How to tell someone you hate the book given as a gift
Your father-in-law gives you a novel to read and keeps asking how you liked it. You hated it. 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. I recently fell in love with a novel, and when my colleague said she didn’t think much of it, I have to admit, I was crestfallen. How could she not absolutely adore this rich, beautiful, evocative story? I decided that I would stop recommending books to her.
“But if my father-in-law gave me a book I thought was just awful, I would use this as an opportunity to open up a conversation with him. 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. 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 as a bookseller gives me the opportunity to witness the many ways in which books can impact and influence us. Our reading lists are both personal and worth sharing. Sometimes a book comes along and sweeps us off of 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.”
Melissa Cistaro, bookseller at Book Passage in Marin County, Calif., and author of “Pieces of My Mother” (Sourcebooks)
“It is always best to be honest than fake. 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 and — here is the key — give yourself permission to release the need for approval.
“People don’t have to approve of your gifts, nor do you have to measure up to theirs. Gifts are a form of an energy exchange, and when people-pleasing comes into the picture, you may end up (unconsciously) accepting a book on the surface and exchanging guilt beneath. No one needs more guilt in their life. For example, if you say, ‘The book was good,’ that may let you off the hook momentarily. However, the guilt over making up a little white lie never really serves you or the other person. Short and light sounds like, ‘I am not as much of a fan as you are’ or ‘My taste is a bit different, but thanks for the book.’”
Sherianna Boyle, school psychologist and author of books including “Choosing Love” (Adams Media)