I Think You Should Read This

Most readers know that recommending books is a dicey business, made more fraught when one lends or gives a book. Because the recommender, especially if she is also a loaner or a giver, hopes (not unreasonably) to share the book she’s enjoyed, and wants to hear, preferably sooner than later, that you enjoyed the book as well. There are a few potential problems.

For those of us (I think there are at least a few of you who can relate) who make reading lists, and commit to certain books for certain discussions, and are enthusiastic patrons of the public library and frequent ab/users of its reserve system, a book loaned or given throws a wrench in our carefully (some might say obsessively) laid plans. It is good manners to return the favor of a recommendation/loan/gift by reading the book soon. All those other books that we’ve bought over the past however many years, the ones we swore we’d read soon, get bumped again. The reading list gets crammed, and we need to whiz through books we’d rather savor, put aside books already begun, or return books unread to the library that have been in our queue for months.

All these, though, are fairly trifling in comparison to the good will of a R/L/G. I feel petty and small as I write this, as it implies I begrudge the R/L/G. Some of my best book friends have been R/L/Gs!

And yet. And yet.

Is there any book scenario more perilous than when one dislikes the R/L/G? An analogy: several years ago, when my husband and I were still courting, he bought tickets to a ballet production of Carmina Burana, a musical work he liked. Wow, I thought, how romantic! The ballet!

After the show was a different story. I wasn’t feeling well that night, and had a hard time sitting still. When G. Grod asked me what I thought, I was less than gracious. I was, unfortunately, honest. “It was long. My bum hurts from the uncomfortable seats. And why did that music sound like the anti-christ was going to come swooping in at any moment?”

Poor young G. Grod. He’d taken the time and expense to surprise me with ballet tickets, and that was my response. Ten years later, this still comes up occasionally. I’m still sorry. But I still think of Damian any time I hear CB.

A similar situation happened with my sister Sydney, who sent me a copy of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. I loathed the book, so much that I was moved to write an article detailing why. It was hardly the response my sister had hoped for.

Even though G. Grod and I have years of experience of why R/L/Gs are bad, we still do it. How can we not? We love books, and want to share the love. We each have several books we think the other should read, and both of us have put those books off for some time. Perhaps that’s one of the benefits of being married lo these several years; we can take both the delay in reading and the potential eventual dislike of each other’s R/L/Gs with equanimity.

Books G. Grod thinks I would like/should read

Dune by Frank Herbert
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike
A Fire on the Deep by Vernor Vinge
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

Books I’ve bought because I liked them, and I want G. Grod to read them

King Dork
by Frank Portman
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Book I bought before I made my most recent book vow, that I want to read, and think G. Grod will like too

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

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