Let’s Talk

by Julie, vacationing on the Cape and enjoying catching up on reading and watching

I think that the binary thumbs up or thumbs down in regards to works of art have made us less willing to talk about the work itself. “Like” or “dislike” doesn’t matter. Someone liking a book, and another person not liking a book, doesn’t make one person right and the other person wrong. It means that two people had two different experiences, and it would be great to have a conversation. Not to change each other’s minds, but to expand our own.

There is work that is created to appeal, and there’s a place for that. There’s other work that strives to be more. And by striving there will be parts that succeed, and other parts that fail. But work that strives is much more fun to engage in. Work that pushes itself, and pushes me.

Our thumbs up/thumbs down mentality divides us, and aligns us with people in artificial ways. Because most conversations in life, but certainly conversations in art, are about nuances. Does it work for you? If so, why? If not, why not? I’ve been to plays that have made me weep, and I couldn’t explain why. Other people haven’t been moved at all. Does that make me right, and them wrong? No. It means that at that moment, the work affected me likely because it called on some memory or emotional response beyond my understanding.

Why am I bringing this up? I’ve read two books recently (and I won’t name them, so don’t ask) that I need to discuss. The ending of one took me out of the experience. The construct of the second frustrated me, but the story did not. Both are well written, so that’s not the issue. I need to discuss them to help me deconstruct my thoughts, and then put them back together. Thumbs up/thumbs down are not sufficient.

One of the reasons I love theater is that you see different productions of a show, and they are all different. Some are wildly successful. Some less so. It doesn’t serve to compare one to another. Instead each production informs you of the possibilities. And you bring those possibilities to the next experience.

The same can be said for reading in a genre. Say traditional mysteries. If you read broadly, and constantly, you will have a more informed approach to each novel, and that will make you a more critical reader. Not critical in harsh criticism, but critical in understanding the tropes, the ‘rules’, and the possibilities of the genre. And rejoicing when one book transcends the genre in some way.

Barbara Ross recommended that I read The Thursday Murder Club when it first came out. I tried twice, and didn’t “like” it. She recommended I try it again, telling me that if nothing else it was a great exploration of characters, and of storytelling. The third time was the charm, and I have become a tremendous fan of the series. I’ve reread the series as a writer several times. Barb helped me find another way in, and I took it.

Then there’s Ted Lasso. I had heard mixed things about season three, and spent the first day of vacation bingeing it. And then I rewatched all three seasons, and saw how they are all constructed to tell one story. I love the story, the character arcs, the gentle humanity of the team as they come together. For me, the series works on many levels. Does that mean if you don’t like Ted Lasso you’re wrong? No, of course not. It means that it doesn’t work for you. But it may at another time.

I appreciate all of the folks who take time to read and review books. I especially appreciate folks who take the time to let us know what worked, and what didn’t. But we all have to remember that what works for one person may not work for another. Or one person can appreciate a novel on one level, and someone else appreciates it on another. And remember, there’s a gift in discussing it with someone, even if you disagree.

Readers, what have you read or seen that spoke to you and perhaps you alone? My favorite example of that is the movie Ishtar. Considered at the time to be a huge bomb, it made me laugh very hard.

22 Thoughts

  1. Thank you for this, Julie. I’d love to deconstruct those books with you. And now you’ve convinced me to read Thursday Murder Club! I’ve never heard of Ishtar, but glad it made you laugh.

    I don’t know about me alone, but I loved and still love Bridges of Madison County. People dished a LOT of snark and scorn on the book and the movie. When they came out, I was in an unhappy marriage, and the romance of the couple in that story spoke to me at a deep place. Layer in Streep and Eastwood in the movie, and I was a goner. Still am!

  2. You raise a good point about Likes and Dislikes! Now, I had read a book series by a cozy author that I really loved, I laughed throughout it and can’t wait to go on and read more of this series. He’d written another series – another cozy mysteries series, this time with a male lead – lots of great reviews for it…well, I read a few chapters and absolutely couldn’t stand it! I tried a couple more chapters but found the lead character so totally annoying that I just returned the whole series in my kindle app and deleted it. And I so wanted to like it!

  3. Totally agree with you that in most things there is no right or wrong – only different points of view. I think a lot of the world situations, both on small scales as well as the huge ones, would work out better if everyone took that approach and “talked” instead of digging in deep with it’s my way or the highway.

    On a personal level, a prime example of it being at the right time or taking on meaning for me that others don’t see or understand would be the Ricky Van Shelton song “I’ll Leave This World Loving You”. It happened to come out the same week that our daughter died. If you disregard the first sentence or two of the song and listen with your heart as I did, the song takes on a whole new meaning. Even to this day, that song will make me get misty eyed because of the link to memories. Do other’s see it that way – NO. It isn’t that I’m right or wrong, but what I experienced at the time that made it right for me.

    Thank you for the insightful post and getting us to see things in shades and not black in white.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. When a song speaks to you just when you need it, that’s magic, isn’t it? Music is so matched to memories. Shortly after my beloved grandfather died my sister was marching in the Memorial Day parade. My father (his son-in-law) and I went. When we saw the veterans marching by accompanied by a John Phillip Sousa march, I looked at my father and we were both weeping, remembering my grandfather. To this day, that march makes me cry.

  4. You are so right, Julie. I can’t think of anything that only worked “for me.” But I recently read a few cozies. Two were good, one I just couldn’t click with the main character. Doesn’t mean it was a bad book, just that it wasn’t for me. Thankfully, there’s a lot of choice in books, right?

    1. We are so fortunate that we have so many, many choices. I have a friend who is a theater critic. When smaller companies ask her to review a show, if she can give it a positive review she will. If the review is negative, she won’t release it. She thinks (rightly, I believe) that for a small company that would do more harm than good. It’s all about choices.

  5. I don’t remember that conversation, Julie. I’m so glad you did. One thing being an editor (of short story anthologies) and an author has taught me, it’s all about personal taste. I never look at an individual up or down, but I do look at aggregated ratings. One thing that always amuses and intrigues me is on Rotten Tomatoes if the critic aggregated number is low and the audience number is high. I’ll always give a movie like that a try.

    I’m on the same journey with Ted Lasso. Watched the finale and then binging back through the whole series as book jail allows. I loved this third season. It was one aspect of the second season I struggled with, but I agree that, taken together, the three seasons do tell one coherent story.

  6. The book club I belong to seldom agrees about how “good” or “bad” a book is. However, it isn’t unusual for one person (many times me) who disagrees with the group as a whole. I know I tend to look at things somewhat differently than other people. That’s what makes the group so much fun.

    1. A book group is a great place to have this discussions. Unfortunately/fortunately my book club has devolved into catch-ups and solving the woes of the world over wine since we don’t meet regularly any more. I think I’ll email them all and try to get it going again.

  7. Great post, Julie! I refuse to post reviews of any books with less than three stars because I fully realize that what doesn’t gel with me, will appeal to someone else!

    1. That is a kindness to authors given the algorithms. You’re right, it will get with someone else. That said, when a book isn’t well written, or has huge plot holes, it’s tricky, isn’t it? But that’s when the conversation is important, and hard to do with stars.

  8. “Someone liking a book, and another person not liking a book, doesn’t make one person right and the other person wrong.” That’s true…unless you are disagreeing with me. Then you’re wrong. 😉

    Seriously, that is very true. Heck, there are times that I fall somewhere in between. It’s not that the item was bad. But it wasn’t exactly good either. Sounds kind of like those books you talked about finishing recently.

  9. Thought-provoking post! I read “….Murder Club” as well and didn’t care for the POV, so put it down. I may return to it in order to study it, however. Thanks to you and Barb for suggesting that.

    A recent novel by a favorite thriller writer had me spell bound until the last chapter, so I told people (when asked) that I was disappointed in the book. Sigh. The author mentioned recently that he had a new one coming out that revisited the same lead characters. YAY! In retrospect, what had ‘left me hanging’ with the first book was the ending, not the writing. Another paragraph (with some hint) might have done it for me. I wanted these characters to make it, so with another book coming, I know they did. lol

    1. Patti, I have had that same experience with books–hoping for a second to wrap things up. I’m also writing what started out as a standalone, and could be a series, so I’m wrestling with that as well.
      As for the Thursday Murder Club books, if you enjoy audio books (which I do), that series is particularly delightful in audio.

  10. Well, I read the Fifty Shades of Grey books and loved them because of the character study of Christian Grey. I was surprised as they were way beyond my comfort zone. I read them in the Florida Keys and maybe that is what helped my enjoyment. I also liked the movies done on them because I liked the persons that portrayed the characters. Just rewatched the middle one. So many people said these books were awful and the movies lousy. Like you said, it may just be the time in your life and your experiences. I could not get into The World According to Garp that everyone loved and there are a couple of extremely profitable authors that I used to love their books, but then felt they were just writing for the money. I think that I just did not like their genres anymore. “Ishtar” was a hoot though it got panned. Sometimes, you just have to be entertained. Whenever I hear the song “Danny Boy,” I tear up because it was my father’s favorite song and he wanted it played at his funeral. I know that I have changed genres throughout my decades of reading due to my likes and dislikes as I grow older. I rarely read reviews to decide what to read for the reasons you all have stated. I read the synopsis and decide if it intrigues me or not. Just keep writing.

    1. Thanks for this great comment. I’ll never forget being at a writing workshop and during the break a group of folks were deriding SHADES OF GREY. Someone then said she’d read all three, and then said something about them. I just looked at her, and said come on. You read all three? She laughed, and admitted she could see why they were popular. As you said, sometimes books/movies/songs/show come when you need them, and hit the right cord.
      As for DANNY BOY? I can’t listen to it without crying.

  11. I had to warm up to the Thursday Murder Club. Each book got better for me. I’m a big advocate for a realistic portrayal of older adults in books. I’m often disappointed by how they are portrayed in books, movies and on stage. So many stereotypes.
    My best forum for discussions has been my public library’s non fiction book club. Honest, open dialogue and often about challenging topics. Have not found a fiction book club that isn’t monopolized by a few. Luckily, I have a reading buddy (sister). We can talk books for hours (always with a tea pot).
    Great post, Julie. Thanks.

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