I just read five reviews of the same book.1 One praised the sharpness of the dialogue.2 Another said it was sloppy and the dialogue disconnected. One said it was the best book of its kind published this year. And another hoped that this was the limit to how low the genre could descend. The fifth neither loved nor hated it.
I was given an ARC of this particular book. I stopped reading after the first four pages because I found it cliched, derivative and boring. In particular, it’s a very mediocre pastiche of a writer I happen to love. That’s another reason I stopped reading and re-read a book by that author instead.
The book is now on one of the New York Times bestseller lists. I won’t tell you which, except to say it’s a list I’ll never be on. (Not that I fancy my chances getting on any of the lists I’m eligible for. Not writing tickets. Honest!)
This left me wondering (yet again) how very differently we all read. We can pick up the exact same book and find entirely different things in it. So much is shaped by what you’ve already read. Like my dislke of the book being fed by its marked similarities to the much better writer. I raised that point with someone I know who loves the book in question and they said they thought it was better than the original writer. To which I could only splutter, “Are you barking mad?!”
I have never met anyone I agree with about everything. Scott and I come pretty close. But he thinks American Beauty is a good movie. And does not love Elvis the way I do or, actually, in any kind of way. I guess it would be dull if we agreed about everything.
And yet I am still shocked every time someone (whose opinion I respect) hates something I love. Or loves something I hate.
And when I hate something that everyone else seems to love—like a certain Printz honour book from a few years back—it feel strange and uncomfortable.
You’d think that reading all the reviews of my own books (which range from over-the-top praise through to appalled condemnation of their awfulness, paper-thin characters and condescending language) would have finally hammered home how variable and contradictory people’s responses are.
Intellectually I get it; emotionally I don’t. I’m starting to wonder if I ever will.
People, why can’t you all just think like me?