Oooh, I Loved That Book! (Except for These 25 Things…)

Yesterday I gave a 5-star rating to a book (Breathe, Annie, Breathe, by Miranda Kenneally – so that you don’t think I’m going to keep it a secret) and if you are interested in what that means in terms of how good that is, you can check out my post, Five Stars, that partially addresses this.

I don’t give just any book that I enjoyed a full 5 stars even though I truly enjoy most books that I read. As I wrote the review, I thought about one aspect that I didn’t like very much, but refrained from actually including it in the review. I realized it just wasn’t important enough to worry about telling the whole world, you know? I’m not afraid to give honest critiques and when reading other reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever, I like to look at 3-star reviews because I feel like I’ll get the best balance of whether or not a book will appeal to me (unless the 5-star or 1-star comes from a reader that I know well and understand his/her reading interests). But in this case, I paused and decided to respect that pause.

What got me pausing in the first place was listening to myself talk books with a group of great readers a few days ago. I LOVE talking books (obviously) and it was all great until I realized that for each book I talked about, I had criticisms. “Oh yeah, I read that and I liked it, but….”

Really? That’s who I had become?

To be sort of fair, in some of those cases, books came up where I do have very mixed feelings, but I also felt that I was being judgy rather than simply analytical.

A couple of people recently asked if I read differently now that I have written novels (even if they aren’t published yet… keep up those good thoughts!) – do I read with a more critical eye?

It would be disingenuous to say I don’t. I absolutely do notice things differently now as I read a book. Are the characters realistic? Does the plot make sense? Does everything flow? How does it compare to what I think a good novel should be? And, sometimes, admittedly but not proudly: how does it compare to what I’ve written or how I would have written it?

I don’t think this is a bad thing (except for the last bit, especially if I compare negatively – that’s a bit pompous) except for when I confuse book talk with others who are primarily readers rather than writers. Sure, there are genuine criticisms that apply to our reading. I always think it’s fair to discuss when a story or character elicits a strong emotional response (ie: one book we discussed I said I just couldn’t read past a certain scene, which was based upon my own personal issues) or if something really takes me out of a story.

However, is it really necessary for me to focus too much on style? On structure? On smaller details in general in a general book conversation?

Does it ruin it for others?

These were the questions I considered before writing my latest book review. I realized that the small bits that I didn’t like were details that most readers might notice or be bothered by (and really, there was very little, so it wasn’t a hard omission – haha), so there was no need to include those parts.

What do you think? Would I annoy you with all my over-analyses? When you talk books with someone, do you prefer to stick with those who felt the same way about the book, or do you welcome the differing opinions?

The song I first thought about was the “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” simply because of the nitpicky idea behind this post and the list of reasons. Even better, then, is Train’s version, “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” because I think the lyrics are such a funny variation of this song. I love it for that and for the brass:

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10 Responses to Oooh, I Loved That Book! (Except for These 25 Things…)

  1. tantemary says:

    Janet, I loved this post so much I fired up the laptop to ensure I could write you a more coherent response! Great video … I smiled and chuckled all the way through it because I can practically sing all the lyrics to S&G’s song; I’m aging myself, I’m sure 🙂

    As a member of some of those discussions, I wanted to share an alternate perspective. You were with fellow writers, fellow story tellers, which I think gives you license to discuss what works and what does not … I never felt anyone was being judgmental. As a reader involved in these conversations, I greatly value(d) the insights you and others provided from a perspective I would not otherwise always see. It was like going back to my favorite lit classes in high school and college with my favorite professors; I love the analysis (which is likely why we all love BT, I think.) I learn in this process and become a better reader. Yet in no way does it diminish my enjoyment of reading, even if we don’t agree. I learn to articulate why a work moves or does not and can make future selections for reading material based on that self knowledge.

    On our drive home we began reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” aloud in the car. When we got back I asked S if I could borrow her copy to continue reading until she left the next morning as I was so caught up in the story; fortunately she just gave it to me so I didn’t have to hunt mine down! I mention this because I am much more appreciative of the great skill with which Harper Lee wrote this book as a result of our having had these varied discussions about books. (We might have to start a book group, BTW!)

    I think I just won the “longest comment” award. I’ll stop now 🙂 Thank you!
    m

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    • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

      Probably the key, then, is being conscious of how much someone likes a book in determining how much analysis, though. ie: just because I didn’t like certain parts doesn’t mean it’s not okay for someone else to have liked those parts or the book as a whole. I love to explore the many parts of a story and it’s execution, but I hope to never do so in such a way that someone feels bad for liking a book I didn’t. It’s hard to find a story where I can’t appreciate the appeal it has for any given reader.

      I can be a blowhard know-it-all, so I try to be cognizant of how I express my opinions. 😀

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  2. Jen (@JSQ79) says:

    Well, I fall into the “primarily a reader, not a writer” category, and I go back and forth on whether or not I love discussing books with others. I think I do. I mean, books are one of my favorite things in the world, and of course I like to talk about them. But. My relationship to the books I read is really personal. All of the stuff about structure and style just doesn’t matter to me if I connected with the characters or the plot really pulled me in. I’m reading a mystery series right now that has some problematic structural issues, but it just doesn’t matter to me, because I love how I get transplanted to a different place populated with people I love whenever I read it. For that reason, I have a difficult time writing Goodreads reviews and often don’t. As for discussing books with others…well, I find that’s easier for me to do when I didn’t love the book. I hated it? I’d be happy to tell you why. I thought it was just okay? Sure, let’s dissect it. I adored it? Maybe I’ll just keep that to myself because I don’t want anyone to take that from me or to make me defend something I love.

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    • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

      So maybe a book club would never be for you. Have you ever been a part of one?

      I understand the personal aspect. I think for me the worry of having to “defend” something you love is totally valid. When I tell you that I love Jennifer Crusie novels and maybe you won’t end up loving them (or someone else doesn’t, whomever…) like I do, I can feel vulnerable, like maybe I am foolish for that joy. Or maybe someone (anyone, really…) loves the Game of Thrones series and I don’t. What I have tried to do (not necessarily successfully) and continue to try to do is validate someone else’s joy and also share what I do like about it.

      It is definitely a lot of fun to be on the same side of something though, that’s for sure.

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      • Jen (@JSQ79) says:

        I have been in a book club, but mostly we just ate and talked about things other than the novel. Ha. If I were going to be in a book club, I think I’d prefer to be in one with strangers.

        Yes, I think there is vulnerability in admitting you love something when someone else might hate it. I think it’s also easy to feel like someone who trashes something you love is also saying, “I’m smarter than you. I see something you don’t. My taste is superior to yours.” Sometimes that’s just silly, but sometimes it’s real (I know I’ve been pretty hard on the 50 Shades People, and I don’t get the love for all those In Death novels). So, I can be cautious about starting conversations about books. However, if someone asked my opinion, well, they asked for it.

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      • Jen (@JSQ79) says:

        Oh, and fabulous post. I may not want to discuss the books I love most, but I do want to talk about why I don’t want to talk about it. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Janet! I LOVE discussing books with anyone who will listen (and sometimes with people who won’t, if I can get a captive audience. LOL). The problem I’ve had in the past with book groups is that there are as many different kinds of books as there are readers. One group I was in tended to pick genre novels, which I didn’t feel had enough depth to warrant a discussion (other than, wasn’t that a great plot twist?) Another leaned toward books with spiritual themes or elements, which left me with nothing to contribute to the discussion, as that topic is just not my thing. And when it was my turn to suggest a book, I really enjoyed my own pick, but everyone else hated it so we had nothing to talk about. Perhaps the key is to find myself a book group full of writers! I may have to go online for that though. Hm….

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    • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

      When you had the book that everyone else hated, did they at least share all the reasons why they hated it? And if so, was it painful? Or maybe it wasn’t a book you loved, which can certainly make a difference, as Jen, above, points out.

      I think I would have been interested to have the discussion – and perhaps debate – about what made everyone else in my group hate a book I liked. I think I’ve finally come around to being okay with hearing that kind of thing. I remember reading a tweet awhile back about someone (it might have been a friend of mine, in fact, but I can’t quite remember) talking about not really liking the author angle in The Fault in Our Stars and though I really love that book, I thought, yeah, I can see that. Plus the oddity of the Anne Frank museum scene. And yet, I still love the book. Maybe it has taken the skin-thickening of agent rejections to realize that I can hear criticisms about books I adore. Haha.

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      • It wasn’t really painful. The book was Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. So it was memoir-ish, definitely sad (it was the year after her husband died suddenly) and it was also, well, literary. Some didn’t really like the writing, others thought it was too depressing, still others didn’t like that there was :no plot”. The book I didn’t like was The Shack. So while I understand the things they didn’t like about my pick, I think it told me more about the differences in our reading preferences, and I figured we’d never find common ground. Lol I didn’t take it personally, it was just sad because I like the women as friends/neighbors. I just wish I had more people to talk with about the books I like to read. And I feel the same way you do about The Fault in Our Stars! 🙂

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