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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Warning About "The History of Love"

I've read The History of Love twice and was awed by it both times. And I'm not a re-reader. There was so much symbolism and layers of meaning that I will probably read it again some day.

So, why the warning? Tonight was my book club and everyone HATED the book. I mean they HATED it, not just dislike, but HATE. I was the one who chose the book and was supposed to conduct the discussion. The first lady that came asked me if I had read the book before suggesting it. I answered that I had and that I loved it. She said, "Really, because I hated it and everyone I've talked to hated it." Two more people straggled in after that. They had the same reaction. They said they didn't like how it went from one person to another and back and forth. One said it reminded her of the Poisonwood Bible. Then she puts her hand over her mouth and says, "Whoops, you recommended that one, too, didn't you?"

They thought it was pathetic. I talked about the idea of survival and how each character had a method to help them survive. Wasn't it interesting that a teenage girl in New York read and reread the Wilderness Survival Guide? Didn't they feel the triumph of each person's spirit? Didn't they think Leo was lovable with his quirky little ways? No, they thought he was crazy. Well, obviously he is, but he made the most of it and he had a great sense of humor. They worried about the author's personal life, thinking she must be a bit screwy to write such a weird book.

I tried to get them to discuss the idea of authenticity that ran as a theme throughout the book. I mentioned a few examples: Leo's love for Alma - was it authentic or was it built up on his part. Did she love him in return? Who knows? Why did he hold to it so tenaciously? What was Bruno's role? Was the book Leo wrote real or another fabrication of his imagination? If not real, then why was Alma named after the main character? And why was the book written in Spanish since Leo was from Poland and never went to South America?

I went to book club thinking we were going to discuss a meaningful book in a thoughtful way. Was I ever disappointed. We talked about the book for maybe 10 minutes, maybe. Then we talked about a trip to Vegas, the plot of the Spenser for Hire books, a husbands job with the park service and how he likes the Nevada Barr books. Did I say WE? One lady dominated the whole hour. That was all her stuff we talked about. It went on to include the Qwilleran books (The Cat Who . . .), the baskets they were putting together at her church, the book about a quail. Forgive me, one other lady did get a word in edgewise - she told us how she had a complete set of Louis L'Amour books (all 130) in a leather bond collection. She's starting to reread them.

Oh, my gosh! I thought I was going to die. I don't mind that nobody liked the book, but I do mind that we couldn't discuss it at book club.

Anyway, I thought I'd better issue a warning that you may not like The History of Love, especially after I raved about it earlier this month. I guess this book is NOT for everyone. If you do pick it up, keep in mind that it will be confusing at first. You will have questions. There are several different threads that will eventually work together. It's not told with one event smoothly happening after the next. It's multilayered and thought-provoking. And if you hate it, that's okay, too. Just remember that I did warn you. But I think it's completely AWESOME.

46 comments:

Jackie said...

Well, I still want to read it. Books clubs are funny - it seems like you could have had a really great discussion about their reasons why they didn't like it, but I know how it goes and you end up covering the latest vacation. I'll let you know when I read it and what I think.

Jackie said...

Also, wanted to find out how to sign up for the Classics Challenge. Thank you!

Alyson said...

That really stinks!! Even if they didn't like it, they should have still discussed it. Maybe discussing it would have given them a better understanding of the book and they would have ended up liking it.

I read Catcher in the Rye, and didn't particularly like it, but since then I've heard many different things about the book that make me think I missed something. Now I want to read it again. Maybe I was looking too deep, or not looking deep enough. The later is more likely, because the simplicity of the main characters thoughts didn't provoke me into deep thought.

Anyway, the point is, it's a book club! You go there to discuss the members' differing views of the book.

Alyson said...

P.S. I'm still going to read it!!

Christina said...

So sorry to hear this happened to you at your book club. I have a habit of liking books some people do not like. How weird is this when it happens. I can't believe no one liked it.

Lazy cow said...

I'm with you. I loved the book. Bookgroups are funny. Mine is made up of 4-5 close friends and often - to my frustration - we end up discussing personal stuff a lot of the time. We already see each other socially, let's talk about the BOOK (if they've bothered finishing it) now! Thank goodness for book bloggers :-)

Lotus Reads said...

So sorry that your book club didn't enjoy "The History of Love" booklogged, it must have been very disappointing for you especially as you were so looking forward to discussing it. I'm probably up against something similar with the Desai novel - I love it, but word is trickling in that not everybody is.

jenclair said...

I've only been in one book club- with 7 or 8 intelligent women that I liked. It sounded like so much fun. Only two or three would read the entire book, I hated the ones they liked, they didn't like the ones I liked, discussions were not really interesting. It died a natural death. The second time a book club was suggested, I made excuses.

Les said...

I enjoy books with alternating voices. I loved The Poisonwood Bible. Thanks for the warning, but I'm not put off by your book group's reaction. I still plan to read the book. This is yet another reason why I dislike f2f book groups and enjoy my online group and bloggers all the better! At least we stay on topic, for the most part. :)

hellomelissa said...

i doesn't sound as though you had a good group with whom to discuss a book this thought-provoking. i'll still give it a try... after i get done with the stacks challenge, the classics challenge, the historian, and those darn outlander books. :)

angela said...

wow that sucks! is there another group you can get involved in with similar tastes?
i'd be devastated if it was my turn and no one would even discuss it.. even if they didn't like it.

Camille said...

Just wanted to add my two-cents: I loved The History of Love. So much that I cried at the end. (I'm also jealous because the author is my same exact age, I think.) I also loved Poisonwood Bible. I'm really surprised about the questions regarding Nicole Krauss's personal life. She seems normal to me. I'd read anything else she wrote. :)

Sheri said...

oUch! I still want to read it but thanks for your disclaimer. I had this SAME EXACT thing happen to me when I suggested and we read Running With Scissors. Boy did I get slammed.....

Don't bother with it! SOme people don't think a book is good unless it's blended and spoon fed to them.

cyndi said...

I love books that go back and forth between characters. Some of my favorite books are written like that. I think I may have to read The History of Love. I've only been in one book club, and most of them would come without reading the assignment. I think we only had 3 meetings before it died.

Cam said...

Sometimes that happens in my book group too. I recommended that we read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina a few years ago and even agreed to their reading an abridged version (which is contrary to one of my reading rules!). I missed the discussion because I had pnemonia. They all still tease me about enduring Anna -- and I still don't have a clue why they detested it so much. The last time I suggested a book, I suggested Waugh's Brideshead Revisited which I loved. Nobody wanted to talk about it -- it is such a rich book for discussion. But, it works both ways; I've slogged through some works that I never would have read on my own. I'll offer up comments, but I've learned not to be so adamant in my dislike that I offend those who feel differently.

It is tough to get the right combo for a reading group. And it is difficult to keep on topic. You have to have a self-policing group to keep focused on the book even if everyone hates it, but still allow for the socializing aspect. Whether book-related or not, it's no fun if one person monopolizes the conversation.

piksea said...

You need to find a new book club. The History of Love was wonderful. Yes, Leo is nuts, but the sweetest, most poignant nuts I've read in a long time. I don't think the warning is necessary. Alma is the perfect person to be named after Leo's Alma. Maybe you just need to dumb down your book club picks. That's sad.

As soon as I get my act together, I'm in on the Stacks Challenge, too.

booklogged said...

I so appreciate all your comments. I was a bit angry last night and this post allowed me to vent and get things off my chest. Your comments have helped 'validate' my feelings. I'm stymied that everyone hated it, but that's okay. I was angry that we couldn't have a worthwhile discussion.

Jackie, I left a message for you about the Classics Challenge on your blog. Hope you saw it.

Alyson, I've had that same experience with books I didn't care for and then went to book club and gained from the discussion which helped me appreciate the book. So excited that you will be home tonight!

Christina, I know. How could not one single person like it?

Lazy Cow, I'm so glad you liked the book. I'm not alone. Yes, thank goodness for book bloggers. You all enrich my life.

booklogged said...

Hellow, Lotus. I am looking forward to reading Inheritance of Loss. I loved your review of it. I was looking forward to a meaningful discussion, so that did disapoint, but I do know we don't all relate the same way to a book, so that was okay.

Jenclair, I will probably stop going to this book club, after a couple more. I don't want anyone to think I'm not coming back because they hurt my feelings because they hated the book. I'd never be able to convince anyone it was the lack of rational discussion.

Les, I like alternating voices, too. And I like creative, imaginative narrations. That's not to say I don't enjoy a flowing narrative, only that it's nice to have variety. Poisonwood Bible is one of my top 10 favorite books.

Mellissa, I like your idea - there was something wrong with all the other women! Teehee! Which Outlander book do you have staring you in the face?

booklogged said...

Angela, I wish there was another group, but I live in a small town and this is the only group I know of. I'll just stick to blogger book groups from now on.

Camille, I was a bit stunned, too, when they suggested Krauss must be crazy to write such a book. I think they wanted to say I must be too for liking it. It all strikes me as very funny today.

Sheri, I haven't read Running With Scissors yet, but have heard good things. They all admitted to wanting to be spoon fed. When I discussed themes and symbols on lady said she just didn't have time to read for meaning. I can understand that, too. Sometimes life is so hectic that I only want to read something purely entertaining.

Hello, Cyndi. I hope you will read History of Love when you get moved and settled in. Would love to hear your thoughts about it.

Cam, the one person who dominates with pedestrian monologue is probably the most disturbing thing about my book club.

Piksea, I loved Leo. Nice to hear of someone else who liked this book. Thank-you.

Carrie K said...

It's the lack of discussion about the book that drives me crazy about RL book clubs. Online seems to be better, but I wasn't prepared for the picking and choosing of which books to read (which I'm now guilty of myself).

Too bad they couldn't have the good manners to discuss it! It's disheartening when no one else likes the book at all.

I have to say, The History of Love wasn't on my radar at all, but I've put a hold on it at the library.

Melissa said...

here's another group for you:
http://sequesterednook.hebers.us/

it's on line so we really can't be too offended. I have the same problem with in person book groups. Especially since I'm more adventuresome than many people.

Library Lady said...

Oh My! Were the members octogenarians? Sometimes too many characters or a lack of connective(ness) in chapters rattles the elderly reader!

I just can't believe NO One liked it. My husband and my sister-in-law thought this was one of the best books, EVER!

Man, I bet you just wanted to bop everyone on the head and scream, "Let's talk about my book!"

I'm so sorry this happened!

We were a little hesitant about discussing Bel Canto at our meeting last month. My boss didn't care for the book and was sure it would bomb. I, junior staff member, chose the book for our retired readers. Well, I let out an audible sigh as they all raised their hands to say they liked it…

I hate to be dismissive of your group, but they sound like they have a lexile level of six. :-D

You deserve a better group!

SuziQoregon said...

Wow! I'm so sorry you had such an awful experience. I used to belong to an online book group and I found that our best discussions were when there were some who loved and some who hated the book - give and take and sharing of opinions and viewpoints was wonderful.

A dominating member can really be a huge problem though. That's what finally drove me away from my group. The day I was informed that my opinion of The Mermaid Chair was "wrong". I decided that I'd had enough and dropped out of the group. I wasn't in the book club to be 'taught' the book, I was there for give and take. I withdrew from the group and am glad I did.

I'm very sorry that this did not happen with your group and hope that it was an isolated incident and not a trend.

Kailana said...

I liked this book, I just wasn't blown away by it. I am more blown away by the rude book club people.

booklogged said...

Carrie, I have to ask what is a RL book club?

Melissa, thanks for the link. I'll be over to check things out.

Library Lady, I can't believe that not one single person liked it either. What are the chances?!

Melissa, I'm afraid it's not an isolated incident. Two months ago I was so frustrated I about quit. The non-stop monologue lady did her thing and about bored me to death.

Kailana, To give them credit they weren't rude because they didn't like the book, only in not discussing it.

Framed said...

So, is this the same book club that I went to only once? And does the dominating person work at the library? If so, enough said. I personally didn't like "Poisonwood Bible" but I really liked "History of Love." If you club hated "Bible", maybe I'd better read it again. But I'm not trying "Running with Scissors" again. It didn't hit a chord with me at all.

Bookfool said...

I'm so looking forward to reading this book, one day. Your description makes me even more eager. Sorry the book club reaction was such a letdown. I've always wanted to get involved in a face-to-face book discussion group, but I've heard a lot of similar comments about such groups, recently - particularly that most don't finish the book and then the discussion dies. It's frustrating when others don't share your joy about a book that you love, isn't it?

BTW, I have a lot of trouble with the pop-up kind of comment window. I don't know if it's my computer or my horrid dial-up connection, but I love your blog and sorry I'm not able to tell you more often when I enjoy a post!!!

Stefanie said...

I haven't read the book yet, it's on my TBR list, but what a bummer about the group. I tried to get my book group to read Mrs. Dalloway once and everyone of them refused to read it. Any chance you could find a new book group?

Carl V. said...

Sorry it didn't go well for you. It is always a bit disappointing when a book that you love is shunned by others. Definitely sounds like you're in the wrong book club!

Literary Feline said...

I keep going back and forth about whether or not I want to read this one, but after reading both your review and your warning post, I have decided I definitely want to add it to my wish list of books to read. It sounds like something I would enjoy.

Ex Libris said...

I loved this book! How awful that you weren't even allowed to discuss it. I

booklogged said...

Framed, I hope that someday you will retry Poisonwood Bible.

Bookfool, Thanks for the kind words. Maybe the trouble will stop now that I've switched to Beta (OR maybe it will get worse!) Who knows?

Carl, I'll probably try going once more in Jan. since we don't meet in Dec. If things go as poorly as they have the last couple of months, I'm out.

Bloggar is driving me crazy! I've made 6 attempts so far to post this comment. Luckily, I copy before I ever try posting.

booklogged said...

Literay Feline, if you read it let me know. I'd like to hear what you think.

Ex, Definitely!

Lesley said...

You know, I bought this book today based off reading positive comments on your blog and others. I didn't read too much of your post as I don't want to find out too much about the book, but if it reminded one woman of The Poisonwood Bible then that's a good thing in my book.

Personally I think some of the best book club discussions can come from books that are disliked, so your disappointment is understandable.

hellomelissa said...

"voyager" glares at me with it's lovely forest-green cover while i read my "stacks challenge" books. it tempts, it taunts, but i WILL NOT OPEN IT not even for a second until i am done. otherwise it will suck me in to a swirling vortex until i read all thousand-plus pages. you understand, i know.

tanabata said...

I just finished it, and really liked it. It's too bad that they wouldn't even discuss what they didn't like about it. I belonged to a f2f group in England for a few months, before we moved back to Japan, and it was getting frustrating because the leader, worked at the library, and sometimes would go on and on about library stuff instead of the book. sigh.

booklogged said...

Lesley, I loved the Poisonwood Bible. History of Love has different narrators, but it also jumps around in time.

Melissa, Isn't that beautiful forest-reen covered book "in your stack"? If so, it could count for the challenge couldn't it. If you can hold off one month you could read it for the Chunkster Challenge. Have you got the will power?!

Tanabata, you are quite the globetrotter! A Canadian living in Japan with a brief stay in England. Wow!

emasl said...

I have not read this book but your experience does not put me off. It must be a very strong book that in provokes such feelings. If I really dislike a book I keep quiet unless I can blog about it in a civilised manner. The word 'hate' is a very harsh word to use about a book, I usually say 'dislike instensely' but then one should be ready to give reasons why you did not like it.

I have given up on book groups off and online because of the reasons given here. And I will echo what has been said Thank Goodness for Book Bloggers. I have met so many interesting people and read so many different books through visiting. So ignore them all and just read and enjoy what you like.

Sara said...

Probably not everyone hated it. It sounds to me like certain group dynamics were at work. Like someone disliked it and started trashing it in front of others before you hopped in, making all of the flaws of the book seem magnified. By the time you joined the conversation, their opinion was too far gone.

Now I will have to read it to see what I think!

MizB said...

Aw, sorry for your disappointment. :-? That sucks.

And, hey -- I agree. Book club is where you go to discuss the book...whether people liked it or not. Heck, dislike of a book can often be even *better* than love of it, because it makes for more *interesting* discussion. ;o)

Here's hoping that you'll have better luck in the future. :-?

<>< MizB

pussreboots said...

I've only heard the audio version but I loved it and do want to read the book someday. Maybe you need to find a new book club. :)

Anonymous said...

I completely agree in that The History of Love was an amazing novel. I think that Bruno's role was to give Leo a reason to stay a live, after losing Alma to another man. The book was Spanish because of Zvi being in South America, but maybe you knew these things and only mentioned them for the sake of discussion in your book club. Anyways, I am so glad that I am able to open my mind in such a way to embrace this book, because I did, and I have, and I pity those who cannot.

In the Moment said...

I had mixed feelings about this book. The characters were wonderfully human. I thought the inner workings of Bird and Alma's minds and their response to grief and worry and Leo and Bruno's friendship and individual concerns were touching and heartbreaking as shown by Krauss. Some of the scenes were so moving, depicting the range of human emotions from despair and sorrow to fear regret, happiness,delight and elation. It is also a story about fear, deception, loss, adolescence, abandonment and aging. The story is about one man's life long experience of love or lack of it with a secondary story about Alma's and Bird's father's death and how it affected them.

The changes in POV were often difficult for me to follow. I was not sure who was talking many times and had to stop and figure it out. The story was a bit convoluted for me in the way it was written with chapters switching back and forth to the different peoples' individual stories as they related to major plot of the novel.

I found the changes in POV annoying but the "feeling" of this book and the characters made the read worthwhile. Krauss has a great understanding and empathy for her characters. In this respect it is a very rich book. It is exceptional.

I know what you mean about being surprised when a whole bunch of people hate a book.

I read The World To Come by Dara Horn and LOVED it and two of my friends HATED it. One said he wanted to throw it out the window!

Thing Two said...

LOL - I so enjoyed this blog! I'm getting ready to facilitate an online book club discussion on Goodreads with this book, and came across your blog. I do hope you've found a new book club in the past seven years!

Hoping I like it as much as I did Poisonwood Bible

Margie said...

My book group is meeting on Thursday to discuss this. I also chose the book and loved it. I already realized from the Amazon.com reviews that it might be a problematic choice. My group is a library group, so members vary. They have loved some books I thought they would hate, so fingers crossed. Anyway, don't let it get to you! You are right to love this. I find some readers just want to read the same kind of book all the time, with a linear narrative. I'll have to let you know how it goes.

Michelle94904 said...

Thanks so much for posting this humorous account - I too loved the book, gave it 4.5 stars out of 5 on Goodreads after a friend gave me the hardcover, knowing I would LOVE this book (I did). And saw that I had four other friends who read the book - four different scores ranging from 4 to 1. I linked this blog to my Goodreads review and shared it with my friend who knew I'd love this book :) thanks for sharing. Here's to more great books in 2016!
-Michelle
Greenbrae, California
https://www.goodreads.com/friend/i?i=LTM2MDY1MjcxNjg6MzI0