Chronic book recommenders rarely surrender their campaigns easily. Karen Joy Fowler, author of the novel "The Jane Austen Book Club," says: "Some of my friends have books they think I ought to like, by authors they think I've not been open-minded enough about. And if I don't like that book, they'll give me another book by the same author, saying, 'Well, that didn't work, so let's try this.' I've got nothing against these authors, but I have no inclination to read five books on the off chance that one of them will please me more than I think it will!"
As my correspondent observed, these matters are weirdly personal. Perhaps the only feeling more forlorn than knowing that nobody's even heard of the book that has sounded the very depths of your soul is finding out that your dear friend has read it and can't imagine what you're going on about. Being that friend, and wondering if you can be all that close to someone who raves about "The Da Vinci Code," well, that's no picnic, either.
And yet people will persist in evangelizing for their favorites, so here are some recommendations on recommending:
1. If you really want people to read a book, buy a copy and give it to them. One of the best book recommenders I know swears by this policy. He says you can't reasonably expect them to read it if you won't put your money where your mouth is.
2. But don't give it to them for Christmas or their birthday: those gifts should be chosen to please the recipients. So pick a book you already know they want, or something close to what you know they like. If you love Newark but your friend loves Middle Earth, get her "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," not "The Plot Against America."
3. Don't ask and don't tell. If your friend likes the book you suggested, you'll hear about it. And if not -- do you really want to know?
4. Think twice about giving books to my sisters, because I pity the fool who gets it wrong. O.K., maybe this tip is a little specific, but all this talk about gift-giving and recommending is dredging up some traumatic memories.
Actually, it was the heat of my sisters' scorn that forged my own method of recommending books, something I never do in mixed company if I can help it. Before I mention a single title, I ask some probing questions: What three books have you loved recently and what did you like about them? Which books have you hated? Why? Only then will I venture a suggestion.
This approach surprises and annoys many people; they'd like to believe that we all measure the excellence of any given book with the same yardstick. Some authors, they insist, are just objectively bad or good. That's one reason they rage when books they loathe win prizes, sell by the bushel or get splendid reviews.
YET what we value most about reading -- that private encounter between writer and reader inside the reader's head -- is its intimacy. Lev Grossman, author of the novel "Codex" and a book critic for Time magazine, says: "I love certain books so much, I would not recommend them to other people. There's one novel" -- no, he won't name it -- "that spoke so deeply to me about what I thought was sad and funny and beautiful about the world, that I didn't want anyone else to know about it. If I were dating someone and truly felt a profound connection, I wouldn't go to my friend and say, 'You've got to try sleeping with X. It's fantastic!' There are some books that I don't want to whore around."
The comparison is apt. All of us no more agree on which books are the greatest than we agree on which sexual position is best. Yet we want to see the correctness of our judgments about books confirmed in the same way we want to be reassured that our erotic preferences are normal.
While book recommendations needn't be delivered as delicately as sexual suggestions, tact is in order. They should be given sparingly, received gracefully and understood to be a brave attempt to bridge the chasms that separate most people from each other.Continue reading the main story
Slide these in her bag. Send these to her by snail mail. Read these with her — and discover (once again) why the two of you always have so much to talk about.
By Michele Filgate
- 1Because Your Friend Is A Superstar... Always.
- 2Because You've Looked Under Your Friend's Bed... And All That Clutter Is NOT Making Her Happy
- 3Because An Intelligent Guidebook To Life's Dilemmas Always Come In Handy
- 4Because You Two Like To Read About Characters That Remind You Of... You Two
- 5Because One Day, Your Friend Might Need The Power Of Bologna
- 6Because All The Single (And Taken) Ladies Need To Be Heard On A Global Stage
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