I am an author and avid reader.
I write daily, and read almost constantly. My book shelf is colourful and varied: from ‘chick lit’ to twisty thrillers, memoirs to fantasy.
I have my favourite, go-to genres, of course. But generally, I’ll have a stab at anything.
But some books have always seemed a bit too… ‘clever’ for me.
I’ll give you an example.
About a year ago, I read Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends. I’d heard rave reviews about this book, and was excited to get my teeth into it. I flew through it, polishing it off in less than twenty-four hours.
I was desperate to love it.
But I just didn’t get it.
I was gutted. I had so wanted this book to be everything it was lauded for being, but for me, it wasn’t. As well as feeling disappointed, though, I also felt stupid. Was I just too thick to appreciate its literary value? Did I lack the ability to read between the lines and see the subtle genius of this modern-day masterpiece?
Well, yes. Sort of.
It was clear that the book had missed its mark with me; that the writing style and sharp, ‘brilliant’ prose had flown straight over my head. But it wasn’t a sign of my intelligence. It wasn’t a reflection of my ability.
It was all down to something else entirely.
I’m a human being (shocking, I know — a breathing entity that doesn’t like Sally Rooney? We would be forgiven for thinking they didn’t exist) and my life experience, personality and individual tastes unite to shape what makes me tick. In life, I find joy in specific things. When I read, I want plot, pace and relatable characters.
That this book failed to enthral me wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t Sally Rooney’s fault, either.
It just wasn’t my cup of tea, and I had to swallow down the FOMO and realise that just because everyone is raving about something, doesn’t mean I have to love it. It doesn’t even mean I have to get it. And if I neither adore it nor understand it, who cares? Life’s too short; I’ll move on to something that makes my heart beat faster.
Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Don’t beat yourself up because you’re seemingly the only person who doesn’t have an impressive answer when someone asks what your favourite book is. I used to tell people mine was The Catcher In The Rye (and I do love it), but now I own my tastes: The Dare Game by Jaqueline Wilson, because it’s the soundtrack to my childhood; Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson, because the twist threw me like nothing I’ve ever read before; anything by Sophie Kinsella, because she makes my heart burst with joy and laughter.
Amid all the snobbery and hype, remember that you are the consumer, and there has never been a product in the world that has satisfied every customer. It is not your job to fall in love with everything you read; it is the author’s job to try and help you get there.
And they’ll never succeed across the board. They’ll change one life, and sit sadly on another’s did-not-finish shelf. And that’s OK.
Reading should be a pleasure, not a chore.
Your only responsibility is to find the books that get you going, and unashamedly lay claim to what makes you tick.