You know I’m an avid reader and belong to more than one bookclub. Often the challenge (and joy) of any book group is reading something you would not necessarily pick up or even something far outside your comfort level. Some people equate this with assigned reading from their school days and just can’t bring themselves to do it. Personally I appreciate the intellectual push I get from reading something beyond my normal choices. And often, you discover something that’s just plain wonderful.
You may recall I talked about reading Erik Larson’s Dead Wake here. I had every reason not to like it, but I loved it. Last winter my kids challenged me to read The Martian, which they had really loved, and although I am not a fan of science fiction, for me it was a real page turner.
Furthermore, if one of my bookclubs had not chosen The Invisible Bridge or Nights in Shanghai, I would have missed a pair of great reads.
Earlier this fall, two different reading groups I belong to chose A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Admittedly, my first thought was purely adolescent: cool, one book for two groups. (That never happens!) Then I thought, hmmm, this book is everywhere: on the prominent racks in the bookstores, on internet and magazine reading lists, even in the movies. There must be a lot of buzz about it that I’ve missed.
So, a few weeks ago I picked up a copy and started reading. I am willing to concede that it could be because A Man Called Ove was not as exciting as the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win or as stunning as the outcome of the presidential race, but I really had to push myself to keep reading this book. I just didn’t enjoy it.
Maybe my timing was bad?
Ove is certainly likeable in a curmudgeonly way (face it, we all know someone like him) and parts of his story are heart-wrenching. The characters are well-drawn, and some of the dialogue was genuinely funny. I was not offended by Ove’s treatment of the cat, nor did I take the author’s continuing description of Jimmy’s girth as socially and/or politically unacceptable. (One reviewer I read ranted on about both.)
I just found this book to be remarkably predictable, in a Hallmark-made-for-TV movie kind of way. Parvaneh and her charmingly wacky family are a fine counterpoint to Ove. Anita and Rune are the perfect friends for Ove and Sonja and their absent son and Rune’s dementia are straight from today’s headlines. I knew as soon as she appeared that newspaperwoman Lena would help Ove save Anita and Rune from over-reaching bureaucracy. Every bit of the story is predictably resolved at the end.
But here’s the rub.
Everyone else loves it! I looked up the reviews, and they’re all positive (except for the reader who didn’t appreciate the author’s treatment of the cat or Jimmy).
And this is okay. Rule #1 for bookclubs is (or should be) that everyone does not have to like the book. In fact, a difference of opinion makes for a more interesting discussion.
I stand alone on this one. I don’t regret reading it, but it’s definitely not on my list of favorites or recommendations. I think the author took a familiar character, threw every cliche at him (orphaned teenager, solitary worker, tragic love, etc.), pushed him into a world with more cliches and then neatly tied up all the loose ends. I also think some books are pushed commercially as “bookclub reads” with plot lines too thin for discussion (but that’s another post).
Am I being too Ove-like and curmudgeonly? Have you read A Man Called Ove? I’d love to hear from you about this or a similar experience with another book.
See you next time!