“Don’t ask me my favorite author,” I said quickly, not wanting to be disappointed too soon. “I can’t bear that question. I can never think how to answer it, which gives the impression that I hardly read at all, or that my tastes never change, or I never make new discoveries, when nothing could be further from the truth.”
– from The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
Thus the conundrum I faced daily as a book manager. People were constantly asking me what I recommended, and I quickly learned that they didn’t want my opinion of a good book, or a list of my favorite authors, they wanted whatever was on the bestseller table that week – whatever had made the papers. They wanted Fifty Shades of Grey (don’t even get me started) and books that some reviewer at the New York Times had claimed were life changing or eye opening – and sometimes they were.
I have a serious case of book snobbery (I’ve admitted this here before…it’s no secret). Once a book reaches the best seller table there’s a good chance I want nothing to do with it – unless I’ve read it before, then I pat myself on the back for contributing to that book’s success, unless the book was bad, then I just feel ashamed. I put off reading The Hunger Games for years because it’s all anyone would talk about, when I finally did read it I read the entire trilogy in a 48 hour period – I even called in late for work to finish it. It forced me to admit that sometimes books are on the bestseller table for a reason.
But then Fifty Shades of Grey came along and it destroyed any faith I had in the term “bestseller.” People are treating it like some revolutionary book because *gasp* it’s dirty – newsflash! It’s not the first dirty book ever written. There’s this genre called erotica and it’s been around since before the 1800’s (Fanny Hill anyone?). You can randomly select any book from the romance aisle and I guarantee it’ll have at least a little smut – if not A LOT. There is nothing revolutionary about Fifty Shades that would cause it to be placed in the category of “bestsellers,” yet everyday people would demand that I read it and look at me with a mixture of shock and disgust when I said “No, I haven’t read it, and no, I don’t plan to.” One woman even claimed it was the best, THE BEST, book she has ever read in her entire life. To which I replied, “You must not have read very many books.” And surprisingly did not get in trouble.
Needless to say it was sometimes incredibly hard for me recommend books to the average reader. However, every once in awhile I would encounter a book snob with an even higher level of snobbery than myself. And those conversations would go something like this:
Customer: “Can you recommend a good sci/fi series that I haven’t read?”
Me: “I can try, have you read (at this point I would rattle off every sci/fi book I had ever read or heard anything about).
Customer: “Yeah, I’ve read all those. I’m looking for something along the same lines as American Gods… have you read that?”
Me: “…no. But it’s on my list.”
Customer: “Oh… (looks at me like I am an underdeveloped monkey), well I’ll just browse, thank you.”
And that’s why I read American Gods.
It was one of the many books I felt I HAD to read in order to consider myself a book connoisseur. I was pressured to know everything about all books; if someone said their favorite book was The Poisonwood Bible, I’d better know some similar books to recommend. And guess what? I got pretty good at that. I know A LOT about a lot of books.
The downside? I developed an irrational desire to read everything. Literally everything. I get overwhelmed and stressed out when I consider how many books are on my “to-read” list, I worry that I will not be alive long enough to read all the books I want to read, and to learn about all the things I want to learn about. This year I’ve already read 50 books, by the end of the year I can probably hit 60… maybe 70 if I really apply myself. But new books come out every single week, how am I supposed to compete with that?! I’ll never pull ahead. My only saving grace is that I no longer work at a book store, so I can’t physically see all the new books that come out every Tuesday. Perhaps my to-read list will stop growing so quickly and I can make some headway (you know, in five years or so, if I continue to read over 50 books a year).
I don’t remember what it feels like to wonder “what can I read next?” because there is always something waiting on my shelf. I look forward to the day I have to actively search out a new book to read – that day may never come, but I look forward to it nonetheless.
“When I was reading and writing, I was in that exhilarating place where the life of the imagination is more real than the tiles and soil and rock under my feet.”
– from The Lantern