I feel bad about your book

I usually try to keep my big mouth shut about books I don’t enjoy, primarily because I can’t imagine how disheartening it must be to pour months and years of work into something, only to have it torn to shreds by a bunch of know-nothing blobs like me.

Instead, if asked my opinion on anything I don’t care for, I use my mother’s diplomatic line: ‘I’m just not the intended audience.’ I like this because it isn’t insulting the intelligence or taste of people who do like that book/movie/show/band/painting/fashion trend and it acknowledges that things can be good even if I don’t like them.

I read a lot, but life is short and reading time is precious, so I steer clear of works I’m 99.99% sure will not be to my liking, no matter how popular they may be. Like 50 Shades of Grey. Or Harry Potter. Or anything that has a cover bearing a shirtless man wearing a kilt. Sorry, but I am not the intended audience.

Every once in a while, however, a book slips through the net and I am astounded by my dislike for something I thought I’d enjoy. Like I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, which I finally got around to last week. It’s been in my reading queue for the entire thirteen years since its publication and based on all the great reviews and its presence on countless lists of ‘Top 10 Humour Titles’, I thought it would be a sure thing. Nope.

It turns out that despite also being a middle-aged white woman with a not-so-great neck, I am not her intended audience. The endless stream of procedures, grooming appointments and expensive creams and potions she describes as if they are all a necessity? Depressing. (And I don’t mean ‘oh, isn’t it depressing we women require all these interventions to keep looking passable,’ but that she seems to think that’s the case.) Griping about her enormous NYC apartment with rent that costs more per month than many people (including me) make in a year? Tone-deaf. Reminiscing how outrageously fat she grew when she went off to university and soared to (gasp) 125 pounds? Shut up.

Making the whole experience worse was that I listened to the audiobook version, read by the author herself. She…speaks…slowly. So slowly I kept looking for a way to play it at 1.25 speed. And she…approaches…a…punchline…by…slowing….down….even….more…..and……making……her……last……word……….[almost inaudible]. It made me crazy.

I know, I know, for someone who started this post bragging about keeping my snarky opinions to myself, this whole thing took an awfully negative turn. But believe me that even though Ephron died in 2012 and it’s impossible to hurt her feelings, I still feel a bit squeamish about openly criticising her work like this and I’ve been dithering for days about whether to say anything.

Is there value in sharing bad reviews and negative opinions? I’m not sure. Do I feel a teensy bit better about blurting my two cents? Actually, yes. Yes, I do.

3 thoughts on “I feel bad about your book”

  1. Are you a fan of her earlier work? I feel like it might give you a better appreciation of what she’s up to here. (Here novel HEARTBURN is my favourite). I read this book when it was published and thought of it again when a benign tumour appeared on my neck five years ago—and I was so relieved about its benignness that I decided I was never going to feel bad about my neck as long as it didn’t kill me (and I wonder if Ephron might have spent less time feeling bad about her neck had she known she’d die so young).

  2. I respect your opinion, Kerry, so I’ll add Heartburn to the queue. (But definitely not the audiobook version if she narrates it.) You raise an interesting point I didn’t address in my “review”: the discomfort that goes with reading Ephron’s extended complaints about this minor appearance-related stuff when (1) I’ve had enough harrowing experiences that have taught me not to worry about unimportant crap like grey hair and (2) knowing she didn’t have all that much longer to live when she wrote the book. But I guess messages like ‘Aging is perfectly normal and not a personal failing’ don’t amuse people in quite the same way.

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