This is one of the only downsides to being a constant reader. Since everyone I know (and some people I don’t), know that I read obsessively, everyone and their great-aunt from Minnesota wants to recommend a book to me. Don’t get me wrong. I find this charming and friendly and flattering. It’s just…well…it usually doesn’t work for me.
The worst is when someone who reads very little finally reads a book they consider great, and so of course they want you to read it too. The fact is, that if you don’t read much, you don’t develop any comparison skills. The Best Book They Ever Read is likely to be way down on my scale of what makes a good book. So then you are trapped. How do you get out of it gracefully? Do you say, I’ll check it out when I get through my current backlog? And then hope they forget? And I can’t use that one, because the fact is, I don’t have a back log. Sometimes I can get by with, “The library doesn’t have it yet”. Everyone also knows I don’t buy books. I’m really stuck when they say, “No problem–I’ll loan you my copy”.
Here’s a perfect example: My assistant manager wanted me to read “The Last Templar”. If I had made a list of things I wanted to read, this book would have been dead last or close to it. Maybe if I was in a Turkish prison and it was the only book they’d let me have. I said, “I’ll look for it.” After he saw me read like six other books, he said, I see you still haven’t read “The Last Templar”. I said, “I did look for it at the library, but it was checked out.” Which was true. The fact that I even looked for it shows that I felt some obligation though, and I hate that. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. But that is really more his problem than mine. If you recommend a book, you should be willing to have the advisee say, “Thanks, but I’m not interested.” I need to learn to do that.
Fakesister is perfect with this. If it isn’t her cup of tea, she says so. You always think that the people you like will like the books you like, but that isn’t anywhere close to true. Over the years I’ve learned the kinds of things she does like to read, but it still isn’t an absolute science. She mostly reads non-fiction, but will occasionally shock the hell out of me by reading some modern Gothic novel (“The Sisters Mortland”, notably).
I read non-fiction too, but I’ve learned that even within that broad genre, Fakesister and I don’t like the same things. I’d say in general that I prefer more historical accounts. She prefers more scientific investigation. Take for example, the book “In The Heart of the Sea”. It’s the true story of the sinking of the whaleship Essex by a whale, a true-life Moby Dick event, with fascinating (to me) information about whaling in general. Fakesister tried, but couldn’t even finish. She found it boring. Ditto “The Tiger”, which I would put at the top of my list of non-fiction books I ever read. The book has everything: endangered animals and the people who are trying to protect them; politics, geography; cultural differences and values. That one she didn’t even try, no matter how much I and her friend Mikki raved about it. And good for her.
Some people you just know that if they liked a book, you will too. Except not always. Who can explain it? My friend Judith once loaned me a book called “Oryx and Crake”, by Margaret Atwood. Now that seemed like a good idea. Atwood, who wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” is great. At least in “The Handmaid’s Tale” she was. I felt like I was practically choking to death mentally trying to finish “Oryx and Crake”. When, Oh when, will it be over?
My book club people and I are like that. If one of them likes a book, I’m pretty sure I will too, and we’re right more often than not. But again, not always. Our October book, which I finished in two days (!) was “The Art of Racing in the Rain”. It falls into a sort of middle category, where I can’t say it was a great book, but I liked it anyway.
So now I have another friend who has recommended I read “The Forbidden Garden”. From what I read about it, my interest in reading it, on a scale of 1-10, is about 3. But this is the first time this particular friend has ever recommended a book to me, so…I reserved it at the library. There really are more important things than books. People you care about to discuss them with, for instance.