Monday, July 25, 2011

Books I Know I'll Hate: The Red Flags

Right now a friend is trying to talk me into reading a book I just know I'll hate. It's literary, the author is from my hometown, it's been getting nothing but rave reviews, but I don't want to read it. True, some books I've been forced to read (by my book club) I have in fact liked. But some I've just hated.

Over the years, I've been trying to see commonalities between those books that would alert me so I can avoid them. I've found a few:

  • book described as "lyrical" or "poetic" or "atmospheric:

  • cast of characters list at beginning or end of book

  • book, author, or main character described as "earnest"

  • blurbs comparing the author/book to other authors/books I hate

  • winning the Pulitzer for Fiction, or the NBA for Fiction (I have no problem with the nonfiction winners of both awards.)
None of these issues are intrinsically bad, they're all just bad for me. I like a book with a pretty straightforward story line, where things actually happen, where we don't stray off-topic too often (and when we do, there's a reason for it.) I like books with a hint of humor, people who don't take themselves too seriously, who don't think too highly of themselves. I hate a book where halfway through, I have no idea who any of the characters are because they've been so shallowly developed that they make no impression (and a listing of the characters is just a dagger to the chest because that says to me that the author knows that his/her readers will have a difficult to impossible time keeping the characters straight and instead of perhaps developing them better or paring down the extraneous ones, they've taken the lazy way out and just made a list, thinking that will get them off the hook.)

I don't trust a person who claims to not hate any books. I think you can tell much, much more about a person by the books they hate than the ones they love (also with sports teams.) In fact when recommending books to a person, I've been known to ask, much to their shock, to tell me a couple of books they've hated. Book lovers aren't supposed to hate book, right? Well if you don't hate anything, then I dare say you don't think very deeply, have very high standards, or are willing to stray out of your comfort zone. After all, it's a thin line between love and hate.

What books have you hated?


Caroline Starr Rose said...

Not The God of Small Things! NOOOOOOOOO!!

The Known World is waiting for me on the shelf.

I never finished Cold Mountain.

Suzanne said...

Cold Mountain did not do anything for me.

Hate is a pretty strong word, but I strongly disliked The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. I also didn't get the greatness of A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Interesting post -- I agree it is not normal to like everything you read.

christa @ mental foodie said...

Couldn't agree with you more - esp bullet 1 and 5. I always wonder how this book won this award or that... but I guess I am not qualify to be a judge.

Good idea about asking what books the person hates when recommending books. I usually ask them what movies they like to get a sense of their style. But I'll have to remember that from now on! Though my friend did tell me without me prompting her - she said she hates sad/depressing and gruesome books. Oops, there goes most of my fav books! In fact, I could hardly find a happy book from the books I'd read :)

Carin Siegfried said...

@Christa, I HATE when people say they don't want anything sad to happen in a book. My response ususally is, so you don't want any plot? Because something unpleasant or upsetting MUST happen or else nothing will happen. Or maybe recommend a cookbook for them. I do have a list of funny books, but it's very short, and unpleasant things still sometimes happen in them because often humor is what makes pain more palatable. So I often make them clify - does it need to have nothing sad/depressing IN the book, or can it have sad/despressing parts as long as it ends on an up note? If the former, I can't really help them. I challenge them to give me some examples and inevitably, they ALL have sad/depressing parts in them.

Christy said...

Ooh, so agree with you there about lyrical. To me, that just says that the author flexes their vocabulary at you. Writing shouldn't be there to just look pretty, it's got to be engaging me in the story.

Ugh, Cold Mountain.

Elegance of the Hedgehog is a divisive book and I came down on the 'hate it' side. Along those lines, I don't like books where the author tries to make the protagonist look awesome by making the whole cast of minor characters be unrealistically terrible people.

Carin Siegfried said...

@Christy, I forgot to put Hedgehog on my list! I hated that one too. The reason I forgot it is becuase it isn't a one-star book on GoodReads, becuase I couldn't finish it. Even after I gave up reading it, it gave me bad reading juju and I had to get it out of my house before I finally recovered from my reading funk!