Gambling on the perfect book
For someone who's not a big risk-taker, I venture possible rejection and failure on a daily basis. I can't decide which is the more serious gamble--recommending books to total strangers, or assuring friends and family that I have just the title for them.
People near and dear to you generally won't pretend that they liked something if they didn't. That's why a recent chat with dinner guests was so gratifying. My husband praised Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh as "the finest book ever written", and guess who suggested he try it? Actually, when I read it I was so distracted by the anticipation of how delightful he'd find it that I probably missed entire passages.
Not all my literary advice merits rapturous feedback. After handing The Swan Thieves to a friend with "loved it and think you will, too" certification, I awaited a glowing response. The actual verdict? "Not bad; I'd give it a B." Not what I'd hoped, but you should know that a second-tier score from such a discerning critic is still admirable.
Our daughter's utter rejection of a children's classic documents my worst misfire, destined to live on in family lore. Back when purchasing a brand-new item from a bookstore was a rare treat, we presented her with Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. We did notice that she never picked it for the bedtime story but just figured that Little Black, A Pony was enjoying an extra-long interval of favor.
Realization dawned (finally) during setup for our garage sale. Wild Things repeatedly and mysteriously appeared on the "three for a dollar" table. My husband and I discovered it and restored it to the house multiple times. Finally, our five-year-old stomped out to the garage, deposited the offending volume amidst the other offerings and announced, "I think it's time to let this book fire some other child's imagination."
Undeterred by that fiasco, I offer this guidance: if you're seeking a Sendak classic for a youngster's gift, The Nutshell Library might be a safer choice.