Jan 31, 2010

The Sunday Salon - The other side of loving books

The Sunday Salon.com

I've had people ask me in the past if I ever review books I didn't like, and the answer is yes, yes I do. I review 98% of what I read (when I skip a book, it's usually due to lack of time), and I don't like everything. But it's true that these negative reviews are largely outnumbered by ones of books I did like, simply because as someone who reads for pleasure and has limited time in which to do so, I naturally gravitate towards literature I'm likely to enjoy - and over the years I've come to know my own reading taste well enough that the hits are far more common than the misses.

While I usually agree with bloggers who write about the importance of negative reviews, I also sympathise with those who prefer to write about books they liked. Personally I also find it a lot more enjoyable to write enthusiastic reviews than negative ones. Also, as C.B. James' recently reminded us, the paranoidly-inclined among us have another thing to worry about: how do we express our dislike for a book without hurting the feelings of those who love it? I don't worry much about authors - not because I'm not aware that they're people too, but because I think coping with bad reviews is a professional skill most acquire early on. But I do worry about other readers. Possibly you're thinking that we should all just grow thicker skins, and if so, you have a point. But as several commenters pointed out over at C.B. James' blog, the conversational and personal nature of blogging lends itself to these concerns. We tend to feel personally invested in the books we love, as well as in the recommendations we make.

Like in any social group, in a community of readers there are interpersonal relationships to be considered. It's only human to worry about whether someone who rejects a book that speaks to us so personally is also rejecting a part of us. (Not necessarily, I don't think. Among other things, there's the fact that most of us tend to be much harsher to ideas or situations when we're exposed to them on the pages of a book than we'd ever be to a real human being. Especially someone we already know.) But anyway, I think that being both honest and not hurtful is perfectly possible, and I don't see why it shouldn't be done. Tact and kindness are everything, and using the right tone can even let you get away with being extremely sarcastic about a book without making readers who disagree with you feel stupid - and I can think of a few bloggers who excel at this.

My question for you today is: which books did you hate with the same kind of intensity usually reserved for your very favourites? Because we're all so passionate about literature, strong negative reactions are bond to happen sometimes. Were any of them recommended by a fellow blogger or book club member, or by a personal friend? If so, did you immediately tell them how you felt, or did you feel tempted to run and hide in the book-hatred closet?

Hate is a strong word, I know, and even books I have a problem with usually have enough going for them that I hesitate to use it. But the following is a list of cases in which I'm willing to make an exception. They're the champions, the worst of the worst - some of my all-time least favourite books. I apologise in advance to any fans. Rest assured that I'd never think any less of you for loving them.

Books I hate

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton - I just passionately disliked Morton's writing style, to the point that I surprised myself. I reviewed this not too long ago, so I won't repeat what I said then. Apologies to the fans!

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe - This was probably the only time I actually physically flung a book away from me in disgust, and definitely the only time I actively rooted for a character to commit suicide. And yes, I'm properly ashamed of myself for how incredibly mean and insensitive that sounds, but I have to be honest, right? I think I possibly approached this book from the wrong angle - I was told it was very passionate and moving, and so I expected to be moved. Instead I spent the whole book laughing at how ridiculous and overdramatic the whole thing was, as well as at the over the top prose - but then again, what did I expect from a Romantic classic? If I had been in the right kind of mood for unintentionally hilarious Romantic excesses, I might have enjoyed it a lot more.

Eurico, O PresbĂ­tero by Alexandre Herculano - This is a Portuguese Romantic classic - a pseudo-medieval novel in the vein of Walter Scott - and much of what I said about Werther goes for this as well. I read them both in my late teens, and it's possible that I just took things too seriously back then. I suspect that this, too, is a book I'd have felt differently about had I approached it with humour, kind of like I did with The Phantom of the Opera recently, or The Castle of Otranto last year. But at the same time, my reaction to both was negative enough that I hesitate to ever try them again.

Brida,The Devil and Mrs Prymm, The Pilgramage, and whatever else I've read by Paulo Coelho (there were four of them, I think): Paulo Coelho is hugely popular, I know, but he's also by far my all-time least favourite author. It actually saddens me that his is the name most widely associated with contemporary Brazilian literature, because it has SO much more to offer. Anyway. I know many people find his work inspirational, and to which their own, but my problem with him is that his plots always strike me as completely hollow; his characters as mere puppets - they are nothing but vehicles for The Message. He's a a self-help author (nothing at all against self-help; it's just usually not for me) posing as a fiction author, and I think that's where my intense dislike for his books come from.

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach - The way I felt about this book was pretty much the same as the way I feel about Paulo Coelho. Sorry!

The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin - Too conceptual for me, I'm afraid. Probably I missed something, but the book actually irritated me, which doesn't happen often at all.

Blood Canticle by Anne Rice - This one is difficult to write about, because it's by an author I like (she was my favourite when I was in my early teens) and about characters I love(d). But that's probably the very reason why I hated it so much. As a fan of the series (of two series, actually, because this book merges her Vampire Chronicles and her Mayfair Witches series), I had developed my own vision of the characters. And yes, the writer has the right to betray that vision, but fans also have the right to be disappointed when characters they've loved for years suddenly begin to act in ways they hate. I'm not alone here, I know - this book caused an infamous breach of the first rule of Public Relations for Writers 101 on Anne Rice's part, when she started arguing with reviewers on Amazon. Thinking about this actually saddens me, so I'll stop now. Kthxbai.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis - Ah, Narnia. How I wish I loved you. But I came to you too late, and can't leave my biases behind when I enter you, though I truly wish I could. This is my least favourite of the Narnia books (though I stopped before The Last Battle). I remember a moment in the creation scene, when Aslan tells the humans present that they own the rest of Nature, which horrified me. (It also troubles me to consider that in Narnia other animals are sentient species too, yet they always regard humans with servitude - why?) The reason why it horrified me is that I tend to associate that sense of superiority/entitlement towards Nature with much of the trouble the world's in nowadays. And yes, this is a purely ideological disconnect of the kind I discussed last week. It's one beyond which can't see, which is my own failing, I know. But sadly I just can't help it.

Feel free to post your own list - I'd love to see it, even if it's made entirely of books I love.


  1. This is a really interesting post. In terms of reviews, I always feel that negative reviews are important... but realistically, I have a full-time job and these days, if I'm intensely disliking a book I probably won't finish it. So, a negative review will only crop up if I could tolerate the book enough to finish it.

    In terms of books I didn't like, my top pick is Gone by Michael Grant. I've barely read any negative reviews of it, and I know a lot of people who adored it, but the sum of the parts didn't gel together for me on that one. But since it's so popular, I didn't have any qualms at all about being frank about it.

  2. Agree entirely that it's so often the feelings of the other readers that lead you to hold your tongue. It's been quite a relief at times that I'm a horrifically unreliable and infrequent bookblogger, as work quite often requires me to pick things up that I know beforehand will be a challenge to like. The worst ones though are those that I know others adored, particularly other book bloggers.

    Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. Oh, the passion with which I hate this book! And I feel awful for it because I know that it's some people's favourite. I adore Austen, but for some reason, I hated this so much that I couldn't finish it (I'm tempted to say that this disqualifies me from expressing an opinion actually - what do you think? Are you legitimately allowed to hate books you didn't finish?) and I must confess to throwing it in the canal when I was a boat dweller.

    The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. I made it through this one, but barely. Found the prose turgid and the story wracked with elements that I couldn't stand.

    And my final, most guilty admission. Anything by Terry Pratchett. Even Nation. I can't even read Good Omens anymore, because as I've read more and more of Gaiman's work, I am now under the illusion that I can identify which parts of the story are his and which are Pratchett's. I'm probably wrong, but it drives me nuts.

    I now feel the need to apologise profusely to everyone. I'm sorry.
    Interesting post! So looking forward to reading the comments!

  3. Lauren, exactly! With limited reading time, I'm much less inclined to keep reading books that just aren't for me. I also feel less bad if a book is really popular - I figure that all the enthusiastic readers will find comfort in each other :P

    Stormfilled: Nation! *faints dramatically with hand over heart*.

    Well, I asked for it, did I not? :P

    *wipes tears*

    You're forgiven :P

  4. 'How do we express our dislike for a book without hurting the feelings of those who love it?'.

    Ana, you hit the nail on the head right here. I hate to upset people and I am in a real dilemma about posting my J.D. Salinger post this week. I have rewritten it at least three times and hope that everyone will realise it is my personal opinion and stance on life that made me not enjoy it.

  5. I barely even blog about books I LIKE nowadays, so I really don't bother with books that I didn't, assuming I finished reading it. (I don't know if I'm even a book blogger still, since I don't blog about books as much now)

    As for Anne Rice, I thought of reading "Blood Canticle" as I loved the Vampire Chronicles when I was younger (never read the Mayfair books, though), but online reviews made me wonder if I shouldn't.

  6. Most of my hated books are the usual suspects, like the Da Vinci Code. And I read very few books these days that I loathe because, like you, I'm pretty good at figuring out what I'll like before I read it, and even the disappointments have something going for them. The books that I get most passionate about in my dislike, though, are ones that are wildly popular for reasons that escape me.

    Two that come immediately to mind here are the trashy novels made up to look literary: Pillars of the Earth and Outlander. I tend to not read this sort of thing, but the packaging led me astray.

    And I know this will break your heart, but alas, I feel the same way about Philip Pullman that you do about CS Lewis. I loved the first couple of His Dark Materials books, but in the last one, he was being so blatant about his ideology that I couldn't ignore it. I actually did fling the book across the room at one point because it frustrated me so much.

  7. How many time can I type in Pillars of the Earth? And just recently, a few of us did a shared read of Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, and I had the same reaction. And now that I start thinking about it, my "no love" section of books does tend to fall within a certain category of the genre of historical fiction. To echo your own words here, no offense to those that love historical fiction but it just does not get it done for me.

    On another note, I do not have a problem with negative reviews but I also pick what I will read with some care. Book club selections are often my downfall because those are sometimes chosen for me. Some big dislikes in that category? Julie Powell's most recent Cleaving and Water for Elephants.

    And finally, I actually do not post on a lot of what I read because I do not think that it fits the audience that reads my blog as a whole. For work, I read hundreds of children's books a year. Those belong on a separate blog. I also read a lot of poetry, and the posts that I have written about that usually draw the blogging equivalent of a blank stare.

    Thought provoking post. Bet you will have a large conversation over this one. Cathartic! I feel better just listing off some of those unloved books.

  8. I see I have come just in time, 'The Magicians Nephew' is actually my favourite Narnia book and now I must explain just how wrong on the internet you are ;)

    Last year there were 2 books I really disliked, but because I was new to blogging and I really seethed about the first one I wrote a more general post about books that waste your time, but now I feel totally happy ripping apart books whose views annoy me, less so when my issue is the writing and I can see that the author has tried to write a wonderful idea, but their style hasn't quite caught up with their ideas.

    I do struggle with negative reviews of things other people have suggested (which is why my review of 'Lonely Werewolf Girl' did not emerge btw, I didn't hate it but I did get quite bored whenever it went back to the villians in the castle). I think I'm getting into my stride now, realising that everyone I read and who reads my blog are grown upswho everyday are having conversations about why real life friends don't like their most cherished books and bands and then going off and having years of happy friendship with those people.

  9. The whole world seems to love Jane Austen and I totally dislike her novels. And I say it too! Same goes out for many contemporary authors.

    Here is my Sunday Salon post!

  10. Luckily, most of the books I end up disliking are...popularly unloved or have, fortunately, not been read by many of my fellow book bloggers. The one that sticks in my mind is that Aberrations that was being reviewed by everyone and their cousin a couple of years ago. Every review I read of it was glowing, yet when I sat down to read it, I found the writing barely tolerable. I finished it, in hopes that some of the great qualities sung by the blogosphere would appear, and was, for the most part disappointed. I ended up writing a very apologetic but also pretty negative review, which didn't seem to offend anyone, and let it go at that.

    I think that the weirdest thing about this scenario that you're describing, for me, is that when I adamantly dislike a book that everyone else likes, I usually end up thinking something is wrong with me or that I somehow read the book in a way that I missed its great qualities, rather than just thinking, "hey, the things that you love aren't and don't have to be the things that I love." The feeling is, perhaps, totally misguided, but then I think it helps me write negative reviews of those same books that aren't so hurtful because I sort of end up publicly blaming myself for not liking a well-liked book. If, indeed, that makes any sense at all.

    I also have to second Teresa on that last His Dark Materials book. I loved the first two and raced through them with only minor ideological qualms, but likewise, the third, where the plot and characters began to play second fiddle to the bold-faced ideology definitely turned me off. And having read The Chronicles of Narnia, I can see how C.S. Lewis might well provoke some of the same response, but on the other side of things.

  11. Just look at that big list of books I don't need to add to my wish list. ;)

    I've been wracking my brain here trying to come up with books I've truly loathed, and am coming up nearly empty. Babbitt is one that jumps right to mind...one I had to read in high school and positively despised. But while I can remember the intense feelings of dislike, I can no longer remember the reasons for it. So maybe that means I should actually give the book another chance before spouting off about hating it. Thing is, that churning of the stomach feeling is still there despite being disconnected from the reasons why, so I'm just not sure I've got it in me to pick it up again.

    Of anything I've read more recently, The Merchant of Venice pops to mind. I know, I know...shame on me...Shakespeare. I don't think I can say I ever liked it (though it did lead to some awesome discussions with Annie), but well, the more time that goes on, the more and more negative my feelings about it become.

    Know what I'm really dreading...the day I dislike a book that someone I love has given me. Or even worse, the day I give someone a book and they dislike it. I worry that they'll feel they can't be honest about it for fear of hurting my feelings, and that makes me sad. So keep that in mind should you hate The Stand, okay? I promise not to take it personally...honest! :D

  12. I'm pretty open about what I don't like (or even hate) on my blog and I try really hard to say look, this is just my opinion, I know the majority disagrees with me but here is what I saw and this is why this book bothered me. I try really hard to distance my opinion from everyone else's. Maybe I don't always succeed, I don't know. But people don't SEEM to hate me for hating some really popular books. I won't even name them because you already know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. :)

    Interesting what you say about Werther, though. In 2001, when I was reading a book a week, there are only 2 books that didn't leave any impression on me whatsoever: Catcher in the Rye and The Sorrows of Young Werther. The only thing I remember from the former is a boy leaning against the corner of a building. The only thing I remember from the latter is a person standing near a fence covered in some sort of plant. Nothing else from either, that's how forgettable both were. Now that's probably not because they were forgettable but from the pace I was reading (a classic a week is rougher than just 100 books a year) and because I had a 6 month old baby and was going through a lot of personal problems. I had planned to reread both books this year. I don't know that I'll feel passionately, one way or another, toward either.

  13. Thanks for posting this! I've never liked Werther, either.

    Also, you might not want to know this, but while I was at university, for the language students who took Portuguese, Coelho was required reading (The Alchimist in 1st year, Veronika Decides to Die in 3rd year). I guess his books are actually quite good for language learning, because the grammar structure and vocabulary is not so difficult. I read "Na margem do rio piedra eu sentei e chorei" (in Italian, of course), and loved it. Big tearjerker, though.

    Books I really, really disliked: The DaVinci Code and Angels&Demons *screams in frustration*. I won't explain why, in case some other commenters are Dan Brown fans.

    Confession: I've never understood why so many people like the Catcher in the Rye so much. I don't get that book, not at all. Maybe if I read the original English I'd understand it more. Or maybe not.

  14. Ah! I love both Jonathan Livingston Seagull and all the Narnia books, but you know, if I'd come to those first as an adult I bet I'd have issues with them. They're too colored by nostalgia now for me to dislike them!

    One that immediately springs to my mind is The Great Gatsby. I detested it. And I've recently tried to read the series that starts with Moon CAlled by Patricia Briggs, it did nothing for me. Same with Charles de Lint, whom I really really wanted to love but every book I've read by him has just fallen flat for me. That actually frustrates me to no end, because so many readers love him and I want to, too. I keep picking up another book by him hoping this will be the one I enjoy...

  15. Interesting post Nymeth. I do think reviewers can be tactful when posting about a book they didnt enjoy. I've read quite a few reviews that were honest and fair.

    I cant think of books that I hate, but I do dislike a few. For some reason, I read DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons and disliked them both, but I think thats just a Dan Brown thing.
    The one book I have a love/hate relationship with that I find many other bloggers loving, is Love in the Time of Cholera. I found some of the writing beautiful, but hated the two main characters. My reason for finishing that book was pure curiosity, I just had to know what was going to happen with those characters. And I know others love this book, but it just wasnt my cup of tea.

    I havent read any of the books on your list, but I can relate to your comments on the Anne Rice book. Its dissapointing when you dont enjoy a book from an author you usually like. That's happened to me with a few Stephen King books. I didnt know she argued with reviewers on Amazon, thats a shame.


  16. I strongly believe in posting honest reviews, yet still being tactful. You are doing nobody any favors by sugar-coating your opinions. That being said, I know it is irrational that I am sad and disappointed when others don't love the books I love. But I'll get over it! One thing that drives me right over the edge, though, is when there is a negative review, and then in the comment section, there is a FEEDING FRENZY against the book! Like nobody wanted to say a word unless someone else did it first. It can be repulsive.

    Hate is a strong word, so I'm not sure if I have ever hated a book. I've disliked many, usually the trash novels that my book club picks! Generally, if I really have a hard time getting through a book I will just stop reading!

  17. I don't believe in burning books, but I'd love to have a huge bonfire filled with the Twilight series. Hate? How about loathe, my blood boils, I could rail for days on different levels about why I hate this book.

    Not hate but did not like a very popular and well-reviewed YA book, The Chosen One. It didn't work for me and I said so. I also didn't like She's So Money. I wrote quite a lengthy piece on that one.

    Gaumati, I hear you on Austen. I enjoyed a few. And I get why the work is important but the overall, I'm just bored.

    I don't review enough of what I like but if I feel very strongly about why a book doesn't work and it is getting good reviews, I am likely to write a counter.

  18. I'm always so sad when people don't like the Narnia books - I think, what a shame I can't pour my memories into their heads! Those books are just so central to me as a person. I've promised myself when I publish my first book I shall buy myself a lamp-post. :) But I can completely understand how they would be aggravating to an adult.

    Books I hated - I really hated Atonement with a fiery intensity, and I'm with you on Paulo Coehlo too. My little sister's boyfriend LOVES him but I'm just trying to avoid that conversation with him as long as possible, hahaha.

    I hate the Twilight books now, but more because of all the hype. If people weren't taking them so seriously, I wouldn't consider them damaging and I wouldn't care; but I can't help feeling it's a really terrible thing to have a generation of girls with Edward as their ideal of romance. Awful books. Awful awful awful.

    And um - I know people love Salinger! And de mortuis nil nisi bonum! But I HATED Catcher in the Rye. :(

  19. Thank you for calling out Coelho! I read The Alchemist and that will be the last Coelho I ever read. Frances, I completely agree with you about Pillars of the Earth. The only parts written with much passion in that book are the scenes of sadism and brutality, which made me think Follett was really enjoying those parts. I recall the rest of the novel filled with brilliant prose such as, "She smiled. She was happy." Those are two I really loathe, but I have an affectionate disdain for Nicholas Sparks because I consider him a terrible writer, but his books are so bad they make me laugh, and we all need a good laugh now and then.

  20. I find negative reviews to be incredibly helpful. I often read the 5* and the 1* reviews on Amazon. That way I get different views on the book.

    My strongly dislike list might get me shot :)

    I've already admitted on my own blog to disliking Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I just thought Holden Caufield was annoying. I feel bad saying this but I just did not connect with him.

    I feel even worse about not liking my next book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Again I had an issue with the narrator. The naivety just grated on me. I feel bad about not liking this book because normally dystopian fiction is something I love. In addition I have since read Remains of the Day which I really liked. I am wondering if I should give Never Let Me Go another go.

    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I read this one in high school (this one is responsible for the girl/boy book theory) and I just did not get it. I then read it again last year for grad school. I still don't like it but I get it a bit more.

    For Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway. Read in high school and technically not finished (sorry Dr. E. I lied). I just didn't connect with it (I honestly can't remember why I disliked it so much just that I did).

  21. In a strange way, I think talking about the books we don't like is as revealing as talking about the books we do like. I think it helps us know one another better. And I remember you didn't like Narnia which is funny, it's something I strongly associate with you, because so many people love love them.

    I can't think of many books I hate off the top of my head, though I did sort of hate Liar. Mostly there are books for which I simply can't understand the hype. Then there are books like Twilight, where I totally get why they are so loved, but I just don't love it quite the same as everyone else.

    I do worry a bit about offending someone if I don't like the books they love. And I admit to feeling a sting when someone doesn't like a book I love. But mostly, because it's sad we can't share that love. :)

  22. I had a feeling that post of mine might strike a cord. It's been fun reading the comments here, too.

    I think you shouldn't feel bad about wishing Young Werther would go ahead and just kill himself. The only reason I read The Secret History and The Bonfire of the Vanities was my hope that the characters would suffer and die. That two of the characters in The Secret History eventually did was the only thing I enjoyed about the book.

    But that was 20 years ago, I think. Today, I probably wouldn't finish the book in the first place. Too many others I'd rather read.

  23. I love reading about what books people hate -- even if books I love passionately.

    I'm not sure I hate any book with as much force as I love books but here are some that others seem to love that I either hated or couldn't finish:

    Gravity's Rainbow
    100 Years of Solitude
    English Patient
    Anything by McCall-Smith
    James Peterson
    Thomas Hardy

    Hummm that's all I can think of now. I don't have many negative reviews either -- that's because I don't tend to finish books I don't like and I'm usually good at picking books I'll at least like well enough to finish.

  24. My feelings exactly, Ana! I mostly never post negative reviews because I tend to not read through a book I am not enjoying. Mostly I will read a few pages and give up. The only times last year that I had to finish books I wanted to discontinue were those for review from the publishers.. which, unfortunately, turned me off from receiving any others again.. there were a few but particularly Joanna Scott's Follow Me and Margaret Mascarenhas's The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos. Also our read-along with Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter. While I didn't loathe it with much intensity as the first two mentioned, it was a bit of a torture finishing it. I wanted to give up but it was for a read-along so I persevered. I'm glad because my favourite part of the whole book was the ending, at least, haha. I also didn't like Julie Powell's Julie & Julia, although not with much intensity, because I did enjoy the "cooking" parts, but only those. I tried so much to be considerate when writing my reviews so you won't see me trashing a book just because I didn't like it.

    That said, there are many books I might trash if given the opportunity. Sadly, I couldn't even get past three pages of Dan Brown, or Bridget Jones's Diary, for that matter.

    Also, like Teresa and Megan, I passionately hated the third book of His Dark Materials. But then again, I'm a Lewis fan, so there you go. :)

  25. What a fascinating topic! I very rarely hate a book. Lukewarm feelings or no particular feeling are much more common. When I do dislike a book or not like it as much as others seem to, I'm more embarrassed, thinking there is something wrong with me rather than vice versa.

    I hated, really really hated Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. It's the one that stands out over all the rest.

  26. I think as long as you explain your point of view well and don't specifically refer to other people's opinions, there's nothing wrong with posting a bad review. If people are offended that you didn't like a book that they loved, that's their problem! We all have different tastes, and that's what makes book reviews so great - you get to read many point of views from many different people. If everyone loved the same books, there'd be no point in having reviews at all!

    from Une Parole

  27. Yeahhh, yeahhh, hmmm. I am definitely a negative review poster and am often plagued with trying to be tactful yet kind. I have found that it's a hard balance. I totally believe in saying what you honestly feel, but I for one am quite cynical in real life so that definitely transfers over into my posts. Try as I might, I am always afraid that I've offended someone, but I am also afraid that I will mask who I am and what I think by trying to appease people. I try to write both good and bad things about every book so that it's balanced, but sometimes the negative (or positive) feelings just win out and then there's a flow of uncontrollable emotion!

    I don't know. I think it is a skill that needs to be cultivated, for the negative reviews are just as important as the positive ones in my eyes. Great post and thoughts!

  28. Excellent post! I just wrote a brief post on the same topic.

    I thought Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is a dreadful novel. I acknowledge its social and historical significance, but Egads -- what bad fiction!

  29. As always, Ana, you have such a way with words and often express how I feel far more eloquently than I ever could.

    I am racking my brain trying to think of a book I hated passionately. I just can't think of one. There must be one or two, right? Hmm. I can think of books I didn't especially care for, but none I hated. I tend to find something worthwhile in just about everything I read really. If I finished the book, I must have found something redeeming in it, even if I didn't love it. If I didn't finish the book, it was usually for lack of interest--I can't hate a book I didn't finish. It goes against my since of fair play.

    It upsets me when a reader puts down those who liked a book she or he didn't. We all have different tastes and sometimes it's just a matter of the expectations we have about a book. If a blogger chooses to only post reviews of books she or he likes, I'm fine with that. It's whatever works best for the individual blogger. Some people only want to review books they enjoyed. There are some of us, like you and I, who are fairly good about choosing books we will like (we don't have time to read books we don't).

    I do like reading negative reviews now and then--it adds balance and sometimes will push me to one side of the fence or the other about a book I am considering. I've read negative reviews that make me want to read a book more.

    I do think that negative reviews can be fair and tactful without causing offense. Snarky reviews are funny, but they have to be done just right or else they do come across at hurtful. At least that's my experience.

    I don't want anyone to feel hurt that I didn't love a book he or she may have loved. Reading is such an individual experience and so much goes into why we may or may not love a book. It could be something as simple as where we are in our lives at the time we read a book.

  30. I don't know which one I'm loving the most right now, your post or all the comments. I don't finish books I dislike and I don't write reviews about books I don't finish, so there's only one negative review on my blog which is about Alejandro Zambra's Bonsai. The only reason why I finished it was because it was less than 100 pages.I still feel bad that I asked my library to order it.

    Another book I absolutely hated was something by Daniel Wallace. It wasn't Big Fish but something else about a magician. I wanted the hours I spent reading the second half of the book back. The ending was pretty awesome though. It felt like it was two books instead of one.

  31. I'm with Vasilly, reading the comments is as much fun as reading your post. I like Theresa's phrase about trashy novels made up to look literary, and what Jodie says about authors whose writing hasn't caught up to their ideas.

    Ah ha! I think you've given us a good clue as to the kind literary sin you can't forgive. I also have that sense for books I'll probably like. Every so often I'll feel guilty and pull one off the library shelf at random just to give some of the "other kind" a chance. I really, really, don't want to turn into my great granny, who by the time she was 80 subsisted entirely on Georgette Heyer and Miss Read!

    Wise of you to stop short of The Last Battle. Even people who loved Narnia can be put off by that one. It's at the bottom of my list, with Magician's Nephew only one up. I loved the surreal forest of the pools, but that's about it. They really don't fit with the rest of the series.

  32. Everyone has such a different taste in books that it is sad to hear that people get upset when others don't like the same books as them.

    I love finding out why others didn't like a particular book and often get a better feeling for their book taste this way. It can also generate fascinating discussions.

    I find it frustrating that others don't write many negative (or even average) reviews for books. There have been numerous occasions where I have seen nothing but praise for a book so have bought it. On reading it I have discovered it to be disappointing, so reviewed it as such, then had loads of people comment on my blog agreeing with me. If there was more of a balance in the blogging world then we'd all be more informed about the potential pitfalls in a book.

  33. Vivienne, I'm glad you understand! I hate to hurt people's feelings too. But I can promise you in advance I won't be hurt when I read your Salinger post.

    Marikeno: It might be that you'd enjoy Blood Canticle, but personally I unrecommend it :P

    Teresa: ha, I forgot the Da Vinci Code. Not a fan either :P And I understand about Pullman!

    Frances, The Pillars of the Earth has never appealed to me. But between you and Teresa. I think I'll make a point to avoid it :P And yes, isn't listing those abhorred books cathartic? I so enjoyed putting together my list :P

    Jodie: lol - I feel special. Wrong on the internet is better than just wrong ;) And I confess to being slightly heartbroken that you didn't enjoy Lonely Werewolf Girl, but only slightly :P

    Guatami: lol, you're not alone. I like Austen, but I have a few friends who aren't fans at all.

    Megan: Your and Teresa's reaction to Pullman is just the same as mine to Lewis, so I completely understand, even if we come from opposite perspectives! There are some books that make me think there's something wrong with me too, but not all of them. Usually that happens if it was recommended by someone whose tastes normally match mine.

    Debi: I WILL let you know if I hate The Stand, but seriously, I very much doubt that'll happen :P

    Amanda: What are you talking about? Of course I hate you for not liking TTTW ;)

    Alessandra: *foams at the mouth at the mere thought* :P Seriously now, I understand why his books would be good choices for language learning, since the writing is really straightforward. As for Catcher, I probably know more people who hated it than people who loved it :P

    Jeane: I have Moon Called on my tbr - fingers crossed that I fare better than you!

    Naida: Marquez divides opinions, that's for sure! I'm sure you're not alone in your feelings about Love in the Time of Cholera.

    Sandy: I know what you mean about those posts/comments. I think it's partially because we're sometimes more blunt in comments than in our own blogs, possibly because we forget that anyone other than the blog owner will read them! I don't mind it when people express dislike for a book, but the way in which it's done can make a big difference. Also, I'm much better at not finishing books I dislike these days - which is why most of those are from my pre-blogging years :P

    Color Online: Can I join you and dance around the flames? :P I haven't even *read* the books, but I've read endless recaps/analyses online, and the myths they perpetuate about gender roles and female sexuality give me the creeps. And like Jenny was saying, the problem is that so many young girls take them so seriously.

    Jenny: I wish I could have access to childhood memories of Narnia! It really makes me sad that I missed out on that experience. And Atonement, really? I've been meaning to try McEwan...I guess I'll start elsewhere? :P As for Catcher in the Rye hatred, I have so many friends who feel that why that I've grown immune to it :P

  34. Verbatim: lol! "She smiled. She was happy" is just priceless :P I can't believe I read four books by Coelho. I just had a few friends who were pushy and enthusiastic fans, and kept hoping the next one would convert me :P

    Zee: I'm not sure how I felt about Heart of Darkness either. I appreciate what it was trying to do, but it left me a little cold, you know?

    Amy, I completely understand that little stab. It's all about wanting to share things for me as well, which doesn't always work out. I also agree that the books we dislike say as much about us as the ones we like!

    C.B. James: lol! Well, after your feelings about The Secret History, I no longer feel that I was mean to Werther ;)

    Beth F: I suspect I'd feel the same about The English Patient, which is why I've been avoiding it for years :P

    Claire: Yep - life's short, after all! And *cries* the third HDM book was my favourite :P But I completely understand!

    Trisha: I don't hate very many books either, but these I listed were special :P

    Emidy: It's not so much offending people that I worry about (I think taking offense implies that someone wronged you, and feeling that way about a book review is just silly), but making them feel like I look down on them and their taste, you know? But it's all a matter of how you word it.

    She: Honestly, you do a GREAT job! I have never ever felt that one of your negative reviews came across as hostile to those who feel differently.

    Stephanie: I've seen others say the same, yep. I'm curious about it, but mostly as a historical document.

    Wendy: I'm much better at not finishing books that aggravate me these days, and like you I find it unfair to form a solid opinion of something I didn't finish. And yes, that kind of attitude upsets me as well. Read and let read is my motto.

    Vasilly: Still wiping my tears about Mr Sebastian ;)

    Villanegativa: I did enjoy some of the other Narnia books, especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But even then I felt unwelcome in Lewis' world - it's like the narrative voice was shutting me out.

    Jackie: Well, upset is perhaps not the right term. It's not a matter of taking offense; it's more, as Amy was saying, a matter of being sad that something you tried to share wasn't well-received. And I find that completely human, not sad. I apologise in advance if I'm misreading you, but it's not the first time you say something that seems to imply that others are either insincere in their enthusiastic reviews or scared to be negative at all, and I don't think that's fair. Every book I say I love is a book I loved, and I assume that's true of others - I can't imagine what would even motivate someone to want to sound more positive than they feel. As for the relative absence of books I didn't like - I understand why negative reviews are helpful for readers, but I guess that in the end, I'm just not selfless enough to stick to books I dislike just so that I can write a review that will maybe save someone's money or time. As much as I enjoy blogging, above all I read for myself.

  35. As usual, a wonderful post. Ah, hate is such strong word. I usually put down a book I dislike because I have way too many books on my TBR list to struggle through something I'm not enjoying. Kristin Lavransdatter was an exception because it was a read-along, and I finished The Historian because I kept hoping it would get better:)

    Hate? All things Twilight...for many reasons.

  36. Great post, Ana, and I'm so late to the game in commenting!

    I don't know if I HATE books so much as sometimes I just feel "meh" about them. The last book I remember truly HATING was Twilight, but I read the whole thing instead of throwing it aside. I admit it kept my interest, even as it made my blood boil. I also strongly disliked Pillars of the Earth in a way that made me angry. And 1000 White Women. Most other things, I just put down before I get to the hate stage ;-)

  37. What a wonderful post! The Thirteenth Tale is one of the rare books I felt passionately about in a negative sense. I dragged myself through that book and then I couldn't figure out why on earth I bothered. But, by far the worst book I've ever read was In the Cut. The author's talent was so wasted on that horrid, sordid book.

    I haven't read Paul Coelho but I have a feeling I wouldn't like his writing. I've picked up The Alchemist probably a half-dozen times and it flunked my "flip test" (in which I flip through a book and read passages to see if the writing style grabs me) every time. So, I passed it up, even when it was bargain priced.

    I do enjoy reading negative reviews as much as positive ones, for a couple of reasons. I like to know why people disliked a book just as much as I love to know why they loved a title. Also, I get a kick out of reading passionate posts about a book, for better or worse. I love it when people feel strongly about books.

  38. Hi Ana, I don't think I've read any of those you've listed here. I usually don't review books that I don't like, but sometimes I will briefly mention them. :)

  39. I think negative reviews are important, but you're totally right that sometimes I worry about offending people who do like the book - especially because a lot of times I'm reviewing a book I read on blogger recommendations. I'm always disappointed when that happens, but I do want to say so. I don't generally feel upset when someone doesn't like a book I loved, though, and usually I find their perspective more interesting than anything else.

    I'm trying to remember which books I really, really hated. The two most recent are The Eight and The Fire by Katherine Neville. I really just did not find them to be coherent, interesting, or even well-written. I had a class in college which consisted of a series of books I hated and then books that I loved. Hated Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien, and Murphy by Samuel Beckett. I even hated them after I tore them apart, which usually fixes things.

    I have several classics I hated in school - Silas Marner, The Scarlet Letter - but I actually suspect I'd really enjoy them now, so I'm not sure they count.

  40. As some of you know (Amanda) I'm kind of energized when someone disagrees with something I say about a book. We can have discussions about ideas without calling anyone else's taste into question, surely?

    Having said that, I'll volunteer that I've hated anything I've read by John Updike and Norman Mailer.

  41. i specifically hated The Last Battle, so trust me, don't read it, especially if you didn't like the previous ones. I think the first Anne Rice i threw across the room was Memnoch the Devil, because of what happened to Armand. I kept trying though and liked The Vampire Armand ok. The rest after that i hated and never bothered with Blood Canticle. ah well.

  42. I usually don't complete books I passionately dislike. So they don't get reviewed.

    It's interesting to know what someone didn't like in your fave book if done properly.

  43. Great post, Nymeth! I know I tend to review more books that I like too but that's also probably due to the fact that if I'm really hating a book, I may not even finish it. too many other books waiting for me!

  44. Oh I just LOVED this post! As you know, I rarely write a negative review as well. Like...never. My thing is, I just don't waste time on books I don't like. Or if I start a book and find that I really can't get into it, I just stop reading it and move onto something else :p There's too much GOOD stuff out there! People always say "oh what a surprise, you loved it!" but that's because I'm just not a very critical reader :p If a book has a good story, I'm going to enjoy it.

    There are books that I've hated with a passion, but I honestly can't think of THAT many of them right now. The one that comes to mind that I've read since I started blogging is Grendel. I really, really disliked that book...ok, I hated it. Just couldn't stand it. I thought it was awful...how else can I say it :p

  45. Now I'm just sad...I feel exactly the same way you do about Anne Rice. I LOVED her books in my teens, they were my escape, but I haven't read her recent stuff. I'm going to a signing with her next week. Hopefully I like the book! Yikes! Great post though!

  46. As always, thanks for posting an insightful and thoughtful post, Nymeth! I think negative reviews could be done in a way that we still give our honest opinions without hurting to the authors or their readers. After all, what one dislike about a book might be another reader's favourite. It's all about individual's preference and taste.

    While typing this, I try to think of any books I dislike but my mind draws a blank. I think it's a book by Paulo Coelho but I can't remember what title is it. Nowadays, I tend to be choosy so I'll only buy those books I know I'll enjoy reading (and that's where you ladies come in!). :D

  47. I really disliked A Reliable Wife, a book that tons of people have really enjoyed. I also really hated the second book in the Twilight series, enough to just not bother finishing it.

  48. There have been lots of books I've hated. But only two where I've been disgusted by what I read: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, and Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie. Bother were over how they treated female characters. The former because it glorified a masculinity that treats women as rape targets, the latter because the author casually included a rape in the text.

  49. Hi, thanks for the thoughtful post. I like your kindness and consideration - rare qualities these days, but generally very much present in the book blogging community. And I agree there is a certain personal factor with blogging and commenting that makes it a delight but also a little bit socially risky I suppose...

    Anyway "Vernon God Little". I hated this and didn't finish it. It didn't nothing to improve my life. I didn't need to read that.

  50. What a great resource!

  51. I don't review a lot of books negatively because, like you, I gravitate to books I think I'll like. That being said, I don't hesitate to give a negative review if I feel it's warranted. I understand when people only review books they like (I've been tempted at times to skip over negative reviews), and as long as they don't pretend they liked books that they didn't and review honestly, it doesn't bother me. As far as books I've hated, "The Washingtonienne" by Jessica Cutler, "The Arthurian Omen" by GG Vandagriff, and "Chasing Harry Winston" by Lauren Weisberger all come to mind.

  52. I don't think I've ever come across a blogger who I think is lying or being insincere in their enthusiasm, but I do think a lot of bloggers are scared to be negative. I can understand why, as anyone who writes negative reviews will be subject to abuse at some point.

    I can see that you love all the books you read and I'm sorry if you have ever felt that I don't trust you. You are always adding books to my TBR pile! Keep up the enthusiastic blogging!

  53. Great post! For me, The Lovely Bones, would fall into the hate with a passion category. There was also a book I read a long time ago, a Christian fiction, that starred a lot of angels with cheesey personalities. A frenchman with a beret, a cowboy angel, etc. It was AWFUL; so awful it wasn't even funny. Just awful. lol

    And while I enjoyed Coehlo's The Alchemist, after a few of his books THE MESSAGE does begin to become tiresome.

  54. I think the beauty of being human is freewill, that we're able to like or dislike whatever book we want.

    Here's a few books which I just really loathed:

    Mercy by Jodi Piccoult - my sister is a huge Piccoult fan and well I thought oh cool this is something we can share in common, so I picked this book up, and really HATED it. It just made me so uncomfortable (there was a cheating bastard who didn't get his just deserts, instead his wife is all, I love you, I'm oblivious, let's stay married). So, maybe that's my personal morals affecting my opinion, but still uncomfortable.

    What else? Sophie's Choice by William Stryon - I just couldn't finish it, too boring, also couldn't have cared less about the characters.

    Go Ask Alice - seriously, so fake. So written by Beatrice Sparks, it actually made me want to try drugs.

    Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs - made me wayy too uncomfortable

    Four Blondes by Candace Bushnell - I expected to enjoy it like I enjoy Sex and the City (the show). In reality, a terribly written book about lameass characters.

    Zoya by Danielle Steele - I know I should be tomatoed for reading this, but I thought oh I see her books everywhere I should give her a try. All I got was terrible sex scenes and a healthy mistrust of best-seller mass appeal authors.

  55. I read Coehlo's The Alchemist last year and it was one book I wish I not wasted my time with.

    I love Narnia, though :)

    As for my hate books. Hm. I've been pretty picky on what I read since blogging. I normally don't finish books I don't like or even mention them on my blog. I guess the only one that stands out to me is Fun Home. Sorry, I know you love that one.

  56. Fantastic discussion! Maybe I'm cruel, but I relish writing scathing reviews of books I don't like. I love reading negative reviews as well... especially when they're funny.

    Why else do we do this, if it's not to express our own opinions and reactions, compare them to others', and fine-tune our literary taste?

    Recent reads I've hated (that lots of people love) are The Elegance of the Hedgehog, On Chesil Beach and Life of Pi. Ooh, really hated that last one.

  57. I tend to read things that I think I'll enjoy. I only have so much time. That's just life.

    The only book I remember hating was Smonk by Tom Franklin. I finished it, but really even now I wish I hadn't bothered.

  58. I sometimes feel really bad about ripping a book to shreds that I know others like, but I try not to be mean about it. On the other hand, sometimes a book I loved gets ripped to shreds by other reviewers, and it's hard not to take it personally. I wonder sometimes, do they think less of me because I liked a book they hated, or do they now devalue my opinions on literature? I guess what it all comes down to is that reading is such an intensely personal thing that I can't get too upset if someone loves what I hate or vice versa. As long as they are respectful about it, I try not to be upset. The last book I remember hating with a passion was Amsterdam, my Ian McEwan. I was beyond pleased to see that I wasn't alone in my thinking!

  59. Oh Nymeth, I completely agree with you on The Forgotten Garden (I really had high expectations because it seemed to be right up my alley, and yours too, I suspect!), also Blood Canticle (highly disappointing in comparison to the beginning of the series), anything by Paulo Coehlo (why is he so popular???), BUT

    I am truly saddened about The Magician's Nephew! It's my favourite of the Narnia chronicles (which I rate as one of my fave series of all time) and I KNOW in my heart of hearts that had you read this as a child you would have loved it to bits as much as I still do upon my 50th reading of it.

    It's the only thing that can STILL open up a world of magic for me, the only other series I have found that could do that for me is His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman (I have chosen to ignore the fact that previous commenters have talked about not being able to get itno his books, haha!)...


  60. Gavin: Part of me wants to read Twilight, just so I can say "me too" ;)

    Aarti: I feel meh much more often than I feel these negatively towards a book - maybe because my book radar has improved over time? These were all books I read a while ago :P

    Nancy: I find Coelho's writing so unremarkable too. Ah well...too which their own :P And I know what you mean about those passionate reviews being so fun to read, be them positive or negative.

    Alice: I just don't keep reading them these days, and if I don't finish something I don't review it - who knows if the ending would have changed my mind?

    Meghan: A different perspective can be fun to read, and enriching even. For me it's really all about the tone. As long as the person doesn't make it sound like the reason why they dislike the book is because they're sooo much smarter and more sophisticated than everyone else, I don't mind either. Also, not a fan of Portrait or Beckett either :P

    Jeanne: I think we can too. But I also think it's natural to take personal feelings into account. And Updike - my only experience with him so far (The Music School) was pretty meh. I've always wanted to try him again, but I wonder if he's worth my time.

    Melanie: lol, I won't read it :P And if you disliked them after Memnoch, I don't imagine you'd like Blood Canticle either :\

    Violet: I mostly don't either these days! And yes, a negative review that isn't arrogant can be very interesting to read.

    Iliana: Exactly!

    Chris: The curious thing is that I don't think I'm not a critical reader, nor that I don't post indifferent or negative reviews. But everyone tells me I don't :P I think it's only natural to developed better and better book instincts over time, though, and to get better at picking books that will be right for us. I do remember your review of Grendel...it stood out :P

    The1stdaughter: I hope you like it too!

    Melody: That's another thing (imho) about Coelho - his books are forgettable and hard to tell apart ;)

    Kim: I think the same would happen to me if I read the Twilight series. The down side of not having done so is that I can't actually say I dislike them :P

    King Rat: Yikes :\ I think I'd dislike them too, for the exact same reasons.

    Merenia: Thank *you* for the kind words! I guess that when you get close to people, in any community, there's always the risk there'll be misunderstandings or hurt feelings. But it's worth it :)

    K. Krishna: I feel the same way - as long as no one is actually being dishonest, I'm fine with however people choose to blog.

    Jackie: I don't love all the books I read (I wish I did!), but I do love the ones I say I love :P I'm happy to hear you trust us, and I apologise for misreading you! I think it's possible that some bloggers are reluctant to be negative, yes, even though personally I haven't felt that way. That has come up in conversations about relationships with authors and publishers time and again, but because that's a side of blogging I don't know much about I usually stay out of the debates.

    Andi: The Lovely Bones has never appealed to me either...I suspect I'd feel much the same way. And yikes, the stereotypes in that book sound awful!

    April: Picoult is an author I'm scared to try, because I fear I'd hate her and break the hearts of all my friends who are fans :P If ever do try her, I won't start with A Mercy. And lol, no tomatoeing! You were braver than I ever was :P

    Rebecca: I did! *clutches copy of Fun Home and dries eyes* :P I'm the same with not reviewing books I don't finish - as much as I disliked the first 50 pages or whatever I read before putting it down, who knows if the ending wouldn't have changed my mind?

  61. Marieke, I don't think you're cruel! Snark CAN be hilarious if done well. You know, I've been avoiding Life of Pi for years. I suspect I'd hate it tool.

    Carol: Exactly! It makes sense to make time for what we know we like.

    Zibilee: I can't help but wonder the same. I wish I could! I try not to take it personally as well, though. I've yet to read McEwan, but he certainly seems like a love him or hate him kind of author.

    Aimee: I really wish I loved Narnia! It really saddens me that I can't; that I feel so shut out of a world that has delighted so many. I came to it too late :( I'm with you on HDM, though...I love that series with all my heart :D

  62. Does it make me a bad person that if someone I know really loves a book I thought was abysmal, I make a mental note that maybe I shouldn't listen to their book recommendations in the future?

    I'm constantly trying to figure out how to refine my book selection process so I don't waste time on books I won't like, so maybe that's why I lean towards de-prioritizing someone's recs in this situation.

  63. Kelly,

    Jumping in with my opinion. I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all. If someone's taste doesn't match up to yours, you can still enjoy their reviews but choose not to read what they're reading . . . and stay friends. It's just like if they were to offer you something you can stand to eat, like . . . say you hate liver. Just because you have a friend who loves liver fixed 50 different ways doesn't mean you have to smile and buy liver for yourself. And, if you're invited over for the liver special you, can always remind your friend that you'll happily listen to her wax on about liver but you're bringing your special veggie wraps because you and liver just don't get along.

  64. Haha, I'm chuckling over Nancy's "you and liver just don't get along" hypothetical friendship story.

    But anyway, I review (I'm behind but I will eventually catch up) everything I read so I do post about the average or mediocre ones too. I agree with the others who said that they like reading negative reviews sometimes, but what I think I like even more is HONEST reviews. Reviews, like yours, that I can trust.

    I know what you mean about the Narnia books. I loved them as a child but when I re-read them a few years ago I cringed. A lot.
    I can't think of any I've really hated since I started blogging but prior to blogging, a couple that I hated but others love: Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and Angela's Ashes. Really regretted the time spent reading them.

  65. I agree 100% about the point you make about Narnia and humans supposedly owning Nature. Gotta go check your previous post then!

    You've listed one of my tween years favourite in there! Jonathan Livingston! It was so important to me back then, it kinda made me feel like an adult, reading and loving that book. But now I'm scared to go back to it and find it like one of those self-help discover-yourself stuff. Maybe I shouldn't. I like the warm feeling I get when I think of it. I don't want it to spoil it like I did with The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe!

  66. This is a really intersting topic. Pertinent for all readers who can't help going on about the books they love. I think I'm just getting used to the idea that it's ok if someone doesn't like the books I like and not get offended. I mean, I don't like all the books that are recommended to me. But it's also heartening to see that I'm not the only one left cold by The Alchemist and Catcher in the Rye.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.