I came across a really great talk by Elizabeth Gilbert (via Chekhov’s Mistress), which you can find here.  She talks about what it’s like to have written a best seller and then to feel paralyzed because she may never write anything as successful ever again.  And then she goes on to talk about creativity and genius and how to keep doing your creative work without driving yourself mad. She turns out to be a really great speaker — she’s funny and fluent and has great examples, and I found myself tearing up at the end. I really do like Elizabeth Gilbert; I realize her writing style can sometimes be a bit glib and that the very fact she’s been so successful might turn people off, and maybe Eat, Pray, Love is a little self-absorbed (I don’t think this, actually, but some people do — I don’t mind if writers are self-absorbed as long as they are interesting), and maybe her interest in spirituality isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but she’s just one of those people I’m ready to admire no matter what and I have a hard time understanding you if you don’t agree with me.

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought this about an author.  There are some writers I feel absolutely loyal to, and I know this feeling isn’t a rational or a logical one — because even the best writers write bad things now and then, and why should I feel such loyalty and even affection for writers I’ve never met and who in some cases are long dead? And why should I care if someone happens to disagree with me?  After all, disagreements keep things interesting, right?  We don’t want to have all the same opinions.

And if you disagree with me about Henry James, I won’t take it personally.  I happen to love Henry James, but I can see why people might find him insufferable and boring. And this is true for most authors — if you don’t like George Eliot, fine; if you don’t like Laurence Sterne, well, you’re missing out on some great fun but that’s your problem; if you don’t like Flannery O’Connor, then something may be wrong with your sense of humor, but I won’t hold that against you.

But there are some authors I can’t be quite as open-minded about. If you don’t like at least some of Virginia Woolf’s work, I’m sorry, but I have grave doubts about you (even if it’s just the essays — how can anyone not like this?) If you were to read Jenny Diski and not be at least a little charmed by her orneriness, I’m not sure we’ll ever really understand each other. If you aren’t awe-struck by David Foster Wallace’s essay on dictionaries, or thrilled by Nicholason Baker’s The Mezzanine, then I can’t help but suspect our friendship will always have its limits.

I don’t know. In theory, at least, I like the idea of civilized conversations about books where we can discuss the merits of this or that author and agree to disagree, but there are times when my patience runs out and I get tired of being open-minded and tolerant.

I recognize, of course, that you are entitled to have grave doubts about me because of books I like or don’t like. So — are there books or authors you are completely loyal to and don’t understand how anyone could possible disagree?


Filed under Books, Reading

16 responses to “Disagreements

  1. Great post! I’ve also seen that EG talk and it was excellent, inspiring, funny and also made me cry somewhat.

    I’m one-sided about Siri Hustvedt – ambivalent about her husband, but not about her. She’s brilliant and if you don’t think so, then what are you doing in my book club?


  2. What a wonderful question! I think I mind more the reasons people give for not liking someone than the fact that they don’t share my taste in books. (Okay, I care about both — but I care more about the first, I’m pretty sure.) I’m offended by “it’s too hard” or “too old” or “India? What’s interesting about India?”


  3. What a great post! And thank you for talking about the Gilbert talk, which I wanted to know something about before tuning in. Some writers just get to the heart, don’t they? You know I’m going to mention Julian Barnes, and probably Colette. Any woman who didn’t at least appreciate her wit and charm and resilience would probably not last long as my friend.


  4. Oh this was fun. I was chuckling the whole time I read it. There are definitely authors I feel completely loyal to–Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood and Terry Pratchett. There are others too, I am sure, that I would get indignant about if someone told me they were hacks. I would immediately suspect there was something wrong with that person.


  5. Oh a very good question. I don’t know really. I mean there are authors I feel very loyal to but I guess if someone where to tell me they didn’t like them I’d just be like ok, your loss. I wonder though if I’d stop sharing some of my favorite books with that person though. I don’t think I could feel let down again!


  6. I had not read Eat Play Love and I’m going to put it on my to-read list because I have read rave review about it. I heard that they are going to make a movie out of it starring Julia Roberts. I personally never heard of or seen this author before since I don’t watch Oprah.

    I never was able to develp adoration or affection towards pepole who don’t interact with me personally… I never was a fan of any toy, any singer, any designer or any author. Not sure if this is good or bad. I read whatever books I enjoy or I got for free, I buy whatever clothes that look good on me, and I listen to whatever music that is soothing, that calms me down… and I can careless who made it.

    But I will check this book out of the library, since everybody seems to enjoy it.


  7. If someone doesn’t like a book that I deem “great”, I am not offended; rather, I take the approach of feeling very superior and looking down my nose at them. 😉

    Seriously, even books that I have loved, I know that they require a certain taste which not everyone would possess, or a challenging type of reading which people looking for entertainment wouldn’t enjoy. Generally, I wouldn’t get too worked up. I’ll ponder this more and see if I can dredge up something that gets me going.

    I do get annoyed with the ignorant view of someone attacking something they haven’t read.

    You often entice me to read something by Woolf, but after today’s post I’m a little afraid: if I don’t like her work, I won’t be able to tell anyone.


  8. The impulse you describe is natural. It is something I actively fight against. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I sacrifice some passion or pleasure. I do handle criticism of my favorite writers well, I think. As an Appreciationist, I kind of like everything, but I might be missing some depths.

    One problem is that it is so hard to distinguish between considered tastes and ignorance. There’s no shortage of ignorant opinions.


  9. Virginia Woolf most definitely springs to mind for me. So does Mark Twain. As well as James Thurber. And Louisa May Alcott. And David Sedaris. And John Irving. (Hmmm, I’ve got a lot!) However, I have friends who have “pooh-poohed” each of these authors to me and have still managed to remain my friends, mostly because they can give me very good, fair reasons for disliking these authors. I also think it’s because we’ve discovered other common author ground. I admit, though, that the first disagreement with someone who seems to have the same sorts of taste as I can be quite shocking, which is ridiculous because my “tastes” run all over the place (just take a look at that list).


  10. verbivore

    I love this. I’m equally cantankerous and loyal about many authors. I try to be open-minded but it isn’t always easy…but I think its normal that big readers judge other people on their reading habits. I am deeply suspicious of people who have no time for fiction, for example.


  11. I can totally relate to this post. Strangely there is a discussion of a similar nature going on in an online book group I belong to. I tend to get very emotionally involved sometimes with books or authors–not all of them–but many, and especially those I really love. It can be hard, then, when I come across a review or post that doesn’t just disagree with the book (I don’t mind if someone doesn’t like what I like, as long as they aren’t mean about it) but out and out slams it. I know I am far too sensitive, but it makes me feel sort of bad. I should look on it as a way of redefining my own feelings, but sometimes it can diminish my own reading experience/pleasure. So yes, I have authors exactly like you mention!


  12. I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love–I had received it as a gift, and didn’t realize that it was a best seller when I read it. I can imagine that EG is a good speaker–that aspect of her comes through in her book.

    That said, I do have my favorite authors, but I realize that they are my favorites and since I really dislike it when someone proselytizes to me about a book or author (I like recommendations, but I hate to have people try to “convert” me), I return the favor and try not to force my taste on others.

    What I do defend is genres–which gets me back to Eat, Pray, Love. Just because a book is a best-seller doesn’t mean it’s trash (i.e., appealing to the least common denominator); just because a book is in Romance, Sci-Fi, or Self-Help doesn’t mean it’s trash. Likewise, just because a book is a best-seller doesn’t mean it’s good–I thought the DaVinci Code was trash (stupid plot, bad writing, horrendous dialogue), but I thought Eat, Pray, Love was pretty good.


  13. Ooh, great post. Pat Conroy, for sure. If someone doesn’t find at least one of his books somewhat interesting…well, I really don’t want to know about it. Probably also Margaret Atwood and Anne Tyler and, well, let’s face it, Jane Austen!


  14. Charlotte — oh, well, um … I’m going to read another book by Hustvedt, and I’m sure I’ll love that one! Because I do want to be part of your book club 🙂

    Bloglily — oh, excellent point. I agree that the reasons people give are really what matters. Except for my most intolerant moments, if someone has a good reason for not liking something I like, I can usually deal with it okay.

    Litlove — I agree with you about Barnes (fortunately, right?), and can you believe that I haven’t read Colette’s fiction yet? Silly me. Must move on from My Mother’s House and Sido.

    Stefanie — I’m very glad to know I’m not alone! And that’s a good list, except that I’ve never read Pratchett. I should, I see!

    Iliana — that’s a good attitude to have — if someone doesn’t like a great author, they are the ones missing out. And I’m less likely to offer recommendations to those people as well — why bother, right?

    Books We Read — well, I hope you enjoy it! And it doesn’t seem like a bad thing not to feel affection for people you don’t know. I imagine it’s much simpler that way and you have an easier time making non-biased judgments.

    Bikkuri — well, I promise not to get mean if you don’t like Woolf! 🙂 I would suggest starting with her nonfiction; it’s really hard not to like that! And yes, you’re right — not everyone has the same reasons for reading or the same taste, and that’s ultimately a good thing. It’s just so much fun to get judgmental now and then — and also fun to look down my nose at somebody! 🙂

    Amateur Reader — you know, I tend to like things too. I have friends who tend NOT to like things, and talking with them can be kind of hard because I begin to feel as though I am not discriminating enough. And excellent point about taste and ignorance — it’s worth while to dig deep into someone’s reasons for not liking something.

    Emily — having common ground does definitely help when the (inevitable) disagreements come up. And really, truly the world would be a boring place if we all agreed all the time. Maybe the surprising thing is that we keep expecting to agree with each other, when it’s more likely we won’t.

    Verbivore — oh, I agree about the people who “have no time” for fiction. I’m not likely to have much to say to them. And I’m glad to hear you can feel the way I’ve been feeling — it’s nice not to be the only judgmental one around!

    Danielle — it IS hard when someone is mean about a book you love — I find myself doubting my own opinion and feeling as though I am wrong. It’s hard to respond well when someone is adamant about something. Inevitably, reading taste is a personal thing, so it’s hard not to respond personally.

    JaneGS — good point about genres. Dismissing an entire genre is much worse than dismissing an individual author — not liking one author is justifiable, but not liking an entire genre really isn’t! And I agree about trying to “convert” someone else to an author — it’s too obnoxious and irritating. I don’t want to feel pressure to read anything I’m not excited about.

    Everythinginbetween — well, I’ve got Beach Music on my shelves, thanks to you, so we’ll see how I do with it! I’m sure I’ll love it 🙂


  15. Oh, I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. I doubt myself, too, which is really silly as it’s okay for others not to like what I do–and other opinions really should never reduce my own reading pleasure.


  16. Jenny

    How funny you should say this. I would have said no up until a week ago, that what other people choose to like or not to like had no effect on my opinion of them. And then someone made a comment on my blog that made me doubt all their good sense! So apparently I have a few rooted prejudices…


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