“For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five.”

coffee and books

Earlier this year I persevered to finish Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. (I nearly abandoned it, but then discovered this book was best enjoyed a few pages at a time, right before bed.)

I’m glad I stuck with it, because I’ve found myself coming back to some of Jacobs’ ideas over and over, like this passage about evaluating books:

“Critical reflection of some kind is inevitable, so it would behoove us to do it well. The best guide I know to readerly judgment is our old friend Auden, who graciously summed up a lifetime of thinking about these matters in a single incisive sentence:

“For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good, and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.”

I love how this framework is completely devoid of snobbery and any hint of the word “should,” and I’m feeling more liberated these days to hate the occasional classic, or adore the occasional breezy novel. It’s freeing.

I thought some of you might enjoy reading through your five options before Monday’s Quick Lit linkup. As you write your posts, please keep in mind that your fellow readers love to hear about the good books you hate and the trash that you love. I know I do.


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    • Anne says:

      Christina, it was really slow-going at first. But when I started to read it just a few pages at a time it became enjoyable. (I loved that he called Harold Bloom a pompous ass. That might have been the turning point. 🙂 )

  1. Jennifer says:

    I love this! I usually read (and enjoy) “classic” literature, but because people know this about me (and the fact that I was an English major) I often feel like I have to hide the fantasy series that I also enjoy; I am afraid to be judged. I have to learn that it’s ok to love something, even if I know it’s “trash.”

  2. Love this! I recently reread As I Lay Dying for a book club, and it definitely falls into the “I can see this is good but I don’t like it” category. It is important for its contributions to the art of writing, and there’s a lot of powerful symbolism, but the story itself is just not enjoyable. I saw that fellow Goodreads readers seemed to agree, either rating it high (“His use of language is so revolutionary!”) or low (“Yeah, I get what he’s doing… but I still don’t like the book.”)

  3. Ah yes! This is how I feel about The Night Circus. And…a certain Jane Austen book I’ve tried to read so many ties… I can see they’re good and just don’t like them. On the flip side, I like a lot of stuff that I can recognize as trash, so my opinion is to be taken with a very large grain of salt. 😉

  4. c says:

    I sometimes have to wait years in between attempts at reading particular books…examples are books by Isabelle Allende and Cornelia Funke…but when I the time was right I wanted to read everything they had written…sometimes I think it has to do with where we are in life…

  5. Noga says:

    Joining in years after the discussion had been closed– again.:) I would add a 6th category: “I can see this is really good but there is a part / section / idea that is not a good fit for my own life.” This is also my way of not guru-izing authors and coaches- early on I find the “one thing” I don’t like about their method or philosophy, and then I can more quickly and efficently adapt their ideas to my life.

  6. Ashley Clarke says:

    My reaction to Exit West was definitely “I can see this is good but I don’t like it”. It’s clearly a well written story and the message it conveys is certainly important (I will never take towels for granted again!). But while I’m glad I read it and can see why others loved it it just wasn’t for me, I kept waiting to enjoy it and get sucked in and I never did. I like this ‘5 types’ ideas, it doesn’t just free you were classics and chick lit are concerned but lofty literary fiction too!

    • Anne says:

      I don’t like the way this hits contemporary ears, either, and I’m very curious about how it would have sounded to his contemporaries. I’m playing around with what a similar but fresher-sounding substitute would be. (Ideas?)

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