Sunday, March 6, 2011

Based On No Recommendations

Sometimes you find a book and it will be exactly the right book to read exactly when you need to be reading it. Or like a few months ago when a friend suggested I read Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts/The Day of the Locust, which were both not only perfect but were exactly what I needed to be reading at that time. And this I have to say is rare for me actually since, and I have to be straight up about this, I don’t like book recommendations. Probably the worst thing someone could get me as a gift is a book. That’s truly insane, but it is the truth. I might read about a book and then want to get it, but when people I like and respect tell me about good books they are reading, well, it has almost the opposite effect. It feels like, and maybe this is the problem, homework. Yeah, fine, force this book on me and I will suddenly have no interest in it. However, I can easily be tricked into reading something in a much more subtle way.

Once many years ago my friend Rachel told me about how she saw some high school kid reading Brideshead Revisted on the subway and what thrilled her was how he had a huge grin on his face the entire time he was reading. This made me read the book. Or if a book (City of Thieves by David Benioff) is just lying on someone’s coffee table, say, and I pick it up and the person says, Oh my god, that book was fantastic! I will say, Oh really? And then a few weeks later take it out of the library. (Note: that book was fantastic.) And sometimes an approach like, Well, I really liked this book, but whatever, works wonders for me.

It’s not so much that I don’t want to read what other people are reading. Except try as I might I could not get into The Corrections. And I don’t feel like reading those Girl with the etc. books. Or the Twilight books because, well. And since there is always the panic with every single book I read that once I am done I am certain that I will never read another good book again, you’d think that I would like book recommendations. But I just usually need to get to books in a very round-about way. So that it seems like I’m the one who decided to read the book without any outside intervention.

The strangest (and possibly unrelated) thing about all this is what I end up reading when I have to kill time in a bookstore. An entire store of books to choose from and I will end up reading, oh, I don’t know, Kathy Griffin’s autobiography (Brooke Shields is really nice!). Or some graphic novels that I always mean to buy but never do. So you could say that left to my own devices I don’t always make the wisest choices. But they are my choices! And usually when someone has lent me or bought me a book, I will either try to read it and fail or put it aside for a long time and eventually read it when I am good and ready. I can’t fight this weird resistance to book recommendations. But I do always take note of everything everyone else is reading.

Because really it’s just the approach that matters. I think this is because the most vivid memory I have of this sort of thing is my mother, for some reason uncharacteristically low key, handing me the book The Catcher in the Rye one day the summer before high school, and calmly saying, I think you might like this. Just that simple sentence, as though it hardly mattered at all. And it seemed to me that there was no reason at all not to read it. And so I did.


SZ said...

Aw, man, I thought you liked Behind the Scenes at the Museum! But I can see where you're coming from. It's particularly annoying if the recommender's taste is different from yours (e.g., my mom, who drove me crazy by insisting repeatedly that I had to read The Secret Life of Bees. I finally relented. And I did not like it).

I would have read the Kathy Griffin book, too.

Reyna said...

No, no, I loved that book! Really! I think, though, that I waited a little while until I happened to see it on my bookshelf and thought, Hmm, what's this? This trick works every time.

janetfleur said...

Now that I have a train ride to work and back, I read. And I love reading....even the books I haven't chosen. Recently, I went to a women, books and booze party. FABULOUS idea. Bring the books you're willing to give away (Goodbye "We were the Mulvaneys").

I'm working my way through everything I picked up, good or bad. Just reading because after 8.5 years of staying at home, I can read. Favorite so far: Let the Great World Spin. Least favorite: Already forgot the name of it.

Anyhoo, Hello. When are you coming?

Jeanne M-Z said...

I, too, run the other way when a book (or movie)is recommended to me. In, fact, if someone wants me to never read a certain book, he or she should recommend it relentlessly and tell me, "you will really like this!". That being said, I recently gave in and read the "Girl with the..." books, which I found to be rather like crack on paper.

Sandra @ Albany Kid said...

My walls are covered with stacks of books, waiting to be read, that were chosen based on a book recommendation. There's a lesson here.