Sunday, June 6, 2010

Match me a book, find me a find

The thought of blogging sort of gives me the creeps.

Someone told me you should write blogs like you’re talking to a friend but when I talk to my friends, I see their faces, their reaction, and they answer back. Blogging is like writing a letter, rolling it up in a bottle, and throwing it in the ocean. Your thoughts are exposed but you don’t know who will read it. Too bad blogging is not as romantic as a letter in a floating bottle.

I should just get with it. Everyone does it. Put hesitations aside and just write what I want to write about.

Well, last week my younger sister asked me for a book recommendation. I sat at my desk and began to brainstorm what new book she might like. I had to keep up my good track record with her.

She had been staying with me for a few weeks in New York. The first night, when I noticed she was going to bed without a book, I gave her a copy of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s about a prep school. My sister attended a prep school. I figured she might like it. That night, the light stayed on much longer than I wanted, as she paged through the book.

A few days later, I asked her if she liked the book. She said yes. She said yes! It’s like successfully matching up your single friends.

When you work in publishing, people ask you for book suggestions. And I enjoy pairing up a book with a person but along with it, comes a grave responsibility. Recommending a book is not like recommending a song, where the track lasts four minutes and it’s over. A book is commitment, it’s a nightly dialogue between you and this thing propped up on your lap.

I had recently read Alice Munro’s beautiful collection of stories, Too Much Happiness. I enjoyed listening to the sound of her sentences in my head. Her words echoed with truth and simplicity. So, when my friend, an overworked grad student, asked for a recommendation I thought of Alice Munro. I had loved it and I figured short stories were perfect for her—ideal for someone with limited reading time.

A couple of months later, she came to visit and there was the small book, shoved in her backpack. I almost forgot that I had ever given it to her.

It wasn’t a good sign. After a couple of months, books you haven’t finished go stale. In fact, they should come with an expiration date, or else it becomes the homework assignment you keep avoiding.

I meekly asked her if she was enjoying the book.

She smiled, and said yes, but said, she didn’t really get the stories. They were a little arcane and a little weird.

I couldn’t help but feel bad. She was carrying the book around because she felt she owed it to me to finish it. But the book just wasn’t her thing. She likes a well-written book with a strong plot and relatable characters. She doesn’t want to guess what the author is trying to say, or try to find some hidden meaning—that’s too fussy and useless. It was a good reminder that there are different kinds of readers. A good recommendation has the reader in mind, and I forgot that.

I felt bad because when a busy person seeks your advice, and finds the time to begin a new book, you want them to be reading something they quickly connect with… or else they’ll just turn to their iPod the next time they have a few minutes to spare.

Anyone can toss a book aside if it’s not their cup of tea but like any good match-maker, you want minimal mismatches, or else you’ll end up with no patronage.

1 comment:

  1. When I recommend a book that I love, and the recommendee doesn't like the book, I feel sad - for making someone buy a book they don't like, and because it's painful to have a friend not like a book you feel passionately about. There's also the "whaaat???" aspect, as in, "How could you not like that book?!" I almost yelled at a friend when she dismissed (with a sniff) a book I love (and gave her), saying her electrician didn't like it.