My buddy Austin Kleon and I have often discussed the point he makes in this post: the value of responding to a book (or a movie, or TV show, or whatever) simply by saying: It wasn’t for me. I like this framing because it leaves open the question of whether there’s a problem with the writer, or with the reader, or with neither — because, after all, no one is capable of valuing everything. No one writer can write every kind of book, and no one reader can appreciate every kind of book. That’s just how the cards are dealt. We are all finite.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the days since Cormac McCarthy died, because the hosannas of praise for him have been something really extraordinary — but his work is … well, not for me. I have read four Cormac McCarthy novels, which feels like about three too many, and there is no way I’d ever read another one. People quote passages from his books meant to illustrate his excellence, and my response is: “You think that’s good writing? I don’t think that’s good writing.”
Given that some of those praising McCarthy are critics whose views on other writers I much value, the odds are pretty good that in this case I am lacking some quality as a reader that would enable me to appreciate what McCarthy did. But I’m okay with that; I may be missing out, but everyone misses out on some things. All I know about McCarthy’s fiction is: It wasn’t for me.