I can’t be the only one who gets bent out of shape when someone I love HATES a book I LOVED. Or LOVES a book I HATED.
It feels personal. It’s not personal. But it feels personal. Like your mom hating your husband. Or your best friend forever being buddy-buddy with your worst enemy. We don’t just read books, we have RELATIONSHIPS with them (the theory upon which my personal blog, Books are my Boyfriends is entirely based). So it’s hard to reconcile sometimes that the preferences of those we love can be so different from our own tastes. It’s especially hard when your tastes almost always align with a particular reading friend. When they diverge drastically, it can feel like a betrayal. It’s NOT a betrayal. But it can feel like one.
So how do we have engaging and inspiring conversations with people we like about books regarding we have such diametrically-opposed opinions? A few thoughts:
1.) It’s not personal so DON’T MAKE IT PERSONAL.
I know I said this up top. Whatever, I’m saying it again. If you start your sentences with “I can’t believe you…” or “How could you possibly think….” you know you’re making it personal. And I just told you not to do that. So stop it! Make the talk about the book. Not you. Not your pal. Not your relationship. Not whether or not you’ll be friends in ten years. Not that thing they did at your wedding that really pissed you off. The book. The book. THE BOOK!
2.) Don’t try to change the other person’s mind.
I learned this from a recent episode of the radio show This American Life entitled “Red State Blue State.” In Act One of the show, producer Lisa Pollak speaks to Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, two political opposites who have learned they can talk to each other about their different-as-day-and-night politics as long as the DON’T TRY TO CHANGE THE OTHER PERSON’S MIND. No proselytizing allowed. When you stop trying to change someone’s mind, you start listening. I mean really listening, listening without quickly brainstorming what your next talking point is going to be listening. When you let go of the idea of “winning,” a tempers-flaring debate becomes a passionate conversation. A passionate conversation is MUCH more likely to result in hugs and going out for ice cream after. And who isn’t down for that?
3.) You don’t have to be as crazy-effusive or nuts-critical as you would be talking to someone who shares your opinion.
You’re not “selling out” or “being disingenuous” if you tone down your response. Vitriol can become dislike. Adoration can become appreciation. You’re not changing your opinion. You’re just being an easy conversation partner and a thoughtful friend. So “That author hates women and writes for men that hate women,” can become “I don’t like how that book treats its female characters.” Remember, you hate the book, not your friend. So you can pour all your hate (or love) on the book. You don’t have to dump it all on your friend. We finish books. We don’t (or at least we try not to) finish friends.
4.) It’s not the worst idea in the world to throw in an “I don’t love this book but I DO love you.”
I had a professor in grad school write this on the back of one of my screenplays one time: “I love you. I love your writing. I don’t love this script.” And it made ALL the difference in the world. Of COURSE I wished the professor had loved my screenplay. But it really was enough to know that he still liked my writing and, equally as important, me. I think this would be a gangbusters way to diffuse a tense discussion about a book. “I love you. I love your opinions. I don’t love this book. But I love you.” Who’s not going to friend-melt a little at that line? I would friend-melt like the Wicked Witch at the end of The Wizard of Oz. Seriously, all green goo here.
How do you talk to friends about books you loved that they HATED (or visa versa)?