Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Reading Reviews - When You Find Yourself Stumped.

I was recently reading Lenore's review of Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road and wondering what the heck happened. Lenore is a blogger I respect a great deal and on this book we just don't agree.

 I was admittedly perplexed.

And really sad.

I wanted to write a comment but had no earthly idea of what to write.  I was stumped. But I wasn't going to get angry as I understand that reading is largely subjective (as are our reviews).  I wasn't going to have a cry about it or blame Lenore.  There was logic in what she wrote, I understood where she was coming from but I didn't share the same reading experience.  It was a well written, coherent review from a reader with good taste but all I could think was...

How could she not love my favourite YA book?

After some thought I realised this is what happens when many people come to Persnickety Snark. They read a critical review of a book they love dearly. Whether it was my attempt at reviewing Breaking Dawn fairly (big fat fail) or Wings. Perhaps even the disappointing 2009 angel releases Fallen and Hush, Hush? (Noticing a genre pattern?)  People just sometimes don't agree.  It doesn't make the other person wrong, just different.  This is what makes the YA bloggerdom so fantastic.  What is someone's trash is another person's treasure.  Books become personal to us.  Perhaps not as personal as they do to their authors but they definitely inch beneath the skin and breed loyalty.

I might not understand why readers feel the need to lust after Patch.  Or argue over whether Edward betters Jacob?  But I am very willing to talk about what is going on with Santangelo and Raffy.  Or how good it is to read of some of the Jellicoe Road characters show up in The Piper's Son.  Maybe even discussing the mystical undertones that permeate the book...

If I really engage with a book I am a scary person.  I get intensely connected to the characters to an almost pathetic degree.  You can see this in action when I start discussing Little Women's Jo marrying Professor freaking Bhaer. All these years later and I still don't get it.  Laurie FTW!

Reading might not be a contact sport, not the way I read anyway.  But there is a definitely a cheerleader component to it.  Whether it is celebrating in a character's victories or commiserating in their loss - we are invested.

So whether or not you enjoy Jellicoe Road, or any other book I hold dear to my heart, is not the point.  The point is that you are reading and that you are invested.

Are there any books where you've read a critical review at odds with your reading experience and been completely bowled over?

Adele's review of Jellicoe Road.

31 comments:

Melina said...

That happens with me sometimes. I really like a book and someone else doesn't like it at all. Everyone has their own taste.

Cadentia said...

Man, this is making me worry. Because I recommended Jellicoe Road to a girl and I fear she may not like it...

Anyways, when someone doesn't like a book I love, my reaction is always a 'huh?' at first, and then a 'different tastes'. I won't pester anyone to loving a book I love if they don't.

As for the question, I have this book that I love and that hasn't been translated to english (so I'm not going to name it). It has lots of flaws, but I absolutely love it! But there are lots of readers that don't like it for its obvious flaws, and I understand. It's easier for me to comprehend why someone doesn't like a book when I consider it flawed than when I think it's awesome.

Lynn M said...

Sure, I'm disappointed when someone doesn't love something I loved, but I tend to become far more baffled when people love a book I didn't like. I just can't manage to wrap my brain around the idea that these people didn't see all of the flaws, problems, stupid characters, plot holes, whatever that I found. Then I tend to question their intelligence or at the least, their taste. For the life of me I just don't understand how anyone could enjoy "Breaking Dawn" when I couldn't even finish it. I suppose that's why the old saw "different strokes for different folks" holds so much truth.

Chapter Chicks said...

I haven't had it happened where they just hated a book that I've adored. But I have had it where someone doesn't agree on certain things or love the same characters and my jaw drops. I'm like..... how? Lol

Great post! :)

Sharyla said...

First of all, what an excellent post!

Secondly,

I recently read reviews of Good Omens, which is my all time favorite book...ever. And I started reading them thinking "All of these will be positive and full of oh so much love" but, as I kept reading, they weren't. I eventually had to quit reading the reviews because my blood pressure kept rising. When one person mentioned that Neil Gaiman can't be funny...and Terry Pratchett can't be spooky, I almost threw my computer. Up until that point I'd never realized I could feel this way about someone else's thoughts on my favorite book!

Alison said...

I think Jellicoe Road is a hard one to like, even though it's one of the best books I've read in a long time. You have to work at it. If you're not in the right mood or don't have enough time to really think about it, it's going to be hard to like. You could argue that this demonstrates the complexity of the book and the skill of the author. You could also argue that a truly skilled author would be able to turn out a book of equal quality that isn't so hard to read. I don't know which is right.

On the other hand, I didn't know anything about the Piper's Son. I read your review and now I really look forward to the US review.

PS. I didn't love Fallen or Hush, Hush either.

Lenore said...

Adele! While I was reading Jellicoe Road and not liking it, I honestly felt like I was letting YOU down. Because I KNOW how much you love it. I wanted to love it too. And there were a lot of things I did love about it. But on a whole, it just didn't completely work for me.

I know how you feel though. I have a friend who is like my book twin. If I love something, she's going to love it and visa versa. But she hated DUST OF 100 DOGS by AS King. And I almost couldn't forgive her for it.

Megan Hoover-Swicegood said...

Disagreeing with other people about a book is one of my favorite things about book blogging. Sometimes, it's hard not to get defensive, but honestly, I think everyone has a reason they didn't like (or did like) something and as long as they explain it to me, I'm totally willing to go with it. I love Simone Elkeles books, but I can see how they're played out stereotypes just racing towards lust - knowing that doesn't make me like them any less. It's cool to have a different slant on a book. Makes me really think about what I'm reading and how it might be taken by other people. I've even done entire posts on books I hated and everyone else seems to have loved and vice versa.

bibliophile brouhaha said...

I know exactly what you mean! This is going to sound awful of me, but if I am in love with a book and it is so clear to me what the characters are like, then sometimes I assume that the person who has a negative outlook on the book simply did not read it correctly. Certain genres or books I can be, "Okay, different tastes." However, I if I emotionally connected with book, it just kills me when people don't 'get' it.

I didn't like hush, hush, either - reviewed it and gave it a 'C'.

-Linds, bibliophile brouhaha

Ovrelia said...

I actually like reading book reviews with opposite opinion to mine; it gives me a full perspective on the book. If an opinion stated logically and objectively, I usually see the point a person is trying to make, even if I disagree. On the other hand, if it is expressed in the form of “OMG!! THIS IS THE MOST AWESOME THING EVER” or “this is complete garbage”, without any further explanations, I disregard such reviews despite whether I liked the book or I didn’t.

There are a lot of books that I liked and other people didn’t, and other way around. For example, I hated Wuthering Heights, but a lot of people love it; or I loved One Hundred Years of Solitude and a lot of people don’t.

As for Jellicoe Road, I had pretty much the same experience with the book as Lenore and my opinion on the book is very similar to hers. I know a lot of people whom I respect, who loved the book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Thank you for the great post, Adele!

Carla said...

I totally understand what you mean because when I love a book I LOVE it and any flaws it may have do not even get picked up on my radar, it's like they are erased. When someone I know doesnt love a book I love it freaks me out a little because i can't wrap my head around why they didn't love it. But it's kind of amazing because thats why blogging is so fantastic, i love that other people can get something totally different from a book that i did and it's nice to see it fromn another persons perspective.

Sunhi said...

It can be so hard to understand why someone you normally agree with suddenly has the exact opposite opinion on a book, that's for sure. I was reading a book blog that dissed McKinley's Sunshine, for instance, and I was stunned. It might even have been this blog, for all I know. I remember wondering if I could trust that reviewer to be a good reviewer for me in the future (of course they could, obviously). Sometimes, it can be something like they read the book after too many people talked it up, or they read it when they weren't in the right frame of mind for it, or they read it and they didn't mind the writing or the plot, but the characters didn't speak to them in the same manner. I always try to shrug it off and to remind myself that just because people are similar, they are the same. :)

Amy said...

OH this is such a fabulous post. And yes! I know what you mean and how you feel, it's kind of how I felt when the reaction to Mockingjay was so divided and even now while I know some of the criticism is valid or at least understand where it's coming from I still don't get it.

But like an earlier commenter said, I also have the opposite problem..when someone LOVES something I don't. I keep wanting to point out what I see as the flaws :P

Every reading experience is different for every person and there's such a strange chemistry between reader and book. Life experiences, turns of phrase--all speak differently to us. It's so interesting!

Nomes said...

awesome post. i know the feeling.

i already know my reading taste seems to be in the minority. i easily rave about lesser known books (most of them Aussie) but then when i get tempted to read a book that is receiving glowing reviews in the blog universe, i am usually left not feeling the love.

most of them are b/c (despite knowing it's not my thing) i get tempted to give the paranormal scene another chance - sometimes it seems like everyone is just having the best time reading those books, you know?

one book that did nothing for me but EVERYONE has loved is Hoban's Willow. Just put it down to not my thing :)

(i agree, on some small level I feel upset when someone doesn't connect the same way i do to my favourite books - especially if it's a friend)

Abby said...

I have a friend from library school who has the exact opposite taste as I do. I can almost count on it that if I love a book, he'll hate it. And if he loves a book, I'll hate it.

Kinda like me and the entire Printz Committee, perhaps.

(Sorry, Adele, but I hated JELLICOE ROAD. I wanted to throw it across the room and I only stuck with it because I was reading it for the Cybils and some of my fellow panelists loved it so.)

Jade said...

I KNOW everyone is different, but I'm still horrified that there are people who didn't like Jellicoe...

Chachic said...

Hey, I also saw Lenore's review and I really felt sad that she didn't like Jellicoe Road because I loved it and I've been recommending it left and right ever since I discovered it. Oh and thanks for the info about some of the characters making an appearance in The Piper's Son! More to look forward to in that book.

Regarding your post, I understand what you mean. Reading really becomes personal sometimes. There are books that I really really love and I feel devastated when I see someone not liking it. But like you said, I accept the fact that we all have different tastes and I'm content with the idea that people are willing to try out the books that I recommend.

Laura said...

Wow, I'm surprised that Lenore didn't like Jellicoe Road. I would've thought this book is right up her alley! I loved the book and the intertwining stories. The Oz slang was hard to get thru at the beginning, but I slogged thru it. But I agree with you about the other books. WINGS was a DNF.

Reading will always be subjective.

Anonymous said...

Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

Audrey (holes In My brain) said...

Aweseome post Adele, there are a few books that I'm way beyond emotionally invvested (jellicoe is one of them) and I might just be very sad to see someone not enjoy it as much as I am. As for other books that I greatly enjoy, I like reading the differing opinions and honestly, there are many times when I can totally see where they're coming from.
Also, it was weird not referring to The Mullet Brothers as "the mullet brothers" in The Piper's Son.. or was that just me.. xD love that melina brought in a couple beloved characters into her new book :D

Vee said...

I had a similar reaction when reading Lenore's review, because Jellicoe is just one of those books of my heart (sidenote: So is Little Women. And I totally agree. WTF is up with Professor Bhaer? He did kinda win me over in Little Men, but I nearly cried when Laurie married Amy).

Anyway, this is a fantastic post and one to keep in mind as I traipse all over the blogosphere. I may not enjoy paranormal romance in general, but others find it fantastic and don't enjoy the more realistic books I do. Or people won't enjoy a style of prose, or tense, or whatever like I do. You're totally right, ultimately all that matters is that people are reading, and they're involved in that.

Michelle said...

I wonder, though, if genre preference plays a role in it all (as you alluded to). Reviews are honest and thoughtful for all books but I suspect the correlation of "negative" reviews to positive relates directly to your preferences as a reader. I know when I step outside the normal boundaries of my preferences my reviews are slightly more critical.

Kelli (I'd So Rather Be Reading) said...

It happens to me a lot. I am totally with you on Jo and the professor. When Amy married Laurie I was SHOCKED and dismayed. I too, did not like Hush Hush or Fallen and was thrilled to find that you felt the same way. I love your honest reviews!

BookChic said...

Great post and I loved reading all the comments!

I do get that way when I see someone not liking a book that I did like, but I usually get over it. And I love the person who mentioned Good Omens- that book is one that I will not understand how anyone couldn't like it. It's an amazing, hilarious book! No ifs, ands or buts about it. If you don't like it, you are not my friend. Luckily, this has never popped up, lol.

Anna said...

I think the differing views are part of the fun. When I first read Lenore's review of Jellicoe Road, I was shocked too! But, she expressed her opinion in a thoughtful and kind way. That's the key here! Loved this post: "The point is that you are reading and that you are invested." EXACTLY!

Carmelina said...

Always interesting stuff, Adele. (The first Melina in the comments isn't me, but lovely to see another one out there)

What never surprises me are two like-minded individuals not loving the same novel or film. I so understand the Jo and Professor thing more than Jo and Laurie, for example, and at times I’ve found my thoughts very different to yours about a particular novel. I once wrote about my reaction to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Justine’s blog because that novel didn’t work for me and seemed to work for 1.5trillion other people. I just didn’t care for those characters. Although I disagree passionately with Lenore when she states that a book is fundamentally flawed if it has to be read twice, I will own up to the fact that Taylor is difficult and, at times, a very unlikeable protagonist.

The audience not connecting with our work, most of the time, is not about bad writing or bad reading. It’s about a million other things that fall into that grey area, mostly found in the subjective world of the arts. I love Glee. My friend hates it. I think the Royal Tennabaums is a piece of genius. My friend says it’s a form of torture. What some see as total confusion in the first hundred pages of Jellicoe, others see as a mystery waiting to unravel. I think an important thing for us writers is that there is intelligent dialogue about our work, regardless of whether a blogger likes our books or not. The reviews written by yourself and Lenore are intelligent, if not sometimes harsh. But I like the world of harsh intelligent reviews better than a world of no reviews at all.

Melina Marchetta

Allison said...

I love what Melina Marchetta said in her comment, its so true! Better people read books we love and dislike them than people just don't read at all.

I relate more to you - being the person that constantly dislikes books that others love (including Hush, Hush and Fallen and the Iron Fey trilogy). That happens to me a LOT more often than the other way around. I sometimes sit back and wonder if I'm just too critical? But...it really just comes down to different people liking different things.

Lynsey Newton said...

I've been thinking about this very topic myself lately as I read a negative review of a book I fell head over heels for. I'm always disappointed when someone doesn't love the books I love and ocassionally I feel it on a personal level, especially when it's a book that meant so much to me. I know that sounds stupid but it's like someone saying you have bad tastes or that you're a bad reader because you loved a certain book. And of course I know this is rubbish.

On the flipside, It's good to read other reviews which may have picked up on something you missed or interpreted something differently. That's what I find so fascinating about readers - how we can all take something different from a book.

What I don't like it outrageous reviews that feel they have to rely on bad language and downright rudeness because they think it's cool. But that's another story...

AnimeGirl said...

I'm one of those people who sees books as friends, so for me it's a huge deal to talk about them.

I'm oddly enough always willing to hear good and bad reviews of books I love, and I try to be very tolerant about it because I've often found myself hating widely popular books (twilight, faery books, angel books, etc) and I've encountered both good and bad reactions to my reviews, most people just say "thank you for an honest review", some say "it's because you're too old to get why Edward is so yummy" (I'm 26 and admittedly went through my Vamp phase way back during Interview with the vampire the movie), some just think I'm being contrary.

So long as the review is logic and well thought out I'm glad for it, good or bad.

In the particular case of Jellicoe, I loved it from my first reading. It's one of those books of which I have a very vivid memory of the first time I read it (something shared only by certain books like PD or The Truth About Forever) and I remember it made me cry during the first three pages.
I was invested from the get go and even if it was slightly confusing at first, I didn't care - though, to be fair, i had heard it was hard to get into it but that it was worth it(from a reader I respect very much), so I was somewhat prepared for it.

I'm very much like you when I engage with a book (and I've been in the Amy-Laurie-Jo-Professor B debate before, too), and I do think that's the awesome of any book, when it connects with you - not necessarily because it's telling your life's story but because it speaks to something your heart can understand even if you have never found yourself in such and such situation. I think that's why Family and Love are two themes you can find anywhere.

Alex.

PS - Jellicoe characters in the Piper's son? REALLY???!!!!!! OMG!

amrapajalic.com said...

I'm loving this discussion. Years ago I used to read books, literary, classics books that everyone lauded, but didn't work for me. I'd be too scared to speak up and say, not my cup of tea thinks, feeling that I was lacking. That I wasn't smart enough to understand the subtext or hidden message of the book. But that's beauty of reading. We all have our own tastes and loves and thankfully there are so many books out there-we won't ever have problems finding books in our flavour.

For my two cents-I loved Jellicoe Road. I loved being disorientated and not knowing what's going on. Having the mystery unravel slowly and the pieces come together. And I especially loved the boy in the tree and the mystical element.

I didn't used to like books that were work, but now I love not knowing what I'm reading and this is why I don't read book blurbs and skip reviews that include too much plot. I like being surprised.

Chutzpah said...

What a great read this post and the comments below were! I love when authors comment on reviews, it just makes it all the more interesting. Let me tell you this- I don't know if I'll like this book or hate it, but I DEFINITELY have to read it!