I have been sitting on this post for a while.
Rather, I have been sitting on this topic for a while, wondering how to go about writing about it, or even if I should write about it, or if I should write about it, whether it might be better placed in a journal or diary. After much waffling, here we go:
I read the book Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brashares, a few weeks ago. I didn't count, but I probably started crying about six or seven times while reading it. After I'd finished, I felt really, really emptied. Devoid, desolate, bleak. It took me a few days before I really felt back to normal.*
Why this intense reaction? Well... It's because of my baggage. What I bring to the table, whenever I sit down and read a book. Without getting extremely personal, I will say that I have experience with some of the following: suicide, depression, bipolar disorder, family schisms, and dead mothers. Sisterhood Everlasting has all of the above (in various shades), and in my opinion, Sisterhood Everlasting got it wrong.
Would I say that the book treated those topics lightly? Not lightly, exactly. But I almost felt that the book made an attempt to lighten the subject matter by making the overarching message of the book one of light, and hope. Like a character who clearly suffers from bipolar disorder (albeit a milder case) can somehow turn herself around on the dot and decide to be better. (Not exactly true, my friends.) It's odd, the way I feel about the book. On one hand, I was perturbed by the fact that the rest of the Sisterhood books are so light (not blase, but definitely light), touching on serious material only carefully, and that this one was not. And on the other hand, I was saddened by the fact that this last book aimed to cover these problems, but (in my opinion) didn't treat them with the right amount of gravitas.
Anyway. As I was sitting around despondently after reading this book, it occurred to me that no one who does not have my personal experience will likely feel this way about Sisterhood Everlasting. Looking at it from an objective perspective (or as objective I can be), I would say that it's a good book. Others will agree. Others will likely not be bothered by the way Brashares treats these topics, because others have not experienced them firsthand. And that's fine. But it does mean that a lot of how "good" people think a book is actually has to do with the perspective of the reader -- not the objective quality of the book.
Whether we like a book or not depends on how good a book is, yes. But it also depends on whether we're hungry or impatient as we read the book, or whether we're grouchy or tired, or instead in a marvelous, "I love the world!" mood. Feeling marvelous? Well, then you might enjoy a few pages about how nice it would be to have a pet tiger. Feeling sleepy? Well, then you might wish the writer would go on and kill the damn tiger already. And if you have firsthand experience with a topic covered in a book, experience that differs drastically from the way it's presented, that inevitably changes how you evaluate the story.
I've definitely put down books before that I probably would have liked, if I hadn't been tired/annoyed/sick/hungry when I started reading them. Sometimes I recognize those moods, and I make a note to pick the book up again later. Sometimes I don't, and I just let them go.
So, my friends, here's the question: How much do you think your rating of a book depends on your particular perspective, on your background, your mood, your habits, and how they relate to the book? How much objectivity can people really have when they sit down to read? Clearly my personal example is a little extreme, but have you ever noticed smaller, subtler ways in which your reader's perspective shapes the way you feel about a book?
*There is a point to be made here about the book accomplishing its purpose if reading about particular subjects brought my personal feelings SO far out of their usual hiding places. But my distaste for the book was more in the way it was handled, not so much that the topics were covered at all in the first place.