Reader's Exchange

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.

Wild Things


Bill said:

When you recommend a book, do you find that some people are absolutely loyal to a particular genre while others are more open to a variety?

# June 23, 2010 10:58 AM

levisque67 said:

I, too, love recommending books, and I have discovered that when friends tell me they liked a book, it's such a pleasant feeling. It's a happy satisfaction to know that they found something in the book. Even so, when they don't like a book, or if they give it a shrug or a meh, I don't feel terrible. I'm an optimist and will keep make a mental note and try to tune in a better book next time.

For my family, however, it tears a hole in my heart if they don't like a book I chose. I should know these people! At least, they like to read books. I can be happy that I passed that on to my children.

# June 23, 2010 11:26 AM

Linda Sappenfield said:

In answer to Bill's question: it's true that many readers are not only emphatically loyal to a genre, they'd prefer to exclusively read just a couple of favorite authors if only those writers were sufficiently prolific to keep them supplied. Here at the library, we find that resources like Novelist and Fiction Connection frequently answer the "what do I read until my author's next book comes out?" dilemma.  These databases (cardholders can connect from the library's homepage) not only suggest similar writing styles and themes; sometimes, they spotlight facets of that author's work that can mine other aspects of the reader's preferences, thus opening up a greater variety of future choices.  And when I read levisque67's comment, I found myself nodding in agreement to everything!

# June 23, 2010 12:40 PM

ceharbert said:

I don't think my kids liked "Wild Things" much either. I think we all preferred "In the Night Kitchen" by Sendak. However, my husband recently watched the newish movie on Where the Wild Things Are, and he loved it! I imagine the library has it.

# July 28, 2010 11:41 AM
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