We have strong feelings about book recommendations here, as you might have noticed. We believe in them the way some people (I'm not naming names) believe in magic. They seem to us a sort of higher calling. There is nothing so satisfying as finding a book for someone that they really love. I had the honor of having shoved into a friend's hands The Golden Compass, and I still (three years later!) find it gratifying.
Ah, but, but, but. BUT: it's like the problem with love. Sometimes, you get it wrong. And worse? Sometimes, you can't get the right one.
Case in point: my mom. She read, and loved, She's Come Undone. And I do mean loved. It satisfied something in her, a hunger for a particular story. And she wants to read another book like it. The problem? Well, we all know the problem. His other books? They're not so much like that. In fact, nothing is quite like that, and what she's looking for—well, it's to have that wonderful reading experience again.
I am sure we all have books like this. And sometimes it even goes beyond specific books. It's the combination of the book, and where you are in your life, and the particular circumstances. Sometimes Agatha Christie read on a beach with a beer at sunset—it can't be improved upon. It reminds me of that M.F.K. Fisher essay, The Pale Yellow Glove, about perfect meals. Their ephemeral radiance (though heaven knows she wouldn't say that, but that's how I think of it: the old woman with the clear cup of Jasmine tea in the woods, the perfect meal).
There was a request a while back, from two girls who were in love with Katie Woo. They loved her so much, what else could they read that was like Katie Woo? We came up with some suggestions, but I heard the followup from the source: nothing was as good as Katie Woo. They were haunting the desk of the library who wrote in, like tiny insatiable wraiths. Always disappointed.
What to do about this situation? Revel in the excellence of those perfect reading moments? Continue ever onwards in the quest for more and better? Accept life as it is? (I never want to do that last one, fyi.)
Did you have a book or reading moment that's ruined you for everything else? I bet you do.
8 thoughts on “The Problem With Requests”
The first time I read “Mating” will never be equaled. It was not equaled, for instance, by the second time I read “Mating.” And those transcendent childhood books– “The Hero and the Crown,” for instance. I am unable even to read at that level of intensity anymore.
I loved this: “They were haunting the desk of the library who wrote in, like tiny insatiable wraiths” — you’re such a beautiful writer!
I mourn that I can never read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for the first time again. Or any other book as patently absurd and pointed and hilarious.
Recently, The Book Thief did this to me. I liked the books just fine that I read after it, but I was still in Germany. When I was young? A Wrinkle in Time wins. I read the whole series, but that first book…oh. my. I still love to read it, but to read it for the first time would be awesome.
I have often found that when I read a book series, especially one with a fantasy/sci fi setting, the first one is a billion times better than subsequent books, and I’ve decided it’s because I love the novelty of discovering the new world…and once that novelty is gone, the subsequent books are disappointing. (Examples have included the Hunger Games and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series…although for the latter, I would say only the 3rd was disappointing; the second still had lots of novelty.) I am guessing that often the books that are transcendent for us ARE those that transport us to a different world or even just a different perspective/state of mind. Although many books provide transcendent moments or turns of phrase, many fewer provide that sense throughout the entire book.
I remember feeling that way about Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume when I was about 19….and didn’t understand why I liked it when I reread it 10 years later. Would have to agree that A Wrinkle in Time was pretty good that way too, in childhood. I think maybe Lois Lowry’s The Giver was also magical in this way.
My 11 year old daughter has felt this way related to many books and series over time. She was stuck on warriors books for so long. Then it was anything animal related. But she had a teacher that said to just give it a chance and read the first 30 pages. That helped a lot. She started giving more books a chance and has branched out. She also has a teacher that has them read different genres. They still get to read what they want but within a genre and that helped too. I will say she says that in books that are part of a series she likes the first book most. I do think it is the newness and excitment of the new world and characters. She has also said she finds that the later books are more dark and serious. I think that is true they seem to have to amp it up like hunger games and many others.
I love that feeling when a good book nestles into you and becomes part of your world. Has your mom tried Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News? Some to the same themes come out in that book and it was one of those books I never ever wanted to end.
Oh my goodness, Nina, I think we might be twins. “Mating” and “The Blue Sword” were the first that came to mine, as was “Crossing to Safety” — I remember intensely feeling both elated and prematurely mournful at the fact that the book would eventually have to end.