Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Dislike Books About Big Ideas

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.”

Sometimes people react like this, too...

Sometimes people react like this, too…

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 starsThe 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 will grayson will graysonof 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.

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30 Responses to Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Dislike Books About Big Ideas

  1. matttblack42 says:

    You didn’t like The Fault in Our Stars? Uggh. What a goon. And to think I was about to invite you to my John Green book club. (Each month we read a JG book, and then once we’ve finished all the JG books, we read them again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Sometimes, just to shake things up, we read a David Levithan book, but then it’s right back to John Green.)

  2. mom says:

    Alternative for “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “A Time to Kill”

  3. So agree! And I think it’s worse with classics because people get SO snobby with them (like, I hated The Great Gatsby but loved Pride and Prejudice…get over it).

    • nevillegirl says:

      Indeed. I looooved The Great Gatsby but… like, if YOU didn’t like it, that’s not my problem! It doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of appreciating classics, or that you’re not smart enough to understand the book’s themes. But sooooo many people act as if that were true.

  4. OHMYGOSH!! I SO AGREE ABOUT TFIOS!! Here’s the thing, I rate the books partly on enjoyment and partly on how good was it really? For the enjoyment part, I would give it 4 stars maybe because, why not? But that’s only because 1. Quick Read and 2. I read it 3 years ago, my tastes were way different and it was way easier to please me. Now every time I think about it, I can’t help but feel like Agustus (Gus sounds weird, okay?) was a 90 year old man stuck in a teen’s body! For the actual writing part, I would’ve given it 2 stars! Like, seriously! He’s sprouting off perfect speeches ever two paragraphs like nobody’s business! Yes, I understand that cancer’s hard and the patients go through a lot but somehow, I don’t think they learn every life lesson ever and have grand speeches ready at a moment’s notice!!!! D: Also, just because I didn’t mourn or even care about Agustus’ death doesn’t mean that I don’t care about cancer and stuff. I feel worse for Hazel because it’s that empty space of someone important and nobody can ever fill that that hurts a lot. I didn’t care for Gus (!) but I did care about the aftermath.

    Another thing, a lot of people don’t like Twilight. While some people may get royally pissed, a lot will understand that I just don’t like (insert whatever Twilight insult you can think of. I can think of a couple, most of them involved creepy weirdos and watching people while they sleep) and I can also understand that allure for forbidden romance and the addictive-ness. So why is TFIOS so different? Why can’t I disagree and say that TFIOS isn’t my cup of tea?

    Okay, now that 15 minutes I’ll never get back has flown by, I’ll stop.
    ~Fari 0:)

    • nevillegirl says:

      Ehehe, that’s exactly how I feel – Hazel & Augustus didn’t seem like very realistic teenagers. (And I HATE when people say, “Oh, they’re just bright!” Like… I’m bright. My brother is bright. Most of my friends are bright. I’ve grown up around bright people and none of them talk/act like that. There’s a difference between being a bright teenager and being an insufferably pretentious hipster.)
      And ditto to the feeling about his grand speeches. :/

      YES YES YES SAME. People bash Twilight allllllllllllllll the time, but for some reason I’m not supposed to critique TFiOS? Pfffft. Whatever.
      (And… you know, TFiOS isn’t too different from Twilight. They’re both what is called “wish fulfillment” books. Like, maybe Twilight has crappy writing, but a lot of teen girls like to read about dashing young men. I think TFiOS is the same thing for a lot of people, and that would certainly explain why so much of its fanbase is young women: They want some smart cute dude to be their one true love.)

      Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂 I’m always happy to find someone who shares my bookish opinions, especially the unpopular ones.

      • YES, EXACTLY! My friends and I are all considered bright but we still act like… well, teenagers. We still talk as if we can’t be bothered to waste our breaths (why sprout off a grand speech??) and we’re still teenagers, we’re not on top of all the lessons that you’d need years of life experiences for! We don’t care to be deep and meaningful and have hidden meaning behind our words, if I say “I like pizza”, it probably means I like pizza and not that I love how the pepper and onion and cheese and sauce don’t discriminate against each other and how I think that humans should be like that too! (Where did that even COME FROM!?!?!?!? -_-) Such simple things are thrown out of proportion and just… UGH!

        YES!! You probably won’t find a vampire who would rather watch you sleep than eat you and never have babies with him and neither will you most probably find a teen guy who loves grand gestures half as much awesome as Agustus does and nor will you find someone who “deep and meaningful” or pretentious… And no, you kissing in Anne Frank’s house won’t get a huge applause because… all the adults will find it just so incredibly cute and not annoying and… annoying.

        RIGHT?!?!? If I even say ‘TFIOS wasn’t that great… the characters didn’t seem real at all!’ I get all these weird looks and stuff like, “Seriously? Gus DIED!! How can you not like it?” or “Ya, I know you like killing in Fantasy and stuff but this is real life stuff! This happens in our world! What’s wrong with you?” GAH!! I just didn’t like the bloody book! Doesn’t mean I don’t understand that cancer’s an actual thing and that’s it’s sad and unfair! It just means that I just didn’t like the book!!!! D: Frustrates me! So I usually get super nervous when mentioning books that I think are over-hyped and it’s so great to talk to someone who feels the same way!

    • nevillegirl says:

      *emphatic nodding* One of my fave TFiOS reviews on Goodreads pointed out that it wouldn’t have been hard for Green to avoid all that pretentious speech. No one – teenager or otherwise – just whips out things like, “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” But “my thoughts are stars… stars that I can’t form into constellations” sounds SO much more natural! People don’t talk like that in the real world, not unless they’re reading from a speech. I can see, like, Gandalf saying something like that, but such fancy-bordering-on-ridiculous language just doesn’t work outside of high fantasy.

      OMG I’M LAUGHING SO HARD ABOUT YOUR PIZZA COMMENT DJGAKDGKDHG *happy tears* That’s great, that really is. I can totally see either August or Hazel saying that. *high-fives you for being awesome*

      *cringes* The Anne Frank House scene was by far my least favorite. Just… no. That’s like making out at, IDK, the Vietnam Wall or the Holocaust Museum or… NO! DON’T DO THAT IT’S SUPER DISRESPECTFUL AND NOT AT ALL CUTE AND YOU SHOULDN’T MAKE EXCUSES ABOUT HOW IT’S OK BECAUSE “TRUE LOOOOOVE LOL” (And now there’s probably a generation of little fangirls who think that’s OK…)
      (Also, have you seen John Green’s quote about Anne Frank? How “she died of illness, like most people”? It makes me sick, tbh, and I lost the very little remaining respect I had for that dude. Does he not understand history, or what? She didn’t die of a cold. She died due to prejudice and hatred and being thrown in a concentration camp. Screw you, John Green. Screw. You. There’s a video of him promoting his book in the Anne Frank House now. Eugh.)

      Pffft, it had nothing to do with whether or not it was about real life – it was about how it was written. I’m so, so, so glad to have had this discussion with you, and would love to continue it! I know like one other person who dislikes that book super, super strongly (Danny, if you’re reading this, feel free to jump in) , so it’s good to know that I’m not just being weird and irrational. 😛

      • My goodness, yes!! The wording and the choices that he made while writing makes it worse! Some stuff like you quote above would make so much more sense than the original! *shakes head* Even in High Fantasy, unless you’re trying for a real old feel, while everything esle uses big words, the conversations don’t go over the top usually, either!

        Why, thank you! *bows*

        I know!! I was like WTF? Why would everyone there feel so incredibly awesome for you?! If I was there at the Anne Frank house and horny teenagers started making out, I definitely wouldn’t be clapping! It’s so disrespectful and just… WHY?!?!?!!?

        HE DID?!?! I must have missed that… *face palm* Did he really??… What? I don’t understand… *deep breaths* So he basically just says that what Anne went through is nothing and she died of a cold and then goes over there to talk about how awesome his book is…. Wow.

        RIGHT?!?! I have this one IRL friend and she won’t read it because she read some excerpts and didn’t like it and doesn’t want to waste her time on it. She’s like, one of the only people I know who didn’t like the book. I don’t hate the book or ever dislike it too strongly, I’d probably rate it 3 stars or 2.5 but there was just so many things that didn’t sit well with me! *blagh* The pretentious teenagers, how they’re so “deep” and “meaningful” and the ending… I don’t really care for it. While people wept, I finished the book, thought “Aww, I feel kind of bad for Hazel, she won’t ever get to be with Agustus ever again! I wonder if there are cookies in the cupboard.” I’m so glad to be having this conversation with you too! It feels nice to just… rant because lord knows I haven’t done that because EVERYBODY LOVES THIS BOOK!! Also, have you read his other books? I think I liked An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska was annoying and I hated Paper Towns…

    • nevillegirl says:

      *shakes head* It’s very weird. I seriously don’t understand the John Green hero-worship.

      Yeah, I’ve read his other books. I HATED Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I did like An Abundance of Katherines, though, which I read about 5 or so years ago back when he wasn’t quite so popular yet. It’s weird – I’ve noticed that some of the reviewers who disliked TFiOS liked AAoK, and vice versa. I’d still only rate AAoK 3/5 stars (TFiOS got 1/5 from me and his others got 2/5), but I thought it was genuinely cute and quirky and just generally not obnoxious unlike his other books.

  5. wondrousadventurer says:

    i’ve got two comments on this post, and they basically contradict either other amusingly. so here goes.

    1) oh my god i loved “to kill a mockingbird” what is the meaning of this

    2) you’re spot on.

    no, really — i disagree on the opinion that tkam wasn’t interesting, but i agree as emphatically as possible that you’ve got no reason to be ashamed of thinking so. and to be honest? i’d rather hear someone say they didn’t like a book on big ideas and that they’re, say, actually a big fan of cheap romance novels — just because it tells me more about them as a person. in fact i’m reminded of a conversation a had with some of my friends at school last week. which i could talk about extensively, and may actually have just inspired a blog post of my own…

    • nevillegirl says:

      I’m glad you (mostly) agree. 😛 And I’d be interested to read your post! 🙂 I agree, the kind of books for which someone has a really deep love tells you soooo much about them. It’s kind of cool.

  6. Cait says:

    Zac and Mia made me BAWL. I loved it. Also: AUSTRALIA.

    I agree, though! You shouldn’t have to like a book just because it deals with a big topic, right?! That’s crazy. I think we bookworms can get easily frowned at for hating on famous books, but also books with heavy topics. Just because an author attempts something HUGE doesn’t mean they pull it off well, right?!

    *whispers* I, of course, am entirely obsessed with TKAM. I’m dubious about the sequel…I do wonder if Harper Lee really wanted it out. How the heck do you lose a manuscript?! I want to know if she REALLY lost it. *ahem* But obviously my dog is named Atticus so…yus.

    • nevillegirl says:

      AUSTRALIA! 🙂

      Yay, I’m glad you agree! Like… I /liked/ If I Stay, but I didn’t think it was the bestest YA book ever. And then I felt guilty because it’s about DEATH! I felt weird and emotionless for not liking it more, but I shouldn’t. It wasn’t me. It was the writing style.

      Yeah… from what I’ve read (first link in this post), Lee is senile and will sign anything you put in front of her? So her sister was in charge of publicity but then she died not too long ago and suddenly someone “found” this novel. Idk. It all seems very fishy.

  7. I LOVE THIS! It’s so accurate and, as a fellow TFIOS …not hater, but disliker, I feel your pain. I just think sometimes important things are romantisced or skipped over or whatever but OMG THIS IS SO TRUE

    • nevillegirl says:

      THANK YOU I’M GLAD YOU LOVE THIS! 😀 I’m happy to meet another person who didn’t like TFiOS, because it seems like EVERYONE did and then I have very people to rant with. 😦 And it’s always cool to receive comments like OMG THIS IS SO TRUE because I get nervous about putting my thoughts out into the vastness of the Internet, especially when I’m disagreeing with the majority…

  8. I actually really enjoyed TFIOS, but upon reflection I have to agree with you that it was somewhat overhyped. And anything that comes with a lot of hype, whether it’s modern or classic, will generally bring out two groups of people: the people who accuse you of being a baby-eater if you don’t like it, and the people who deliberately scorn it just to go against the grain. The message here is, people get stupid about books, and I totally agree with you that sometimes we should just enjoy and critique them for what they are rather than dragging everything else into it. Good post!

    • nevillegirl says:

      I definitely used to belong to that second group – originally, that’s why I disdained Twilight. Because it was popular, right? Eventually I learned how to actually critique things, which made me realize that Edward & Bella’s relationship is just creepy (among other problems with the series) and then THAT led to critiquing HP and now I’m here. I soooo wanted to join the John Green fandom, but it didn’t happen.

      Thank you very much! 😀 *runs around squeeing about how her favorite fandom blog commented on her fandomy post eep*

      • Twilight is a weird weird case for me, because I went through the phases of 1) sighing at it because it was popular 2) reading the books and actually getting really sucked into them 3) getting to the end of Breaking Dawn and going “hang on, there is something very wrong about this” and 4) side-eyeing it for legitimate critical reasons.

        For some analylitical fun, search up Mark Reads Twilight–it’s kind of what got me inspired to blog in the first place, so not only is it my ~Heroic Mentor Figure~ but it raises some really good points and is generally hilarious 🙂

    • nevillegirl says:

      As I wrote in my reply to Fari @ My Little Corner of Books, I think Twilight (and TFiOS) are wish fulfillment books. People read them and decide they’d like Edward or Augustus as boyfriends; that’s the main appeal. They want someone impressive, someone to cry over, etc.

      Ooh, thanks, I will! Hmmm, it reminds me a bit of the Twilight Sporking posts…

  9. I read To Kill a Mockingbird a few months ago, and I liked it. The beginning was soooo slow and I had to force myself to read it. And then the first half wasn’t very good. But once they got into the court case and stuff, I really enjoyed it.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Hmmm… well, I might have to read it for school, so maybe I’ll like the second half more than the first half? I’ll try to keep an open mind about it, although court cases seem deadly dull. 😛

  10. moosha23 says:

    People have been commenting paragraphs here. Whoa. (I just hope those big blocks of blurred words were cool).

    Right. Big ideas.

    I freaking agree.

    I love To Kill a Mockingbird so much. I’ve read it three times and each of those times I cried, and each of those times I didn’t know why the heck I was crying because I sure as hell didn’t feel sad or sorrowful, or even happy! It just started the waterworks! Maybe it’s the paper or something.


    I get it, really. People have long since read books I’ve hated or been hurt by, and I’ve stood by and let them without doing anything about it because, hey, you’re not living my life. So when there are people who don’t like books I revere it’s a-okay.

    It’s the same thing with opinions, I guess. We live in a contraversial world and it’s easy to be under the media’s scrutinising eye. It’s easy to be a contraversial person. And so whole ideas and principles that are dear to me are scorned and mocked by others, and I probably do the same unknowingly.

    We are big ideas, impersonated. I may not like someone’s fashion sense but that doesn’t mean I hate them for who they are.

    Books? Books open dialogue, they open discussion. They’re not there to please everyone. Like people, they inhabit big ideas, and that makes them effing cool. Sure they may hurt, and prod, and mean several different things to several different people but that’s what they’re here for. I read books for entertainment, but this is conversation. There’s high respect to be given to authors no matter what they write because big ideas? Big ideas come from them.
    They pour themselves and their various ponderings onto paper (or a Word doc) and they put it out there. Some people will like their two cents. Others will scoff. A few may even hate.
    Thing is, contraversial world invites controversy. There’s split ideas everywhere.
    We should always care about the big ideas more than the way they were expressed.

    And so it’s okay that you don’t like To Kill a Mockingbird – it may be one of the most miraculous books I’ve ever read, but that’s not to say it’s the only book on racism, nor is it to say that you don’t get it if you don’t like the book.

    (Sorry Engie this comment was all over the place. Gah.)

    • nevillegirl says:

      “Maybe it’s the paper.” Ehehe. 😛

      *applause* Perfect comment is perfect, and I really liked, “There’s high respect to be given to authors no matter what they write because big ideas? Big ideas come from them.”

      (No no, it’s perfectly fine! I love long comments and discussion and whatnot. 😀 Especially on posts that I was a little worried about posting,such as this one, because I talked about a bunch of books that are generally adored and never critiqued.)

  11. Charley R says:

    D’aww, thank you Engie! Sorry I didn’t get to this sooner – was volunteering all day, got quite thoroughly distracted.

    On the post – could not agree more. Big ideas are important, but that doesn’t mean you have to like the way they’re delivered to you. I’m not the biggest John Green fan either – I didn’t mind TFIOS, but Looking For Alaska made me want to punch something until either my fist or the thing broke. And hey, one can always appreciate intent if not delivery, right? Unless the delivery goes horribly horribly wrong.

    • nevillegirl says:

      You’re welcome! Yay for Charley-volunteering! 😛

      “Big ideas are important, but that doesn’t mean you have to like the way they’re delivered to you.” Yes. Exactly what I was trying to say. 😀

      Oh, ugh, Looking for Alaska. Did NOT like that one, either. I thought it was poorly written, Alaska was a caricature (one of those “I’m not like other girls” girls), and Miles was SO FREAKING CREEPY. Why are all of Green’s male protagonists creepy??? And why do they always fall in love at first sight?

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