It’s relatively rare that I come across a book I dislike. I’m generally a kind reader, largely because I have an intense amount of respect for the arduous process of writing a novel and seeing it through to publication. It’s an incredibly courageous choice – to put what is, for many writers, a culmination of years of work into the hands of those in the ‘business’ of books. This respect does not, however, lean me away from seeing and pointing to the issues that I perceive in the books that I read. I always work to write reviews that cover a novel’s successes and flaws with balanced attention. Understanding and, to some extent, scrutinising both what a book does well and what it does less well are integral to the way that I review, mostly because I don’t see it as my job to tell someone whether or not they should read a book. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is an approach borne out of the first-hand knowledge that a novel that does little for me could very well become your new favourite.
The question is, then, what do I do when I come across a novel that I simply dislike? I’m lucky that it doesn’t happen often but it did, unfortunately, happen to me last week with Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. As a fan of Murakami’s work, I was as disappointed as anyone to find that I simply could not connect with the novel. But I was determined to review it, regardless. When I find a book that I dislike, I don’t generally spend a lot of time attempting to extract its positives (although it is rarely the case that there aren’t any). Instead, I try to assess the novel from the standpoint of someone who might have something to gain from reading it. Perhaps you are simply looking for an easy read that will distract you from an acutely stressful moment in life. Maybe pared-down prose is just your cup of tea. For every person to dislike a particular novel, there are equal – if not more – readers who will find their home in its pages. When I truly dislike a novel, I always try to keep this point in mind. Because I am that person – the bookworm who turns to their new favourite novel in a time of desperate need. To review a book with kindness even when levelling critique is, to me, a homage to both the readers and the writers who depend upon novels as an intoxicating salvation from life’s trials. The best way to hate a book is to provide space for others to love it.