Do you remember a while back when goat cheese became a Huge Culinary Thing? And it started appearing everywhere—on pizzas, in salads, in ice cream, even in cheesecakes. Everyone I knew loved it. “Try it,” they kept telling me. “It’s so delicious.” But when I did, I couldn’t stand it. “Try it again,” they’d say, the next dinner out. “You know, it takes 10 times before your taste buds really decide if they like something.”
They were so excited about it, and loved it so much, that I really, really, really wanted to like goat cheese. But I just didn’t. I tried it and tried it and tried it. And then I’d sit there listening to everyone rave about how delicious it was with honey or steak or whatever and my friends would feel bad that I didn’t like it, that I was missing out on something so amazing.
The same thing happens with books, and sometimes even authors. You know what I’m talking about: everyone RAVES about them, but that you, for some reason, feel just… meh. And every time those books—or authors—come up in conversation, you feel so guilty about disliking them, and figure you’re missing out on all the brilliance, and wonder if you should give them a second, or a third, or a tenth try.
Well, sometimes even 10 tries isn’t enough to make you like something. Sometimes, you just… don’t. And you wish people would let up. I’m guilty of it too: I keep trying to get my sister to eat broccoli, which I love (hey, it’s a superfood!) and she hates. I am always convinced that this recipe is the one that will change the tide. Eventually I stopped trying the goat cheese, no matter how amazing people said it was. And I stopped cooking broccoli for my sister. It’s okay. There are other things to eat.
It can be tough, disliking something universally beloved. People keep trying to get you to love it too when in your heart, you know it’s just not for you. So in an effort to remove the stigma, and as a reminder that there’s no such thing as a universally loved book, here are my three guilty displeasures—my personal literary equivalent of goat cheese. I believe my friends and fellow writers who tell me they’re great books. I believe that I’m missing out on something great. But they’re just not for me.
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. No fewer than five separate friends have suggested this book to me. One of them even gave me her copy. None of them are much alike—one is a poet, one is in marketing, two are fiction writers, one is a research scientist—but they all loved this book. I keep trying it. I really want to like it. But about 15 pages in, I always seem to wander away to pick up something else.
- The Game of Thrones series, by George R. R. Martin. Last fall, when he had to do a lot of traveling, my husband tore through these with heedless delight and, like about three-quarters of the world, is eagerly awaiting the next book. But every time he tries to explain what it’s about, I can feel my mind tuning out. I don’t know why this is. I devoured fantasy books as a kid, and the premise—political intrigue and power plays, with dragons?—sounds fabulous, figuratively as well as literally. No luck here. I can’t even get into the TV show. In this case, I won’t mind if he Netflix cheats. (The new Arrested Development, though? That’s another story.)
- David Foster Wallace. I know, this is rank heresy from a fiction writer. When my husband and I got married, one of the groomsmen—my husband’s friend since kindergarten—pressed his battered copy of Infinite Jest into our hands. “This book changed my life,” he told us. I couldn’t get past page 2. Yet most writers I know speak Wallace’s name with the reverent tones that the very devout use for saints. I’ve tried more of his writing (the essays, the short stories) and keep waiting for the passion and excitement he elicits from every other writer. It doesn’t arrive. I’m sorry, guys. For me, DFW is a supposedly great read I probably won’t try again.
While I await the angry Murakami/Game of Thrones/DFW-loving mob to gather their pitchforks and look up my house on Google Maps, tell me: what are your literary guilty displeasures?