Hope Tolbert
By: Hope Tolbert
May 11, 2018

Discovering Your Taste in Literature

Reluctant Reader?


Here’s a secret: I hate Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Cue the gasps. I read it for the first time as a high school freshman, and I promptly fell asleep every time I read a page. I had to set syncopated alarms on my phone just to get through it. The whole thing was a terrible struggle, but I managed.

Here’s another secret: I can’t stand Charlotte Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Cue even more gasps. I don’t find it romantic! The storytelling feels dry while Catherine and Heathcliff come off as obnoxiously self-absorbed.

And the worst part? I had the audacity to graduate with an English degree and consider myself a “literature person”!

Now for the real talk:

I have a bookshelf next to my bed that’s overflowing with classic novels I love and have read multiple times. I’m a “book person,” but I certainly don’t like every classic novel I’ve ever read. I strongly prefer F. Scott Fitzgerald over Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov over William Faulkner, and Sandra Cisneros over Toni Morrison.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re not cut out for literature simply because there are well-loved books that you can’t stand.  Preferring some books over others or disliking certain novels, even widely adored novels, is indicative of one thing about you:

You probably have taste!

I’ve often had friends tell me that they realized they weren’t cut out for literature because they couldn’t connect with something they read in high school. I feel this is roughly the equivalent of me saying that I’ve given up listening to music because Nickelback does little to inspire me.

I’ve met very few people who dislike music of every kind. Yet, I’ve never met anyone who was embarrassed to say that there are genres and artists that they just don’t enjoy.

However, when it comes to classic literature, we feel that it’s not a matter of personal taste but rather an issue of either you like it or you just don’t get it. When we come across a classic work that we don’t enjoy, we think we just missed the part that makes it art. We’re no good at it. We should just give up. We’re just not literature people.

That’s silly.

You know what it means every time you read a book you don’t like? It means you’re getting one step closer to discovering what your taste in literature is. You have complete freedom to like or dislike whatever books you want and still consider yourself a “book person.” What you like and what you don’t might surprise you! The world of literature is just as varied and colorful as the world of music, so here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Keep a log of books and short stories that you like and those that you don’t. Identify what the books and stories on each list have in common.
  •  Pay attention to the movies you like. Try reading a novel in the same genre.
  • After reading a novel you enjoy, go to goodreads.com to find similar books.
  • Read a book that’s completely different from the books you usually read. You might surprise yourself!

Don’t get hung up on the feeling that you need to love every book you read or that you must not be a “book person” if you dislike a classic novel.

Just keep reading.


By Hope Tolbert

Curriculum Development