When it comes to choosing a book, the old saying that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” can surely be applied. While bestseller lists and the “must reads” of the moment might give an indication as to how publishing companies and booksellers are measuring the success of book sales, it is not really a fool-proof way of showing what rocks everyone’s boat in regards to what we really enjoy reading. A good review may prompt you to start reading a particular book, but there is no review in the world that will sustain the reader’s interest over several hundred pages of a book that just doesn’t “speak to you” – and what speaks to readers is about as individual as the stripes on zebras’ backs. Yet there might be various reasons why that smash-hit novel fresh of “Oprah’s book list” and which all your friends are raving about simply doesn’t do it for you:
- “He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire”: On characterisation
Let’s face it, a good book is one where we are interested in the characters, where we feel some kind of affinity – where at best we recognise a part of ourselves and our concerns in a character, or at least have an interest in their fate. For writers, characterisation is one of those crucial elements to get right, but sometimes, regardless of the writer’s skill, it is just like in real life, where you might instantly hit it off with some people you meet, and then there are other times when (often for no apparent reason) you struggle to find much in common with a person – just so, characters in books can also leave us cold and preferring to do without their company.
- “There is a time for everything under the sun”: timing and personal context
If you’ve ever had that experience where you read a book years ago and thought it was THE most amazing thing, just to return to it at a later date to wonder whether this is in fact the same book you had marvelled at all those years ago, then you will know exactly what I mean when I talk about how timing can be crucial to your enjoyment of a book. Just as our personal story changes and evolves, so the impact of a fictional story changes with our time. What seemed like a literary (and personal) revelation once upon a time might now seem silly or irrelevant, and the books you may have started and discarded could now be the ones who draw you in – so when you pick up a book and it doesn’t feel quite right, it might just be that the timing is off, and that this is the time where your personal circumstances, your past experience and your future expectations all conspire to lead you to need to read a different story.
- “(S)he’s just not that into you”: The bottom line
And then there are also the times where there is no obvious reason why we are not gelling with a book, times where we need to be ok to admit that we are potentially one of the two people on the planet that hate Harry Potter, or one of the few who admit to reading the stories that are not loved by the critics, not bestowed with accolades, stories that will never be nominated for a Nobel prize in literature, and which we love nevertheless (or because of that). It’s ok to say that “I’m just not that into you”, and to liberate yourself from expectations that you “should” like certain books, genre, or authors.
So, next time you pick up a book, which despite your best effort doesn’t take you to that place where you forget time as you are reading, that place that you want to keep returning to no matter what, then please give yourself permission to put that book down. Give yourself permission to find the one that will do all those things for you –– because life is too short for bad books.