I Love You But I Hate the Book You Recommended


I read a funny article in the Guardian book blog today:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/aug/18/book-recommendations-go-wrong

The author contemplates the existential questions that arise when someone you love recommends a book that you don’t. He asks: “Does this mean, when a fellow book lover gives you a book you hate, the person didn’t really know you, or had an erroneous idea of you in their mind? Does it mean you don’t really know yourself? Does it mean the self is fundamentally unknowable, at least through the contents of a bookshelf?”

This cracked me up.

He uses as an example The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, a book given to him by a quasi-romantic interest, and one which he has tried numerous times to read but has never finished because…he doesn’t like it.

I can relate to this because my brother, you know, the one noted in earlier posts who won’t read used books and never goes to the library, gave me that book as a gift. Now I’m not sure he had read it, so technically it wasn’t a recommendation–and I imagine gifted books raise different existential questions than recommended books. Anyway, I absolutely could not get through it. And I really, really persevered, and was terribly disappointed that I had done so because I ended up finally just closing it with a thump! that’s it!–I cannot read another word of this unintelligible rot.

Here’s a confession, though–I feel like this is a book I should read, and I do feel that I will pick it up again one day and get through it. And maybe even understand it.

But what about when I am recommending an entire year’s worth of books for my book group members to read? That’s a lot of pressure! What if they don’t like what I’ve chosen? Yikes!

Well, we all know that you can’t please all the people all the time, and over the years some members have, believe it or not, disliked some of my choices. I know, I know, hard to believe but there you are. Anyway, I take the advice that I would give to anyone else. I use criteria by which to judge a book–for instance this year we are reading contemporary prize winners–and if I’ve stuck to that criteria and if I find the book is literary and worth reading–and worth discussing–then I really don’t worry about whether someone likes it or not.

You see, I don’t think reading a book should necessarily be easy, and I don’t think books worth reading should necessarily be likable. I think books should makes us think, make us feel, make us wonder, make us question, make us…change.

Yes, I will definitely pick up The Unbearable Lightness of Being again–and I will finish it!

What do you think? Is it important for you to like what you’re reading?

2 thoughts on “I Love You But I Hate the Book You Recommended

  1. I have books that friends have given me that I have never even tried to read. I always hope they never ask me if I liked the book–whenever our conversations are about books now, I change the subject!

  2. What is the purpose of reading? Checking off a list of books-“That's it! I'm done for the summer-Just finished the Short List.” Or, is to be able to say with authority that Ulysses is really unreadable? Or, or, or…? There are too many good books in which to lose ones imagination instead of suffering through the bad ones, the unreadable ones, the ones that don't resonate, and ones we “should read.” Buy a new book to support your local bookstore, and if you don't like it, recycle it by giving it to a friend…

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