A Minority Opinion

Lately I feel as if I'm in bizarro world when it comes to the books I read. It seems as though my literary opinions have been bucking those of the masses. If I love a book, I inevitably encounter a bevy of other readers who found it be taxing or trite. And the books that I pick up which seem to garner praise en masse leave me disappointed and confused. Although the bloggy world seemed to unanimously love Never Let Me Go, I’ve repeatedly encountered family and friends who found the book to be pretentious and bland. And then of course with last month’s Book Club Blogger selection A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius I seemed to be in the slim minority who found the book even readable. I'm guessing you see where I'm going with this…

Two months ago, my “in person” {for lack of a better description} book club read and discussed Water For Elephants. This is a book that graced the New York Times bestseller list twice! Once when it was first released in 2006 and then again when it went to paperback. Critics loved it. A movie has been made. I have family members who’ve gushed about this book. I have friends who have read it MULTIPLE TIMES because they love it so much. But, me? I just wasn’t sold.

The discussion that I enjoyed at our meeting helped me to better appreciate the book. And perhaps if I didn’t have so many other books that I'm very interested in reading I might give it a second try. But, for me, Water for Elephants – the book – was unsatisfying. Let me tell you why I think it disappointed me. Before reading it I had seen the movie posters and heard the hype. See, a scene or two of the film were shot just outside of Chattanooga and it was RPattz fever around this town for a week or so. Caaaaaaaaaaaa-razy stuff. That being said, I learned early that Reese Witherspoon had been cast as the female lead/love interest alongside the aforementioned heartthrob. So in my mind I expected the plot to focus on their love affair. Get it? I read the book anticipating a love story. But, Gruen’s character development left much to be desired. At no point in the book did I ever find myself invested in the couple’s love story. I was constantly disappointed by the lack of attention paid to their burgeoning romance and felt as if it was necessary to create my own back story since so little romantic development existed. The other thing I was anticipating? I thought I was reading a book about a magical, big top circus. I looked forward to majestic imagery and descriptions of over the top circus acts. Instead I got a back stage view lousy with angry, crass, underpaid men. It’s probably fair to say that my own expectations ruined the book for me.

Though I will say, Gruen’s history as a technical writer helps me to understand why character development was not one of her strong suits. I can honestly say that I really was never swept up by her prose. It felt forced and overworked. I also believe that while this book may have been intended to be read as a “coming of age”/ “summer that changed a life” novel, her protagonist is mainly focused on “getting the girl” which lends more to the romance genre in my opinion. I mean his pursuit of her is what propels the story forward, even if we as readers are never privy to WHY it is he falls in love at first sight. So, to me the book’s whole concept and structure are inconsistent and unsatisfying. It wasn’t until my fellow book clubbers pointed out that this was a “love story” of sorts between Jacob (the book’s protagonist) and the circus that I even began to see what Gruen may have been attempting with the novel.

I guess that puts me in the minority again. I did not like the book Water For Elephants.

The movie on the other hand, I found to be decent. The screenplay was a proper love story. Christoph Waltz was a perfectly villainous August, Reese Witherspoon was luminous (her hair, makeup and wardrobe were out of control beautiful!) and Robert Pattinson played Jacob with quiet strength and just the right amount of dreamy-leading-man sparkle. I was NOT disappointed with all the circus scenes. The film was chock full of lots and lots of big top magic and eye candy galore. It’s not too often that a film improves upon the book which inspired it. But, for me, Water for Elephants did just that.

Now, it’s your turn to tell me why you loved the book and how I'm totally wrong.
Go ahead, I'm expecting it and can’t wait to read your opinions!