Chacun son goût

My next door neighbours are a couple in their eighties. They’re the best possible sort of neighbours to have in lots of ways. They’re quiet, friendly, warm, and exactly the sort whose home we happily watch when they’re away and who do the same for us. They’re also interesting people. They’re into everything from helping refugees to getting lots of exercise to writing poetry and self-publishing it for their families. They’re computer savvy and independent, and over the years, we’ve talked lots about books, because they’re avid readers.

Until now, we’d only mentioned titles and authors to each other, but after a recent visit, I offered to lend her a couple of books I thought she might enjoy. I picked two: one I liked with a subject I thought would appeal to her, and one that ranks as one of my own favourite reads this year. I didn’t tell her anything about the books when I dropped them off.

This morning, she brought them back. The first she liked well enough. She found the topic interesting, as I thought she would, and the writing solid.

The second, a book I loved, she didn’t like at all. With an eye to making future suggestions she’d enjoy more, I asked her what she didn’t like about it, and she said she didn’t like the writing, that it got a bit better as she went along, but she just didn’t like it and didn’t really know why. She doesn’t mind reading outside her usual areas, she said, but likes good writing, first and foremost. (The implication, I suppose, was that this book wasn’t it.) Then she asked me what I thought of it.

This book had me hooked from the beginning, and I think it’s beautifully written. She was very surprised when I told her it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and that I like the writing style, the characters, all of it.

It was a very good reminder that reading is utterly subjective. One person’s favourite read is another’s wasted reading time. The variety of books available at any bookstore should be reminder enough of that, but it’s easy to forget, especially when you’re looking for someone to love your baby enough to publish it or if you get a poor review.

So next time your work gets slammed in a review or you get one of those “not right for me” rejections, remember that that one was my neighbour, but the next one may be me, hand-selling your book to everyone I can talk into buying it because I loved it so much.


  1. Shari Green
    Aug 27, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this great reminder! A while back, after much positive feedback on a ms, I got a critique back in which the critter didn’t seem to like much of anything about the book. After sifting through her feedback for points that rang true to me, I accepted that it just wasn’t her cup of tea. And that’s okay! Definitely chacun son gout!

    • Kathy
      Aug 28, 2012

      Hi Shari. It’s tough not to take the bad ones to heart instead of the good ones, isn’t it? Something most of us struggle with, I think. Being able to accept it’s simply not his/her sort of thing is so important. I got a good lesson in that recently in a big writing contest I entered with my MS, one that shares judging scores after the fact. Of the four judges, three scored me high enough to put me on the shortlist, but the fourth dragged my score down with a barely passing mark. I think it helped that all four scores came at once, so I could see the contrast and see that clearly it wasn’t her thing. And then I decided that I’d rather she hated it – evident from the score – than was ambivalent about it. :)

  2. justmessinaround
    Aug 28, 2012

    I love this post Kathy. It’s too true. In the end, it all comes down to personal taste.

    Even a little book by J.K. Rowling failed to impress a large number of publishers before Bloomsbury saw its incredible artistry and value. And it seems that people all around the world shared Bloomsbury’s view and not that of the other 12 or so publishers.

    Good reasons for a little belief in yourself and to hang in there if you ask me. :)


    • Kathy
      Aug 28, 2012

      Thanks, Liz! Yes, the list of famous authors who received multiple rejections is definitely encouraging.


  1. World Wide Wednesday: À chacun Lost Girl a Reading Rainbow over the Midnight Garden « Boxes of Paper - [...] À chacun son gout: Kathy Chung, conference coordinator of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, [...]