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Not Sharing the Love

April 26, 2008

Today, someone I know posted her comments in an internet forum about a book I love. For her, it was a C- read — she found the story unbelievable on a few levels.

On one level, I can understand that kind of experience. Nora Roberts’ Three Sisters Island trilogy doesn’t work for me because I have a completely different vision of the part of the world in which the stories are set, and I can’t get over the dissonance between my vision and hers. She writes about a Massachusetts I don’t recognize; the details of her setting make me think, “But it’s not like that here.”

I’m not saying my vision is correct or that hers is wrong. I don’t believe that, for one thing. Other people who live on the North Shore might experience it the way she presents it — I don’t know. I just know that I have a particular experience of this part of the world, a particular way of looking at it, and what I know isn’t in those books. (What I know is more accurately described in the land-bound parts of The Perfect Storm; when I read, “A soft fall rain slips down through the trees and the smell of ocean is so strong that it can almost be licked off the air.” I knew exactly what Sebastian Junger was talking about.)

Beyond my understanding of the reaction to the book I liked, though, was offense. I took it personally that she hadn’t cared for a book that I had loved, loved, loved. I’m a little puzzled that I’m reacting that way. Is it just oversensitivity? Could it be insecurity? What’s going on here? Why does it bother me that she’s reacting the way I react to some books?

I think it’s probably that I doubt my own taste, and her reaction has called it into question. It has that same feeling I get when someone questions something I’m insecure about. I’ll have to sit with this for a while, and see where it leads me.

Beyond my offended feelings, however, there’s also a part of me that finds it endlessly fascinating that there can be such different reactions to the same thing. There is a theory that reading a book is a collaborative act between writer and reader, that the reader, reading, completes the book. I think differing reactions support that. I know that we all bring ourselves to the page, and that we have experiences and expectations that factor into our reading. In my case, who I am and what I know doesn’t mesh with the world presented in the Three Sisters Island trilogy, and so for me, reading those books can’t provide me with that dance of imagination that creates a satisfying reading experience.  I imagine that’s what happened with the woman I know and the book I love — what she knows of the world isn’t reflected in the book, so she doesn’t connect with it.

And, really, that’s not a reflection on me and my taste…or on her and her taste. It’s just an example of the mystery of preference, of the thing that makes one woman’s treasured keeper another woman’s hated wallbanger. It’s also proof that sharing a love of books doesn’t always mean sharing a love of the same books.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Rebecca R. Ewart permalink
    May 11, 2008 1:25 pm

    I’ve also felt offended and hurt when someone dislikes one of my favorite books (or movies). I guess it’s that the book or movie has a way of seeping into my soul and becomes a part of me. So when the work is casually dismissed/disliked or outright hated by someone, it can feel like a personal rejection. Which is crazy and hypersensitive, but nevertheless, I often can’t help but feel this way initially.

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