So much for positivity in difficult and uncertain times – unpopular opinions posts have been popping up in my Facebook feed recently, listing things everyone else seems to like except the person posting. Coffee appears high on many lists, along with concerts, Game of Thrones and tomatoes.
I have also noticed unpopular opinion posts about books, with many commenters eager to share the popular and widely beloved books that they did not enjoy.
A recent post in the Facebook Bookclub by Melanie Soble attracted more than 250 comments from those who were keen to air their views about their literary disappointments.
Melanie’s list included The Nightingale (I assume the bestseller by Kirsten Hannah), The Life of Pi, Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and Pride and Prejudice (cue sharp intakes of breath from lovers of Jane Austen).
Some of the most surprising books, which I would have assumed were universally loved, that people were disappointed by were: Harry Potter, Normal People and Gone Girl.
There were a couple of easy targets, which readers either love, or love to hate, including 50 Shades of Gray, The Alchemist, Eat Pray Love and The Da Vinci Code.
Some commenters added authors’ whole bodies of work to their lists, with Dan Brown, Steven King, Philippa Gregory and even Shakespeare all getting mentions.
While in some ways, this list might seem to be an insult to writers, I also think it must be comforting for those who have been pained by the occasional one-star Goodreads or Amazon review to see that even the world’s most popular books, and quite a few classics, are not universally loved. I doubt the existence of any book that absolutely everyone adored.
In an article about taste in books in The New York Times, Adam Kirsch wrote:
“A reader’s failure to appreciate a book does not mean the book has failed. No book survives unless it has given pleasure to some readers, somewhere; if it does not give pleasure to me, that can only be because I’m not able to perceive what those readers perceived.”
It is the variety in readers’ responses to books which makes reading such a personal experience. Speaking in Melbourne recently, Margaret Atwood said that one part of writing she enjoyed, and made her feel less pressure when producing the follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, was that the reader played such an important part in the way they interpreted a book.
Each reader responds in different ways, taking different messages from the writer and interpreting them in their own way. So, it stands that there is no definitive list of books that are good or bad. Bestseller lists might indicate which books most people have enjoyed, but are no promise that everyone will appreciate them.
It is one thing that makes recommending a book to a friend so fraught – what if they hate the book that you have just swooned about? On the other hand, this variation is also part of the joy of discovering someone else felt the same way about a particular book. And that is what makes the exchange and discussion of books so much fun.
In the spirit of appreciating our diverse responses to books, let me know those that have disappointed you. Here’s my list of books that I didn’t love as much as everyone else seemed to:
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society
- The Book Thief
- Boy Swallows Universe (I certainly didn’t hate it, I just didn’t love it the way everyone else did)
- Jasper Jones
- The Hobbit
- All the Light We Cannot See
And let me know if there are any of my favourites that you didn’t enjoy. You can find them in my reflection on a decade of reading, my list of what I loved in 2019 or my thoughts on what separates a good book from a great one.