Every booklover I know has some secret shame. Whether it’s a classic they’ve never read, or a “bad” book they love, there’s something that they hope their fellow booklovers never discover. Well, no more! Inspired by the radical vulnerability exhibited by the My Favorite Murder gals in their memoir Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, I’m going to put a bookish twist on a game from another one of my most-beloved podcasts, The Guilty Feminist. The host, Deborah Frances-White, starts every show with what she calls “exfoliation of shame”, declaring “I’m a feminist, but…” and confessing her sins. Here are my ten bookish confessions…
I’m a booklover, but… I hated The Great Gatsby
I’m starting off with an easy one, one I feel very little shame about at all, really: I really hated The Great Gatsby. I know, I know, it’s a “beautiful” story of the destructive power of the American dream… but it stank. The supposed quality of the writing (which, yeah, was okay) didn’t make up for the nonsense story. I suppose I might’ve liked it more if it hadn’t always been lauded as the “great American novel” or the “definitive story of the Jazz Age”. It is neither. It’s the story of a wealthy guy exploiting his privilege to stalk his married neighbour, and the narrator thinks he’s the first person to discover that it’s fun to drink and party with pretty girls. Pffft! Hate it. Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.
I’m a booklover, but… Mr Rochester is one of my problematic faves.
I loved Jane Eyre. Charlotte is definitely my favourite of the Brontës. The only thing is, her romantic lead – Mr Rochester – is problematic, to say the least. He exploits his position of power over his young governess in ways that would definitely see him called out on social media in a post-#metoo world. He’s a racist git who locks his Creole wife in the attic, because she had the audacity to get a bit cranky with him. I know all of this. And, yet, I can’t help but feel my heart go all aflutter when he and Jane get their happy ending. I’m not even a romantic, I swear! There’s just something about the two of them, and seeing such an earnest heroine finally get the love she’s been hoping for… I try to comfort myself with the fact that at least his wife extracted her revenge, setting a fire that left him severely wounded. Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.
I’m a booklover, but… I almost never listen to audiobooks.
I’m constantly espousing the benefits of audiobooks. I will shout down anyone who tries to say that listening to an audiobook isn’t “really” reading. I think that they’re an incredible, accessible resource, especially for folks with low vision or other disabilities that make traditional reading formats difficult. You could say I’m a strong advocate, to put it mildly. And yet, I never seem to actually get around to reading them myself! I have the app on my phone, I’m all set up, but there are just SO MANY GREAT PODCASTS to keep up with, all my listening time is used up on them. I know I’m only hurting myself, in the long run, and missing out on some great reading experiences. I’m actually thinking of joining one of those audiobook challenges, to give me the boot up the bum I clearly need… (if there’s one you can recommend, please drop it in the comments below!)
Update: I actually sucked it up and gave audiobooks a go! My full report can be found here.
I’m a booklover, but… I’m really skeptical about self-published books.
Okay, now we’re getting into the real stuff. One of the perks of being a book reviewer is that I get sent all types of books from all types of authors, including self-published ones. I’m lucky in that most of the self-published books I’ve been sent have been great! But *deep breath* I’ve also been sent some shockers, and I’ve encountered some self-published authors who are real dickheads. I don’t want to let a few bad apples spoil the barrel, but unfortunately they’ve made me super-skeptical, and I rarely pursue self-published books because of it. I know there are plenty of booklovers who love (even prefer) self-published books, and would say that I’m a snob or an elitist for being so selective with them – I promise, I’m not. I’ve just been burned before, and I can’t help that it makes me a little skittish.
I’m a booklover, but… I own books I’ll probably never read.
First, this is a simple matter of quantity: at last count, there were well over
three four hundred unread books on my shelves. I acquire at least a few more each week, and I very rarely part with books. Even if I read a book a day for years (which, given how chunky some of them are, seems like a pipe dream), I still wouldn’t get through them all. Then, there’s the matter of mood and taste. Keeping Up With The Penguins has really opened up my world when it comes to reading, and I’m far more game to try something new than I would have been before I started… but there are still some books I doubt I’ll ever be in the mood to pluck from my shelves. Many of them were gifts, or unsolicited review copies, or books I bought without really thinking it through. Why keep them, then? All kinds of reasons, but mostly “just in case”.
I’m a booklover, but… sometimes I recommend books I don’t like, or have never read.
HOLD YOUR ROTTEN TOMATOES! I know this is pretty much the cardinal sin for a book blogger, but hear me out. I would never “fake” recommend a book in a review here on the blog. When I call a book Recommended on Keeping Up With The Penguins, you can be damn sure that I’ve read it, loved it, and want to press it into your hands. I’m talking about those personal one-on-one recommendations, where a friend says “Hey, can you recommend a book for me/my lover/my cat-sitter?”. I always ask what they have in mind, or if they can tell me some books they’ve loved in the past, and use that to guide my recommendation. Sometimes – I stress, only sometimes – their answers lead me to think of books that, even though I didn’t love them personally, would probably really suit them. Or, I think of a book I’ve heard a lot about that sounds like the kind of thing they’d enjoy, even though I’ve not yet read it yet. So, really, it’s a good thing, right? Instead of forcing on them only books that I really love for myself, I’m taking their tastes and preferences into account. Right? Right?
I’m a booklover, but… I just didn’t “get” Mrs Dalloway.
I’m pretty sure this one makes me both a bad booklover and a bad feminist. I really tried with Mrs Dalloway, I did. I’ve loved some of Virginia Woolf’s other writing, and I really thought I’d get a lot out of her (arguably) most famous novel. But I just didn’t “get” it! It was so hard to follow! I had to re-read every sentence three times, and even then, it all just leaked through, like the book turned my brain into a sieve. I think I actually *gulp* preferred Ulysses, the notoriously unreadable book to which Woolf was responding. I’m open to trying Mrs D again in the future, maybe I’ll get more out of it the second time round, but for now, I’d rather just re-watch The Hours. Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.
I’m a booklover, but… I find it really hard to DNF a book (any book, even one I hate).
For the uninitiated, to “DNF” means to abandon a book without finishing it – it’s a “did not finish”. I feel like every other booklover in the world has told me that it’s great to DNF a book, that it frees you up to read something you enjoy, that life’s too short to waste on books that won’t fulfill you. The thing is, I’m a dirty completionist at heart; when I start something, I feel compelled to finish it. That’s why I suffered through to the end of those dreadful self-published efforts I mentioned earlier, and books like The Great Gatsby, American Sniper, and others I really didn’t like. Maybe it’s foolishly optimistic of me, like there’s a small part of me that hopes it’ll turn around or magically get better… but, whatever the case, at least you can be confident that every book I review here, I have read from cover to cover.
I’m a booklover, but… sometimes I like the movie better than the book.
It’s rare that I watch film or TV adaptations of books. In fact, I don’t really watch all that many films or TV shows at all, so if I do happen to watch one based on a book, it’s usually just a happy coincidence. That said, sometimes I actually prefer the movie to the book (and yes, I heard you gasp out loud just now). I certainly enjoyed the HBO series of Game Of Thrones way more than I enjoyed the book version. Same goes for the HBO take on Fahrenheit 451 (which I actually reviewed here on the blog, by the way). I love the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s so much that I’ve sworn to myself I’ll never read the original Capote novella on which it is based, just in case it ruins it for me. I know the general wisdom is “don’t judge a book by its movie”, and normally the screen versions fall short, but there are exceptions.
I’m a booklover, but… I really judge people who don’t use bookmarks, or otherwise damage their books.
Look, I’m not saying they’re going to hell or anything, but seriously! I think the world would be a better place if no one ever dog-eared a book or cracked a spine ever again. And I don’t judge them that harshly (I mean, I married one such monster – and I only occasionally shame him by sharing photos of books he’s destroyed on my Instagram). I’m more open to the idea of marginalia, where the defacement of a book actually serves the purpose of engaging with the text, or writing inscriptions in gifts to loved ones (always fun and heartwarming to find those in a secondhand book), but otherwise just… don’t. Get a bookmark, and/or a book sleeve, and show your books some goddamn respect. Sheesh!
Now come on, don’t leave me hanging, here! Share your bookish confessions in the comments below, and we can all exfoliate our shame together…
April 25, 2020 at 1:50 PM
Oh! Now this is fun. I agree with you on quite a few of those: the bookmarking, the self-published books, the audio books…
I’m a book lover but…I don’t just read anything. I’m very much a mood reader and there are some genres and forms I just never will read.
I’m a book lover but…I don’t like receiving books as gifts. Mostly because I’ll either already have it or if I don’t, it’s because I don’t want it.
I’m a book lover but…I never use the library. It’s a germ thing. Same with second hand books. I’m weird, what can I say?
I’m a book lover but…I married a man who doesn’t read.
Could probably keep at this all afternoon! 😂
April 27, 2020 at 7:48 AM
Yesssss! Good on you, Theresa 😉 And, strangely enough, I seem to know quite a few die-hard book lovers who live with partners/spouses who don’t read at all. I guess that’s an opposites-attract thing? 🤷♀️😂
April 28, 2020 at 3:18 PM
Or a not properly vetting a person before you commit thing! 😂
April 25, 2020 at 7:40 PM
This is a great post. I totally agree with you on Gatsby and Rochester. I am a DNF-er but I only write reviews of books I actually finish, because I figure that’s fair 🙂 Your habit of recommending books you haven’t read sounds like it might have dividends, as friends may then return the favour and recommend them straight back to you. And I do agree that keeping books in good shape seems a reasonably easy thing to do, and I share your surprise that more people don’t do it!
April 27, 2020 at 7:47 AM
Hahaha cheers, Paula! I really need to work on that DNF thing… 😬😬
April 27, 2020 at 9:38 PM
Another fun list, thank you. I would probably add:
I’m a book lover, but I never read new releases, especially if they are surrounded by hype. I get to them eventually, but on my own terms and when the fuss has died down.
I’m a book lover, but I often chanpion books which tend to be underrated, or are even unpopular..
I’m a book lover, but did not enjoy my English Literature degree. I seem to be somewhat resistant to prescribed reading lists, and as with my point above, prefer approaching literature on my own terms.
April 30, 2020 at 7:00 PM
Ooooh yes! There seems to be quite a number of English Lit students who love reading but didn’t enjoy their degree, or found it put them off reading (possibly forever). I suppose it just goes to show that sometimes formalising our love for hobbies or pastimes – in study or in work – isn’t always a good idea 😉
April 28, 2020 at 2:06 PM
We match up 9 for 10 (and possibly all 10 except that I haven’t gotten around to Mrs. Dalloway yet, though it’s been occupying a space on my shelf for a few years now). So many people have tried to convince me that DNF-ing is the best, but I just. can’t. do it. If I bought that book, there was a reason and I’m getting to the end or be damned. Ha! I also relate to the above commenter who doesn’t use the library. I’m a booklover….but my personal home library has more than enough books to keep me reading till I die! I don’t need to borrow more which I then have to keep track of getting back to the library on time.
April 30, 2020 at 6:59 PM
Hahahaha we’re pretty well matched, Hannah! I wonder if the not-DNFing thing is just a competitive streak coming out in me. If I give up, it’s like I’m letting the book “win” 😅
May 1, 2020 at 6:20 AM
On the DNF thing I found this tough when I was younger but then I found the way to achieve this is to attempt to read 10 books at once. Eventually the less liked ones descend further and further down the pile. I once did this to a book I think called “Suicide in ten easy steps” in which the title turned out to be the most diverting part of the book. After a year or two I was so distant from the book I was actually able to throw it away without further thought.
May 4, 2020 at 6:45 AM
Hahahaha that’s a great idea Phil! I can see how trying to keep that many plates spinning at once would force your hand in terms of priorities 😉