Our Reading Lives

The Joy of Hate-Reading

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Teresa Preston

Staff Writer

Since 2008, Teresa Preston has been blogging about all the books she reads at Shelf Love. She supports her book habit by working as a magazine editor at a professional association in the Washington, DC, area, which is (in)conveniently located just a few steps from a used bookstore. When she’s not reading or editing, she’s likely to be attending theatre, practicing yoga, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer again, or doting on her toothless orange cat, Anya. Twitter: @teresareads

I’m usually very good about giving up on a book that dissatisfies me. As I’ve written before, a book doesn’t even have to be bad for me to give me up it. If I’m not enjoying it, why keep reading? There are too many other good books to read.

But sometimes…oh, sometimes…a terrible book will get its hooks into me and I can’t look away. And what’s more, I sort of enjoy the experience. It’s a hate read, and I love it.


What makes a good hate read? There are several things that come to mind.

For one thing, it has to have some sort of redeeming value. In my case, it’s usually a compelling plot, full of mysteries and questions. My most recent hate read, All Our Wrong Todays, had a fantastic storyline. I just loathed the main character and everything about the treatment of women in the book. But I still had to know how it ended.

There’s also sometimes an element of hope involved in a hate read. I want it to turn around. Maybe someone I respect recommended it to me, maybe I like the author, or maybe I really want it to live up to its potential. I keep reading in hopes that it will.

Good hate reads also have clear and identifiable problems. If it’s just vague dislike, then I can’t be bothered to care. Books like that fall in the dreaded “meh” category and are not worth my time to finish.

Speaking of time, a good hate read doesn’t take a lot of my time. If I’m spending weeks with a book I hate, then there’s a problem. I need to Let. It. Go.

So what do I do when I’m done with a good hate read? Because I review every book I finish, I get to share my dissatisfaction. There’s a pleasure in this, too! Getting cranky in public about a bad book is fun!


But a word of caution. Every book has its fans. When I rant about a book I hate, I try to think about how a lover of that book will feel about what I have to say. I do my very best not to lob personal insults at the author or the book’s fans. This is tricky, because people do sometimes take differences in taste personally, but I cannot be responsible for people’s reactions. I can only do my best not to be personal in my complaints. How do I do this? I try to acknowledge what the book does well or what people might enjoy about the book. (Had a good plot! I wanted to finish!)

If the author has written other books I enjoyed, I try to mention those as often as I mention the book I disliked. One of my most loathed books of recent years was A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara. It rubbed me wrong in more ways than I can count. But I adored her first book, The People in the Trees and have recommended it frequently, often as I’m complaining about her more recent triumph.

Although I’m happy to share my dislike in public, I avoid tagging the author when complaining about the book on social media. That’s just rude. And I also try not to butt into conversations among lovers of the book to make my complaints—that is, unless I know the people well and know they’d want to hear my opinion, and even then I’m careful to make it clear that it’s my opinion, not a declaration of absolute truth about the book’s quality.

With all those caveats in mind, you might wonder why I bother making my complaints known at all. Isn’t that yucking other people’s yums? Why do that? The reason is that I’ve found value in other people’s negative reviews in the past, both because they’ve warned me off books that weren’t worth my time and because they let me know I wasn’t alone.

It’s frustrating to look forward to a book, to see near-universal praise for it, and then to find clear and obvious, potentially deal-breaking flaws in it. No book is perfect, and a balance of voices about a book’s value can help readers set their expectations. If every word about a book is positive, how will people know what to avoid? When readers are divided, I may still read a book, because I know I could come down on either side. But it’s helpful to know in advance what the issues may be.

So embrace your hate reads. Share them with the world. Just remember that it’s your opinion and not everyone will agree.