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Monday, February 06, 2006

Book Borrowing: The Blind Date

Ever feel like you know a really good book that everyone should read, but nobody takes you up on it? And yet, if you hear about a good book on the radio or TV, everyone has already bought it and read it, haven’t they? Why is that? Is it just that your friends would rather take the word of a perfect stranger over yours? Is the media hype really a good indicator of public appeal? (Everyone readily believes the conspiracy theory about the book that’s complete crap but everyone bought it and read it just because it was on Oprah—oh, wait, that really happened.)

Well, I have a theory about books, and it goes something like this: books are like blind dates. (Don’t hang up yet.)

There are basically three kinds of readers out there:

1. There’s the FORWARD READER—very socially outgoing: will pick up any book once, may go all the way even if the book is not that good, but has no trouble dumping the book halfway through or right afterward because there are a million more out there. Any of you readers who have ever taken more than one book to bed “just in case” know who I’m talking about. Don’t waste your time on a book that’s a crime to read, right honey?

2. There’s the WE-NEED-TO-TALK READER—incredibly invested in every book, loves to over-analyze it, needs a best friend to call right afterward, and hesitant to move on until every ounce of mystery has been exhausted. Why read another book until you’re just nauseated at the sight of the last one? The “We Need To Talk” reader is a true monogamist, but makes everyone else sick.

3. Then there is the SWINGER READER—polyamorous, experimental, wants to read your book while you read theirs, very sharing. This reader hangs on to some books for a while, but in the meantime reads several others. Better expect to hear about it afterward, too—the SWINGER loves to talk about a good book, or two, especially when they are reading two, or more, at once.

Does it matter what kind of reader you are? No. So, what’s the point then?

The point is that taking on a new book is like going on a blind date. You may know the last person who read this book really well, and you may agree with them on a lot of points, but the first time you pick up this book you will realize that it is a dud, a real loser, a comb-over in plaid pants. Did they mean it as a joke? Were they just seeing if you would go all the way with this book, or do they really enjoy this stuff? Your opinion of the book they recommended may change your opinion about your friends in the long run.

But should it?

We don’t really know what other people like, even our closest friends. We might see them as ultra-conservative in public, never knowing that they are closet-freaks with a stack of Egyptian archaeology texts in the bedroom or airline catalogues stuffed between the mattresses. How do you deal with something like that?

Easy: treat every book like a blind date.

1. Have an “out” planned. Obviously, you can’t have someone call you on a cell phone partway through the read and pull you away on an “emergency”—but you could say, “I left it in a cab—can I give you one of mine?” (Also works for getting rid of the losers hanging around in YOUR closet.)

2. Give it a chance. Try to prepare yourself mentally for the possibility that this may be NOTHING like anything you’ve ever read before. Sometimes we are sabotaged by our own expectations—you want to enjoy yourself at all costs, even if you know five minutes into the book that you are never going to call back.

3. Be polite to the last. There’s no excuse for rudely dumping any book; after all, someone wrote it and someone else published it, so there are two people out there you’re likely to offend. In addition, this poor book came highly recommended by a close friend, and they’re going to ask how the date went. What are you going to say when you hand back the ashes of their best friend? (“Smokin’!” is NOT an option.)

4. If all else fails, plan your revenge. If you put up with this loud, trashy book all night, and you just can’t help taking it personally, find the absolute most obnoxious volume in your library (oh, we hang on to the really bad ones sometimes, don’t we?) and send it back to your match-making ex-friend with the carefully scrawled message, “One good turn deserves another! Hope you two are as happy together as we are!” Don’t answer your phone for a day or two, just in case.

If love is complicated, so is loving books. After all, there are more books out there than people—and with prolific authors turning out forty or fifty novels each, the field is getting bigger all the time. What are the odds that the perfect reader (you, of course) and the perfect novel are ever going to find each other?

(Don’t get me started on how writing your own novel is like self-gratification; suffice it to say that I think people should try reading a great deal more before they abandon the game completely.)

That’s just my opinion.


Anonymous Daniel Monteith said...

I'm not for blind dates anymore. I'm married to the Ender series although my wife swears that some adultery would do me good. (that didn't come out right) I never thought about wanting to write a story out of self-gratification; at least not in the sense of wanting to show people what a real book is. I guess it would be more of wanting to know I actually had a good book inside me all along.

9:08 PM


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