Most of the time, when I finish a book I don’t like, I consider it a fault of my book selection abilities: it just wasn’t for me. I can see how some people might like it, but it didn’t line up with what I enjoy in a novel. For instance, I can’t stand a lot of description of imagery. As a not very visual person, it always feels like a slog to read. My eyes glaze right over it. But I know that plenty of people love books with rich descriptions, because they can vividly imagine the scene. Great for them, not for me.
Sometimes the fault lies more in the marketing: I was promised a romantic read, and this turned to be meditation on mortality. The cover suggested something fun and silly, and this was a heartbreaking read I was not in the headspace for. Of course, occasionally I just think a book is bad. As much as I want to believe there’s a reader for every book, there are some that I finish and can only think about the glaring faults.
The weirdest thing, though, is when your experience of a book doesn’t match up to what seems to be everyone else’s. It’s not just, “Well, I didn’t like this because it’s a space opera and I’m not much of a fan of that genre,” but: “Everyone says this is funny, but I found it depressing??” There are a few authors who I just seem to bounce off of. When I read their books, I just…don’t understand what they’re trying to do. I understand the literal meaning of the words, I’m following the plot, but I just don’t get the selling points. I don’t understand the appeal.
There’s one author in particular I seem to have this problem with the most — probably because he’s such a popular author that I kept going back and trying again, because I felt like I must be missing something. Since his work is so beloved, I’m going to refrain from naming names, but every time I read his books, I feel like I’m reading them through a window. There’s a distance from the characters, the world, even the writing. I can’t seem to ever got lost in the story.
It might be that the story is dependent on the visuals. They’ve definitely been frequently adapted into successful movies. I often have this problem with fantasy novels: some of them seem to so much want to be movies. They rely on you imagining this unique world, the breathtaking landscape, the mythical animals prancing their way across the scene. Without projecting an image onto the words, maybe they lose some of that magic.
Trying to read books that you don’t connect with that everyone else loves can feel like you’re part of some elaborate and very specific practical joke. We read the same thing. How is it that you feel madly in love with it and I yawned through the last 150 pages? When I read a popular YA fantasy heist book, the majority of the characters felt unmemorable. Here is a book with a fierce fanbase and a ton of fan art devoted specifically to how much they love these characters, and I couldn’t tell you a single one of their names now. (I should specify here that I’ve also read lots of fantasy books that I love! I’m not trying to disparage the whole genre!)
Perhaps this is an exercise in empathy. I finished a book recently that has an ending I hated so much I wanted to throw it against the wall. It felt gimmicky and unearned. It messed up the pace of the book. I immediately thought, “Well, then, what was the point of X, Y, and Z plot point? Why even have this middle 100 pages?” Not only did I not like it, I couldn’t understand why anyone would like it. I saw TikToks recommending it and reacted with skepticism. “Have you even read the book?” I thought. The premise sounds good, sure, but it doesn’t deliver. Of course, I’m wrong: plenty of people read and loved that book, especially the ending.
This is perhaps most true in books across all types of media. Reading is an intensely personal experience, internalized in a way that’s not true of movies or TV shows. I can disagree about the kind of TV shows I like best versus your favourites, but I rarely have this experience of “Did we even watch the same thing??” like I do with books. It’s yet another reminder that everyone experiences the world through their own lens, and it’s simplistic to imagine that our minds all function essentially the same. I think it’s beautiful that people can find such joy in the books I’ve referenced in this article. I don’t get it…but I’m happy for you.