I have strong opinions.
I don't mean to. It's just, well, I see something, and up in my mind it pops, my opinion, loud and undeniable. This is especially true with books.
There was a time when the force of my opinion seemed to be its own argument for voicing it. I thought it, thus it must be said! Also, I felt it strongly, ergo I must speak it with assurance, edging into disbelieving contempt for dissenting opinion.
It's that last point I fear. See, I have come to realize that having a strong opinion, having what I like to think of as an unerring eye for good writing (good heavens how stupid that looks when it's written out)—these things are dangerously tempting. Sort of like the desire for fame and power. And they are not as conduicive to good conversation, especially about books, as I once thought they were. When people are talking about books, sure, there are elements of "I think this is good." "Do YOU think it's good?" "I hope you agree with me!" "I wonder if it is good?" But these are less important, I think, than the larger, more hopeful goal of the conversation, which is to announce (sometimes), "I read a book and it moved me." And because of assholes like me, this can be a scary thing to say.
Here is what I am learning to do (gee, it's only taken 40+ years): I am learning to say, when someone gushes about a book I feel less-than-gushy towards, "People like it." For a person who rigidly clings to a fairly unyielding definition of honesty, this gives me a lot of room. I will show you how to use it in an actual example.
Nice person: "I loved The Book Thief. Have you read it? Have you heard of it?"
Me: "People like it!" (Note to advanced practitioners: "People really like it!" also works, and well.)
See? (I tell myself.) That wasn't so hard. Let's try it again.
Nice person: "The Poisonwood Bible is my favorite book."
Me: "Yeah, people really liked that."
Do you know who did the best version of this ever? Meryl Streep. When asked about The Bridges of Madison County, she said that before she did the movie, she was "blind to the book's power." Or something like that, which I remember from an interview I read 100 years ago.
Questions arise for me:
1) Is this a way of being afraid? Of not taking full ownership for an opinion, and instead doing an "Oh, it's my fault," book version of woman's apology tour of opinions?
2) Am I saying this to say that I am secretly having good taste, and isn't it nice that I pretend not to?
(If you knew how bad my taste really was/is, this would be clearer. Ie: I am blind to the power of MANY books. I don't like Faulkner, for heaven's sake. Or DeLillo! And I know—I know—they are brilliant writers. They're just…not my thing.)
3) People know what you're really saying. So why not just say it?
(I think there's something to be said for not only listening to—or voicing—one's own opinion. I like to think that somehow "People like it" isn't just evasive, it's also the truth, and it tries to honor a larger truth: There is something here that I am not getting.)
Am I going soft? Am I deluded? Also does this apply to, say, Strawberry Shortcake?
No, it does not: Strawberry Shortcake, I will always detest you.
But, more important, how do you guys deal with this situation?