Dear Agony Editor,
I’m not a writer, but I’m an avid reader. A good friend of mine has recently published his first novel. I read an excerpt online and already know I’m not going to like it. I’m not someone who can easily hide my feelings or opinions, so I’m not sure what to do. Whether I read it or not, I’m afraid I’ll hurt my friend’s feelings. What’s the best course of action?
Dear Honest Friend,
All of us have moments when we err on the side of kindness rather than honesty. We tell friends their babies are cute. We say a meal is good, even if it’s terrible. And of course, we’d absolutely love to look at those vacation photos – again.
The act of swapping kindness for honesty is called keeping the bigger picture in mind. In this instance, the bigger picture is your friendship, not your feelings about your friend’s book. Even if you despise the book, there’s absolutely no harm in keeping that to yourself. Also, it’s important to remember that you can’t judge a book by its cover – or its excerpt. So while you may have your reservations based on the little you’ve read, give yourself – and your friend – the benefit of the doubt.
You’re also making it worse by avoiding your friend’s novel. Often, the things that cause us the most anxiety aren’t based in reality, but in our minds. If your instincts are right and you don’t like the book, there are ways to praise him without feeling like you’re lying. Compliment him on his achievement. Writing a book takes hours of focus and determination, after all. Tell him how proud you are of him. Discuss a scene that resonated with you. Maybe he’s good with dialogue or describing characters.
You don’t have to love the book to love your friend. And, if he already knows you and your reading habits, he’s probably not expecting you to fall down at his feet and proclaim him a literary genius. What he is expecting, and rightly so, is his friend sharing in his success and giving him the time, courtesy, and respect to read his work.