Giving some love to the books I didn’t love

The past couple months I’ve been moving… packing, sorting, hauling, cleaning, painting, unpacking… it seems never-ending, and I’m not quite done yet. Hence my slight presence online.

During that time, I found myself making little lists in my mind. Everything from your standard “things to do today” and “things to remember to move to the new place” etc. to a bit more random ones, like “the 5 grossest things the previous tenants left behind” or “types of dogs I’ve seen on my new street” (an astonishingly long list for a short street – suburbia, you really like your dog breeds, eh?) Which totally reminded me of November and her list-journals in Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente.

I reviewed Palimpsest a while ago, here. Basically, I said there were a number of things I liked about the book, some things that didn’t work for me, and ultimately I didn’t love it. I mostly got reactions along the “sorry to hear that” line. But what’s wrong with not loving it? Obviously some part of the book has stuck with me, since I thought of it and related my own behaviour to one of its characters, months after I read Palimpsest and wrote that review. Isn’t that the goal of literature? To stick with you in some way? Even if it’s just to make you grin a little when you catch yourself writing lists in your mind.

Maybe it’s the recent(ish) David Gilmour internet-storm still fresh in my mind, but it seems to me that loving a book is not necessarily the goal of picking a book up to read. Awesome if it happens, and I like most people gravitate towards books I think I will at least enjoy–but if I read a book that it turns out I don’t love, that doesn’t mean reading it was a wasted endeavour.

Maybe it’s not a book of my heart, but maybe it teaches me something new. Maybe it helps me consciously realize some writing lesson (since it is much easier for me to analyze something critically when I’m not busy fangirl-squeeing all over it). Maybe it points me in the direction of a new-to-me author or book or topic.

I recently finished Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (trans. Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen). I can’t say I loved that book, either. I was enjoying it, right up until the last couple of chapters when the main character made the opposite choice than the one I was hoping for, and then the ending didn’t stick for me. That doesn’t make it a bad book–kind of the opposite, the fact that I was invested enough to be so thrown at her choice suggests that it’s a very strong book. So, I didn’t like the ending. I’m still glad I read it, for a lot of reasons. Because it had an interesting story structure. Because I don’t read a lot of Mexican fiction, and it’s important to consciously realize these things and strive to be more diverse. Because I like reading translated fiction and wondering how that extra layer of language changes my reading experience from someone who can read the work in the original.

A book has not failed me if I wind up not loving it. Finding a book I really, key-smashingly, tweet-and-tell-all-my-friends-to-buy-it, truly love would be a lot less special if I did love every book I read.

So here’s to all the books I’ve read that I’ve liked but not loved!

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2 thoughts on “Giving some love to the books I didn’t love

  1. lillianwheeler Post author

    Oh yeah? I could see that if I’d been forced to read it I might not have enjoyed it. I am lucky enough to not really have a list like that of my own though… it would pretty much start and end with Crash by Ballard. Everything else I’ve had to read I liked well enough for one reason or other, or enjoyed the discussion about them even if they weren’t my cup of tea.

    Reply

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