Friday, February 27, 2009

On The Road With Books

While listening to the audio rendition of Dorothy Sayers' Strong Poison in the car, it occurred to me that reading a mystery while driving may not be a very safe thing to do. After all, we armchair sleuths must pay very close attention to the small, and oftentimes seemingly unimportant, clues we are thrown. I am very puffed up and proud of myself that the moment I heard one of these teensy, throw-away clues, I absolutely knew how the fatal dose of arsenic was administered to the hapless victim. However, as I was driving along in rapt attention to the book, I realized I had missed my exit on the Interstate by many miles and ended up in a town I'd never heard of. I can see how books on tape can lead to higher gas consumption.

The only other experience I had with an audio book was listening to The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. I think I was able to pay closer attention to my driving because I really didn't like the book very much. I thought it tried too hard to deliver its message and ended up being maudlin. Soon after, I saw a hardbound copy of it on my daughter's desk. Thankfully, before I could voice my opinion, she not only told me how much she loved the book, but said it was one of her "favorites." Discretion being the better part of valor, I kept my mouth shut.

This, of course, brings up another dilema. I love to hear what other readers think about the books they encounter; however, how does one criticize a book that is loved by someone else without insulting the other person's taste? Is it rude and bodacious, like pointing out the thickness of dust that has settled on your friend's sidetable, or counting out loud the number of empty wine bottles your next door neighbor carts out to the curb on garbage pick-up day? I recently read a book that was almost universally hailed as a masterwork - compared to Shakespeare even (which was by far the silliest review I have ever someone who writes reviews for a living, no less.) Someone who read my blog e-mailed me to say I was "very brave" to go against the prevailing wind. Brave?? Oh dear. Very brave! Double, oh dear. I always pick up a book with the hope and expectation that I will enjoy it. I hate it when I am disappointed, mostly because I know the author suffered through every word and then had to battle to get it published. It's a tricky thing to criticize someone else's work, isn't it.

Well, I am off to the library to return my audio book and get another...perhaps another Lord Peter Wimsey. I'll make sure I have a full tank of gas and a road atlas with me, just in case.


  1. One thing I love about the book blogging community (at least with the blogs I read)...everyone is respectful of one another's opinions. And really, what a boring, boring world it would be if everyone had the same opinion of every book. But that said, it is very hard to criticize someone's hard work. I just have this all-consuming desire to "be nice!" But of course, being nice and criticizing a book aren't mutually exclusive. I give very little credit to a review that is just nastily written, when the reviewer is just in attack mode. But a "bad" review, written respectfully of both the author and those who do enjoy the book, is a whole different matter. I appreciate those reviews very much, actually. In fact, it is sometimes that one "negative" review that will convince me to read a book that everyone else is raving if it gives me permission to not like it, knowing I won't be alone. Not that it should matter what everyone else thinks, but I've been known to wonder what on Earth it is that I'm missing when I seem to be the only person out there that doesn't like a book. I think it's possible to point out why a book didn't work for one personally as a reader, without implying that anyone who does like it is a moron. Well, crap, I didn't mean to write a novel here myself...what I really just wanted to say is, Please don't stop from being honest about your opinions!

  2. It is tricky, isn't it, to say you don't like something. I always feel that it must be me - that I read it in the wrong mood, or at the wrong time, or that it was just not the style or the story to appeal to me. I value bloggers' honest opinions and figure that there's always room for diplomacy. One's offspring is a different matter entirely, however, and I would have done the same as you under the circumstances!

  3. Debi and Litlove, I guess the whole point in book blogging is to discuss the merits of someone's we personally and honestly see it. Besides being fun, it's why I stay tuned into the book blogger world. Not only have bloggers lead me to books I may never have discovered, I enjoy their enthusiasm. How could I have gone this long without ever having read Barbara Pym or V. Naipaul? I was introduced to them through other bloggers only recently...I'm grateful.

  4. Glad you liked Dorothy Sayers! I've listened to mysteries in the car, and it does feel dangerous -- they are just a bit too exciting! When I dislike something somebody else loves, I tend to be like Litlove and talk about how personal taste is and how it just wasn't the right time. I make it personal and try not to sound like I'm making judgments everyone in the world should agree with.

  5. Dorothy, it's probably lucky for my fellow travelers that I was unable to find another Dorothy Sayers audio book at our small library, and the only Agatha Christie they had was on cassette tape not CD. But, I'm so hooked on audio books! Imagine, reading while driving! I guess it's better than putting my mascara on while tooling down the freeway!