So you may have seen the news: Harper Lee is releasing a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, some fifty-five years after the publication of her first (and only) novel. It’s titled Go Set A Watchman and will be published this summer. A fair amount of controversy is already brewing, as it’s not at all clear whether Lee ever intended to publish this novel or whether she was manipulated into doing so.
I follow a lot of bookish pages on Facebook, so the news of this new book has been all over my feed as of late. And yesterday’s discussion with a friend prompted this blog post, so I’d like to thank Charley @ Charley R’s Leaning Tower of Plot for being fabulous. (As always.)
Charley didn’t like To Kill A Mockingbird. Full disclosure: Neither did I. I tried to read it when I was about twelve, but quit halfway through because I just couldn’t get into the story. I disliked the writing style and felt as though there were a glass wall between the characters and myself: I couldn’t connect to or care for any of them.
We chatted about this on Facebook for a while, and then Charley said THE THINGY THAT INSPIRED THIS POST: “So many of [the fans] look at you like you just ate a baby in front of them if you say you didn’t like it. Or worse, accuse you of not understanding that Racism Is Bad and We Should Feel Bad.”
Oh, man. I understand that feeling. I understand it really, really well. I nearly posted a massively long response to Charley’s status until I realized that, hey, this is blog fodder! CHARLEY, THIS IS ME REPLYING TO YOUR COMMENT. I WAS NOT NEGLECTING YOU.
Anyway, I understood how she felt because I’ve faced similarly awkward reactions after admitting that I disliked a certain book. I’ve experienced this once with To Kill A Mockingbird, and experienced it many, many more times with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
It seems as though everyone and their mother loves that book.
I do not.
I wanted to, though. I really, really wanted to! I wanted to fangirl with you guys. That didn’t happen, though. I’m not just unimpressed; I loathe that book.
Now, with a normal book that wouldn’t matter. I could say, “Oh, I didn’t like that one,” and the discussion would be over. A few people would probably roll their eyes and silently disagree with me, but that would be the end of it. No one would be particularly bothered by my opinion.
The Fault in Our Stars is not a normal book, however. Disliking it results in not one but two strikes against me. First of all, it’s a very popular book. VERY popular. Everyone and their mother likes it, right? It has become one of the most widely read YA books ever – so when I say that I didn’t like the book, it’s like a mob is coming after me.
Secondly, it’s a book about big ideas. The Fault in Our Stars is a Cancer Book.
Boy, am I tired of hearing, “Don’t you care about cancer?! You’re heartless and weird.”
Like, no? I just didn’t like the book. I found its characters pretentious, and the purple prose is so thick you could cut it with a knife. I predicted the ending within the first two chapters. I thought the cigarette metaphor was pointless and nonsensical.
What does any of that have to do with cancer? I don’t care for the book, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about cancer patients. PEOPLE, STOP ACTING AS THOUGH I JUST ATE A BABY IN FRONT OF YOU. (Or ate a baby behind your back, for that matter.) I am not a baby-eater. I am not a cancer-patient-hater. I. Just. Didn’t. Like. The. Book.
I am capable of pondering the bigger ideas that I feel The Fault in Our Stars failed to do justice to: Life. Death. Futility. Youth. Any book, any book at all, is just the medium through which we express our ideas. It’s just a vehicle for one’s thoughts – and, if I can use a metaphor of my own here, I am not fond of any vehicle John Green uses to drive his ideas around.
There are other ways to discuss Big Ideas. Some don’t even involve books at all! I love to read, but there are soooo many other ways to introduce yourself to Weighty Themes and Deep Thoughts.
Another example? I love Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, but I have read multiple negative reviews of the book on Goodreads. At first I was like, “WHAT THE,” but once I actually bothered to read them, I realized those readers weren’t weird at all.
They weren’t saying, “Who cares about the Holocaust?” They weren’t expressing Neo-Nazi ideologies at all. Instead they made interesting comments about her writing style, the passages they considered particularly melodramatic, et cetera. Most of them even wrote something along the lines of, “If you want to know more about WWII/the Holocaust, I think [insert title of book here] is a much better read.”
I may not share their opinions, but these people definitely aren’t the Baby-Eaters of the Book World.
Another example? I was trading book recommendations back and forth with one of my friends… who I wasn’t out to yet. That little fact right there is important, because when my friend suggested David Levithan’s books I said (in my usual emphatic Engie fashion) “NO” and she said (in full fangirl mode) “BUT IT’S ABOUT GAY LOVE DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT THAT.”
Of course? Oh, sweetie, I am really really effing gay – I just didn’t like his books. They make me fall asleep. If I’m in the mood for super-queer books about Love and other Big Ideas, I’ll… read something else. (Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post comes to mind. Levithan’s books are small potatoes in comparison to that…)
And that’s basically the point I’ve been trying to make all along: If you don’t like a certain Big Ideas book, so what? It’s OK to not like everything you read, and I’m more than a little bit tired about people making one another feel guilty because Gosh Darn It, This Is A Book About Big Ideas And You Must Like It Or Else You Are A Terrible, Sucky Person Who Probably Eats Babies As A Hobby!
I could care less if someone doesn’t like a particular Big Ideas book. What I do care about is whether they care about the Big Ideas contained within that book. Reviewing SERIOUS BOOKS is always so difficult when we don’t like them, but it shouldn’t be that way. I’ve never said “it’s just a book” before and probably never will again, but: It’s just a book. Disliking the book is not the same as not caring about the issues it discusses.
So don’t feel weird for not liking a serious book, or a classic work, or whatever. It’s just a book. Didn’t like it? Go find other, better ones about the same subject.
P.S. Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts has basically the same plot as The Fault in Our Stars, but now the story takes place in Australia. I loved it a lot. I don’t have any recommendations for alternatives to To Kill A Mockingbird, though – but if you do, I’d love to know.