that I'm an egotistical jerk? Even those people who said, "This book totally sucked" never said, "Anyone who likes this is an idiot."

Taste is subjective. Yes, I hated Ethan Frome. I didn't get it. Yes, I do see why some people would like it. The prose was good, the characters well characterized. But really, did every single person who posted a comment yesterday need to write the exact words, "I disliked such and such book, but I can see why other people liked it"? Sorry, but I kind of thought that went without saying.

mlh said...

Superwench, you are more than allowed to voice your opinion. And I don't think people have to follow the crowd and respond with the same words that others speak. I was merely giving my own opinion on what happened yesterday.

I don't think anyone mentioned egotistical jerk, but I might be wrong. As for ego boost, which I did use, I was being objective. Such a word can be used for good connotations as well as bad. Such as when everyone in a book club likes a certain read, it gives a person a sense of belonging that there are like minds in the world -an ego boost that others share the same feelings. It's not always an instant insult. It is just the fact that the post yesterday was of a negative format that I used it in a negative light.

Indu Nair said...


Thank you for starting such an interesting discussion. It is heartening to know that so many others feel the same - Annoyed and offended when their favourite authors are trashed. Reading is an intensely personal activity and tastes varies considerably from one person to another.

I have seen people who said that they found paperback thrillers 'inspiring' and romances 'spiritual' - Though I do not read those genres, I thought that perhaps they saw something in it, that I could not get. (I did read a few thrillers and found them insipid page-turners, and I could not stand more than two pages of a romance book - The writing was too prosaic).

A few years ago I was very annoyed when a pathetic ex-colleague looked at a Virginia Woolf book in my hand, and patronisingly advised me to read 'better' books. When asked what better meant, he rattled off a long list of authors - Of those very thrillers and romances!

Since then, I have stopped listening or taking to heart to any other person's opinion or criticism of a book that I liked. As a reader, what matters to me is simply how much I enjoy a book and how much I am able to relate to it.

Anyone checking out the reviews of in will find all sorts of opinions - Personally I may think that 'Franny and Zooey' is one of the greatest books I have ever read, and there may be others who trash it because they just don't get it. Does it really matter what they think? I loved the book, and will continue to read and return to it, that is all that matters to me.

Sorry about the long comment.

leesmiley said...

Hey, I got a rejection just the other day that read, "This is a piece of trash and I wanted to gouge out my eyes while reading it".

At least the reader was moved--even if it was to suicidal behavior.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
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Ann Victor said...
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Ann Victor said...

Great post & comments. Made interesting reading. Thanks.

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

Hmmm. The school teacher is back, and I'm wondering how many people said they didn't "get" something but are willing to try it again?!!?

I've been reading since I was four years-old, and many things I tried earlier in life are very different now. I encourage anyone who posted about a novel they didn't "get" (or one that made them want to gouge their eyes out) to try it again. It's amazing how perspective, maturity, and life experiences change your views on a piece. Perhaps we should all commit to tackle the beast we just couldn't get through before instead of bashing it.

For me, Faulkner is definitely not a favorite, but I'm pretty certain that it isn't the text or the writing itself that is the problem; it could actually be me, and maybe if I spent more time understanding or even studying it as I just might make more sense, and I might appreciate it more. It's like the person who commented on Gatsby and wondered what there is to "get" with it. Oh my. Read it to enjoy it. Read it and dissect it. Read it again. Look at the symbolism and language. It's all right there, but you just have to be willing to find it and see it. Again, it may not float your boat in the end, but can you appreciate it? Sure. Can you learn from it? Sure.

After all, isn't that why all successful writers advise reading anything and everything ALL the time. It's part of our education as writers, and I think we can only better ourselves by reading through the tough stuff as well as the eye candy. I think it is good for all of us (myself included...must tackle that Faulkner again someday) to branch out and read different styles and genres to broaden our perspective and learn more of this craft.

Arwen said...

I know I'm not the only one who hangs here because I'm hoping to learn the professional writing gig. The most negative reactions, yesterday, were almost as instructional for me as the help in Nathan's posts.

I have a number of different folks I go to for critique, and a number of them are writers. I was shocked by a response from a particularly important and once-encouraging mentor -- I received from him an incredibly strongly worded smack-down that rejected the basic structure and reason for my novel. My characters and plot had pissed him off to the extent that he was deeply angry with me.

Since he's a professional and this is my first attempt into professional fiction, his reaction left me gasping. It looked like a knockout blow in the first week; the delete key became a pretty attractive option. That I didn't hit that key was important to my development - I have taken critique pretty seriously, in this pursuit of real artistic connection, and this reaction was the first time I had to reject a mentor's advice and move on. I'd arrived at a new level of writing, where suddenly I was polarizing my critical audience rather than just reworking and learning the craft.

All of which to say that seeing the hatred of other books is good for me. Maybe hatred - real hatred - is almost as good a sign as love. Once we become craft proficient, our artistic ideas become what people respond to. Nobody's philosophy is universal, so why would their art be?

This is a group of writers and bibliophiles, in the main, and we don't seem to have that much more empathy for books and writers we dislike than other folks. Maybe to be hated with the same passion as someone hates Lord Of The Flies is actually pretty fabulous.

beth said...

I'll be honest; there is an amount of bitterness at times when I write about other books that I don't like. I hated Moby Dick--how can a book about a WHALE be so popular as to be considered a classic, but I'm not published. At least something happens in my book! And how could Faulkner, who is so boring he holds the title of being the author of the only book that I actually ruined pages of with drool when I fell asleep on it, be considered a genius with a plot that is alternatively so obscure as to be indecipherable and so blatantly obvious as to be an insult? At least my book makes sense! I can say that, for me at least, my strong emotion is tied with my bitterness, and a true feeling of wonder that people can like Author X over me.

mlh said...

When I looked back on some of the comments in yesterday's post, I can honestly say that I've never had a teacher force a book on me in highchool. Scary.

My 12th-grade teacher passed out scripts of books to keep her students interested in literature.

My 11th-grade teacher made us watch movies based on books and tested her students this way.

My 10th-grade teacher yelled at all his students whenever someone forgot to pass in an assignment. He ranted over how we would never amount to anything and how we would be the downfall of western civilization when we turned into adults. Halfway through the school year he left for sabbatical and never returned to teaching.

Julia Weston said...

Someone hated THE GREAT GATSBY?? Oh,nooooooo.

I think the strong reactions might have something to do with art and interpretation. Art is meant to evoke emotion, so maybe the fact that a given piece can cause a virtual shouting match isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Then there's the "don't get it" factor. Take visual art. Unless it's ridiculously easy to interpret, I usually just don't get it. That fires me up, and I'll think "this piece is stupid." But just because I don't get it doesn't mean it stinks.

And I'm thinking F. Scott Fitzgerald probably doesn't stink. No judgement, though. I may get Fitzgerald, but my eyes cross when I read Hemingway.

My two bits.

Ulysses said...

I think it all boils down to readers (and writers) identifying with a work. If someone insults the work, or fails to agree with your high opinion of it, it's as though they insulted you.

Everyone says writers have to have thick skins. I just figure you've got to be able to separate yourself from what you write.

Ulysses said...

On the other hand, the rise of (and popularity of) the "Simon Cowell" school of criticism in western media tends to lead people to believe that valid criticism can only be presented by being rude.

I see this kind of thing in conservative commentators, in movie and book reviews (not as much) and certainly in conversation. On the web, it's become (has always been?) the modus operandus because the mask of anonymity prevents many from taking responsibility for their comments. The line between logical, valid criticism and emotional venting is growing so thin that the latter is often mistaken for the former.

Of course, coming from an entity that posts anonymously, these comments may seem, well, hypocritical.

Anonymous said...

"I see this kind of thing in conservative commentators"

Oh, really? Try posting a dissenting opinion on a liberal blog and see how far you get. Your comment will most likely be erased in no time, and the moderator will bar the door to make sure the debate is stopped in its tracks.

Right, JD?

Ryan Field said...

I was buying a pasta maker a month ago on Amazon. It had to be red, and there was only one style. There were eight good reviews, and one awful, bitter one. It wasn't hard to read between the lines to see that the person who wrote the bad review was an amateur in the kitchen. I bought the pasta maker and it's fine.

I think this example could be applied to the people who write these bad reviews about books, on Amazon or anywhere else. In order to write a fair book review (good or bad), you have to know what you're doing first.

Scott said...

"This is a group of writers and bibliophiles, in the main, and we don't seem to have that much more empathy for books and writers we dislike than other folks."

That's because we're writers and bibliophiles.

We don't read like other people. Books are more than mere entertainment to most of us. I mean, we do read for entertainment, but we read differently, and we tend to react more intensely to books, whether we like them or we don't.

Just_Me said...

Reading preferences are very much like food preferences, not everyone likes sushi, not everyone will eat steamed squash, not everyone drinks milk or alcohol. We all have things we like and things we refuse to touch on the dinner table. It carries over to reading preferenes. I don't want to read a sob story, I don't want a predictable heroine, and I think it has to do with why I read.

My running theory is that a persons reading taste is a reflection of their motivation for reading. Someone who's looking to pass an exam on 13th century literature is not going to be reading Confessions of a Shopaholic, they'll read 13th century manuscripts. Someone looking for a good cry might pick up some weepy book (I don't read those so I don't know a title). I read as a form of escapisim so I pick up action and adventure books that don't resemble my day-to-day life. Another person who wants solidarity might want to read about people just like them (war stories come to mind) so they know they aren't alone.

With that in mind I don't get angry when a person says they don't like reading Terry Pratchett. I look at what a person prefers to read as an indicator of their personality, Pratchett isn't their thing but they love C.S. Lewis, that would say a lot about religious views wouldn't it? But weo betide the person who says they hate reading, it dries up all my usual conversational gambits and I'm left to stare at them in disbelief, and then offer them a chance to redeem themselves by touring my bookshelf. : )

Adaora A. said...

@wanda - Well now. I'll never say another person isn't entitled to their own opinion. Um, I'll keep mum on that take of SCARLETT!

I can't get over people actually feeling hate for a book. There are worse things in the world then hate. Just take a look at the news (what's focused on, what isn't focused on), the state in which people live, the way people are treated....

Honestly. It's silly when you think about it.

Taylor K. said...

Well, in the spirit of trying to not take it so personally, I will recant and say that, upon further review of my own thoughts, I don't actually believe LORD OF THE FLIES is awful. I didn't like it, but I can see its value to others. Aside from that, part of my personal dislike comes from an English teacher who gave me a bad grade on an exam for talking about the symbolism in LORD OF THE FLIES that she didn't think existed. Oy.

Though I can't explain why opinions of books is taken so personally. I admit I'm even hurt when I see someone say COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, my all time favorite book, is terrible. Can I explain why this is when someone bashing GLADIATOR, an equally amazing movie, is okay with me? No. Maybe it has to do with how much more time someone spends reading a book, but I don't know.

It's cool that your brought it up, Nathan. It's definitely worth thinking about.

WitLiz Today said...

I read all these comments. I found nothing to grow a wart over. Strong opinions are like a box of crackerjacks with a hidden prize in it. Sometimes I like the prize, other times I don’t. But then, I just toss it. I don’t stomp on it, or otherwise mutilate it.

It’s a truism that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. (or vice versa in this case) It’s also a given that we're not all going to get along. But that can be a good thing. How else do we learn from each other? I mean, if we were all perfect, then we’d be like Stepford writers. I don’t know about you, but that image sends shivers up my ass.

So, I try to remember these things when someone goes all Sarah Bernhardt on me and tells me they absolutely hate this or that … or they hate me o myo.

And I'm pretty darn tootin' sure there'll always be someone standing by ready to run a train over my feelings. And most likely I'm gonna react badly and end up switching their tracks. Then, I'll wind up apologizing and try to learn from it.

(Or course, THEN I run out and buy me a Baltimore Orioles baseball bat. For the next time I have to apologize.

Some people never learn)

Eric said...

Not only is J.D. still alive, he lives just up the road (well, fifty-ish miles up the road) from me in Cornish, NH. Never been to see him, though. I imagine he wouldn't like it.

I think people react so strongly to personal opinion because most people think there is a very strong (nigh perfect) correlation between what is very good and what people like--much like many people believe there is a strong correlation between what is "good" in a literary sense and what will sell on the market. When that idea is called into question, people react with incredulity that often borders on Hulk-type rage.

Tammie said...

It is an investment, sometimes of money but mostly an investment of ones time so it's gonna get personal.

Were some over the top?


Mine got deleted because yes, I was not aware that Salinger was still alive or not which I stated in my post and as I think back to what I wrote, would someone have thought it over the top? I would hope not but if you loved the book I was referring to - you might have. But I didn't do an "poo slinging"

I do disagree with some earlier posts that said if we were in a reading group face to face folks might go easier - less rage filled - I'm not so sure.

Reading is an investment that folks don't take lightly and some folks are just over the top with everything they do.

Anonymous said...

I have friends who told me they took their college degrees in Literature because they loved books so much.
But at the end of college, they hated Literature, professed that dissecting it endlessly ruined them for life.

I think it is possible that many who teach English do not know how to discuss or understand so many works. Finding a great teacher is
an unforgettable good fortune.

Our daughter was taught to give a rating on books: I liked it because it had a zippy plot and give it 4 stars...

Dear, oh dear...

Erik said...

Books get into your head. Their words become a part of your thoughts.

We live in a world that lionizes individuality, so things that are in our head are more than just social buzz but are somehow who we are. Diss them, and you diss the person.

Naturally, we need to be careful what we allow into our head when we have this kind of social construct.

The alternative is a more urbane approach where none of us celebrate our own supposed "uniqueness" and understand that we are a synthesis of what we've managed to absorb over the years we've been around. That would make those things less "who we are" and more "what made us".

It's the statement of "being" that always makes things personal.

I like to leave that alone. As much as I love Hesse, Vonnegut, Marquez, and so on, they aren't exactly *me*. I have my own stories, and when they've been stolen I have reason to take offense. I don't get upset when someone disses Vonnegut, however. He was a great guy, but now that he's an immortal he can stand on his own and take it all.

Adaora A. said...

Quite off topic but I'll ask anyways:

Nathan do you agree with the theory that books which become huge bestsellers are the books people buy just to have on the shelf? By that I mean the books which grace the shell for full viewing to up the 'look at how much of a mature reader I am.' I read this theory at PW or some other similar site. Wanted your opinion.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
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Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
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Anonymous said...

I'm the PhD who hated Tess.

My theory: if you reject their favorite book, you're rejecting them.

A friend was somewhat amazed when I admitted to her that I'd tried to read a couple of Shirley Jackson novels that she loved passionately, but couldn't get into them - she wasn't amazed that I didn't like them but that I actually told her. I guess other people were too scared to do so. (NB my friend is not that scary.)

Julia said...

I'm sure the person who proudly informed us all that Shakespeare's tragedies were "just ok" is feeling very smug about that. There's a certain kind of childish iconoclasm that many people can't move past (I'm sure I do it myself at my advanced age sometimes!)

There are books lots of people like, enjoy, and praise that I find sloppily written and/or poorly researched and/or dishonest. I try to be clear about what I don't like rather than just carry on.

But sometimes it can be fun to carry on in the 'I WANTED TO PEEL MY SKIN SLOWLY FROM MY BONES AND USE IT TO STRANGLE MYSELF' vein. To me, as long as people don't confuse that with actual discussion, it can be amusing.

Zen of Writing said...

I think that the world's remaining readers are so beleaguered, and beset by other things competing for our time that a book we perceive as not worth the time is more of an insult than it used to be. We have better things to do than read a bad book, damnit. People used to be more appreciative of books, didn't we? Also, if I read a new book than has been over-hyped and I don't like it, that *really* pisses me off. Being lied to adds insult to injury -- bad enough to waste the time on my own initiative, but if I waste time because some critic who is a friend of the author's tells me to, I really see red.

But that's just me. Or maybe not.

Mark Terry said...

After I entered "Catcher in the Rye" I thought: I wonder if Salinger's still alive.

And I see from today's post that he is.

Although I have to ask: how can you tell?

Adaora A. said...

@mark terry- When in doubt, google. (Stole our hosts words and replaced 'query' with 'google' obviously).

wortschmiedin said...

I don't think it is just the internet.

People in general are surprisingly tactless. I understand that some things (books, movies, celebrities even O.o) generate strong emotions but IMO additionally it seems to become a manner of identifying yourself within a certain community.

And then, there is the myth of the so called 'publishable quality'. It implies that there are in fact some books that are badly written (I actually agree that there are, but a surprising amount of them is published ;)) and that there is some sort of justified standards to qualify a book one way or the other. Personal taste has become subject to judgement that way.

If you love a book, if you were deeply touched, then, somebody saying that it not only didn't do it for them, but that is was horrible and then, going on to identify all the plotholes and continuity problems, actually does suggest the underlying statement: Only a moron could like this book.

But the fact of the matter is: we don't read books in a vacuum and some surprisingly weakly written books are bestsellers. Because they touch something in you. And yes, it may require something different to touch a jaded 40 years old writer than to touch a teenager in love with love. Actually, it would be extreemly surprising if it wasn't that way. So, I frankly admit that I loved some books that I cannot bear to read now that I have learned so much about writing, because some of them are very poor in quality. However, I still cherish the thoughts they raised in my mind.

I have always read in a great variety of genres. Regardless of their skills regarding story telling and prose, I was as impressed with Sharon Shin or Nora Roberts as I was with Emile Zolá.

My way to defining what I want to be as a person was shaped by Simone de Beauvoir and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

So, I am not that easily offended, and I know even though you could prove to the person saying the offensive stuff that objectively she has just insulted you personally, it usually isn't meant that way.

We are in the business of story telling and we have invited the idea that conflict is a virtue. Not everbody can accept that fiction and fact need a different sort of telling.

Maybe, we should go back to being in love with love rather than being in love with a good conflict. At least off the pages.
(Having said so I will n ow return to torturing my MC's with a final ugly conflict before they get their loving ;))

Yours truly
P.S. Nice Blog, btw

J.P. Martin said...

Somebody just told me this quote by Kurt Vonnegut. I think it applies to this blog post:

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.

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