Wednesday, January 26, 2011

First I Like It

Then I Decide If It's Good

John McFetridge

A few days ago I was picking up some books in my favourite Toronto bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street (which, happily, isn’t closing but is moving to a new location very near the current location) and I was talking with one of the owners about books, of course. What we’ve read recently that we really liked, what was disappointing and why.

Well, not really why.

As we talked I started to realize that whatever reasons we were giving for liking or not liking a book were afterthoughts – intellectual justifications we’d come up with later for how we reacted emotionally to the books.

Or maybe it was just me, I don’t know.

But I’ve started to feel that all the reasons I claim to have for saying this book is better than that one are really rather pointless. There’s almost nothing to say beyond, “I like it,” or “I don’t like it.”

Sometimes it just all seems like a justification. Remember that Jeff Goldblum line in The Big Chill? A justification is more important than sex – have you ever gone a week without a justification?

But so what?

There are lot of books to help us read and write – everything from the highest of highbrow “literary theory” to how to write a mystery that sells books. Now, I haven’t read very many of these, but I did sit through enough classes at university to get a BA in english lit and looking back I don’t think I can remember one time when a professor said, “I really like this book.” The whole thing now seems like an excersize in sucking all the joy out of literature by trying to turn it into something quantifiable, measurable with some kind of ranking system.

I used to think I needed to figure out why I liked something because that would somehow help me write something I liked but now I’m not so sure.

What do you think?


Paul D Brazill said...

I'm with you because I rarely know why I like something.Or care why.

And of course some days,or nights, you're not in the mood for something or really in the mood for something else. Sometimes a cheese sandwich is just the best thing in the world to eat.

I tend to justifynot liking stuff more and usually that's because I just don't 'get' something as much as other people.Or I have a hangover.

Steve Weddle said...

Good points I hadn't considered.

Making a justifiable construct for what the heart wants. Hmmm. Must ponder further.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

If it entertained me, that is all I ask. Sure, some books do this more than others and I will usually read another one by that author first, if that is the case. I'm with Paul on the not liking aspect, and will usually stop reading it and move on to the next one.

Kevin Burton Smith said...

Sure, it's an emotional response whether we like a book or not. But even I, The World's Greatest Critic (hah!), respond to all sorts of things: wit, cleverness, action, a good beer, the soft warm curve of a woman's neck, a well-turned phrase, a way cool shootout.

But bad or inept writing is a turn-off. Especially if there's nothing else to make me like the book.

Still, in the end, I remember books mostly for how I felt about them. I may recall a phrase, a scene, a character, but what I always remember is how I felt about them.

Dana King said...

This is among several reasons why I rarely do reviews anymore. Reading to think of how to explain and justify every praise or criticism was sucking all the fun out of reading, and a love of reading is the primary reason I wanted to write in the first place.

John McFetridge said...

Thanks for the input, guys.

I agree, Dana, I've stopped doing book reviews, too. Though I will have a Friday's Forgotten Book post on Patti's blog this week for Trevanian's The Main but it's more a fan letter than a review.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Dana-great point. I hardly ever read reviews, but I certainly put a lot of stock into when someone I know or respect as an author or reader makes a recommendation of a book I might enjoy.