My next door neighbours are a couple in their eighties. They’re the best possible sort of neighbours to have in lots of ways. They’re quiet, friendly, warm, and exactly the sort whose home we happily watch when they’re away and who do the same for us. They’re also interesting people. They’re into everything from helping refugees to getting lots of exercise to writing poetry and self-publishing it for their families. They’re computer savvy and independent, and over the years, we’ve talked lots about books, because they’re avid readers.
Until now, we’d only mentioned titles and authors to each other, but after a recent visit, I offered to lend her a couple of books I thought she might enjoy. I picked two: one I liked with a subject I thought would appeal to her, and one that ranks as one of my own favourite reads this year. I didn’t tell her anything about the books when I dropped them off.
This morning, she brought them back. The first she liked well enough. She found the topic interesting, as I thought she would, and the writing solid.
The second, a book I loved, she didn’t like at all. With an eye to making future suggestions she’d enjoy more, I asked her what she didn’t like about it, and she said she didn’t like the writing, that it got a bit better as she went along, but she just didn’t like it and didn’t really know why. She doesn’t mind reading outside her usual areas, she said, but likes good writing, first and foremost. (The implication, I suppose, was that this book wasn’t it.) Then she asked me what I thought of it.
This book had me hooked from the beginning, and I think it’s beautifully written. She was very surprised when I told her it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and that I like the writing style, the characters, all of it.
It was a very good reminder that reading is utterly subjective. One person’s favourite read is another’s wasted reading time. The variety of books available at any bookstore should be reminder enough of that, but it’s easy to forget, especially when you’re looking for someone to love your baby enough to publish it or if you get a poor review.
So next time your work gets slammed in a review or you get one of those “not right for me” rejections, remember that that one was my neighbour, but the next one may be me, hand-selling your book to everyone I can talk into buying it because I loved it so much.