What happens when you don’t like the “it” book? For years, people have raved about Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin—it’s one of those cult books. I just read it for the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge, and I’m stumped as to my response.
I prefer not to disparage any book, as I don’t want to deter readers who might love said tome. I myself have been burned by people warding me off great reads. Coincidentally, on Sunday, The New York Times Book Review asked: “Do We Really Need Negative Book Reviews?”
To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, was on our high school syllabus, but my teacher resisted since she didn’t like it. She read a few passages aloud, but we never delved in. I just assumed it wasn’t a good book. (Perhaps not a good teacher?) What a surprise in college to discover the magic of Woolf’s “stream of consciousness.”
Likewise, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain languished on my shelf nearly five years because a few friends had panned it. That book wowed me and I think is one of the best American novels written—ever. Recently, I was the only member of book group to adore Julie Otsuka’s lovely novella The Buddha in the Attic, which I had almost skipped owing to email grumblings.
Clearly I am not a good indicator of popular culture, because I didn’t love Gone Girl or Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. I am dazzled by her writing ability, but I didn’t really care about the characters or the plot. I’m not sure why, because Graham Greene has repeatedly invested me in unlikeable characters and twisted plots—as did Aravind Adiga with The White Tiger, which I could not put down. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, was very readable, but I felt that it simplified some issues. Even books by a favorite author are not a safe bet. I love the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series but have not been able to make a similar connection with other books by Alexander McCall Smith.
However, these books are beloved by many readers. Thus, I don’t want to subject anyone to my own literary fickleness. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I’d argue that you can’t judge it secondhand either.
Back to Winter’s Tale: it moved slowly and felt rather inaccessible. When, in a moment of melodrama, the hero and heroine first kiss … I laughed. I am actually an inveterate shipper, so this was a red flag for me. I did love the horse, though.
Still, I don’t want to discourage readers (or offend the legion of Winter’s Tale fans). Plus, I’d hate for someone who might “get it” to miss out because of me.
So what to do when you don’t like the “it” book? Pass it along for someone else to try. A friend was eager to claim my hardcover of Winter’s Tale, and she really likes “it.”