Your father-in-law gives you a novel to read and keeps asking how you liked it. You hated it.
What do you say when he asks what you thought of the book? Is honesty the best policy? Especially since you know he has a gaggle of other books by the same writer?
“By nature, books are very subjective, and what one reader loves, another may strongly dislike,” said Melissa Cistaro, bookseller at Book Passage in Marin County, Calif., and author of “Pieces of My Mother.”
Asked the hypothetical question about the father-in-law, she said she’d use the book to launch a conversation.
“I’d find at least something about the book that I could appreciate — perhaps the sense of place the author captured or a particular character I found interesting,” she said. “I’d ask my father-in-law what really captivated him in the story. What are some of his other favorite novels?
“I might learn something I never knew about my father-in-law through this kind of exchange. Maybe he doesn’t like books that address grief because he is still mourning the loss of a dear friend. Maybe we would discover that we were influenced by some of the same classics growing up.”
Working in a bookstore has made her realize that books can affect and influence people in many different ways.
“Our reading lists are both personal and worth sharing,” she said. “Sometimes a book comes along and sweeps us off our feet, and other times we end up turning the last page completely disappointed. My advice is to let books be the doors we open to create bigger conversations.”
Whatever you do, don’t try to pretend you liked something you hated, she recommended.
“It is always best to be honest than fake,” Cistaro said. “Now with that said, I want to be clear — honest doesn’t mean you have to list every single thing you didn’t like about the book. My motto is, keep it short and light. Use as few words as possible.”
For example, she suggested responding: “I am not as much of a fan as you are.” Or: “My taste is a bit different.”
And what if you’re the one on the other end of the conversation? What if you gave a book you loved to your father-in-law, who announces that he hated it?
The best solution is to just let it go.
“Here is the key,” she said: “Give yourself permission to release the need for approval.”