Posted by: Kate | March 19, 2009

On Reading

Reading is a funny thing. We all have our tastes and preferences, yet we also read the critics and listen to what they say. We believe, often rightly, that people who have spent years studying literature have valuable insight on what makes a good book. Critics can elevate a book to new heights, or dash it before it even gets out the door.

But here’s the thing. No matter what the critics may say, reading is still personal. Either you like the book, or you don’t. Case in point, Shan’s post about  Blackstrap Hawco. This was a critically-acclaimed book, but Shan had some personal reservations with it that made her not want to continue reading it no matter how the critics loved it. 

(I recently put down a book mid-way, by an author I have greatly enjoyed in the past. Jane Hamilton’s book Disobedience just wasn’t working for me, so I chose to stop reading it. And it felt great to make that decision.) 

I have just finished reading Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje. My mum asked me to read it, as she is reading it for her book group next month and she wanted to talk with me about it first. Again, critically-acclaimed book, certainly a well-respected author. But honestly? I didn’t like the book. The story was frustrating and fractured, not quite a slice of life and not quite a complete story. I actually found it a book almost written for other writers. It was full of clever literary references, and had beautiful phrases, yet the story, the meat of the book, was lacking. My mum had felt the same way, but because she didn’t study language or books or writing, she second-guessed her opinion, and felt that she must be missing something. 

As readers, only we know what turns our crank. We all have areas of interest, or styles of stories we gravitate towards. Certainly exposing yourself to new genres and new ideas in writing is excellent, but for most of us reading is done to relax and enjoy. We’re not writing university papers on these books. It’s ok to not like the critics’ choices. So read what you like. And, if a book isn’t working for you, then have the courage to simply put it down and find a new one.

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Responses

  1. *shudders* don’t remind me.

  2. I have to agree with you about Ondaatje’s book. Critically acclaimed, but lacking. Two very different stories, not well combined, disjointed. But, as you said, beautiful evocative language.

  3. I no longer will even read a review except occasionally from friends who have similar tastes as myself. Your statement that reading is personal holds so much truth behind it. I also think that tastes evolve with age, with moods, with what’s going on in life at the moment you are reading something. All those things really affect how I react to a book. Nobody else can predict that.


Welcome! I always like to hear what people think of a post, it often leads to a great discussion! I am now responding to comments and questions right in the comments themselves, so other people can follow the conversation.

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