If have you read…? is a question that tempts a lie, then I have a book you must read provokes a mix of delight and dread, and here’s my book – awe and terror.
Awe and respect for anyone who has not only completed writing a book, but also, in whatever way, has had that book published.
Terror, in case they expect a response I can’t give. Unfounded terror. There is always something: some new insight, some chiming memory, some clever juxtaposition of events or ideas that casts new light on both, a mot juste applied unexpectedly, an apt use of rhyme or verse form. And I am lucky, my friends write wonderful books.
Then there’s I have a book you must read. Must, not might like to, not will maybe interest you, but must. So this book is important to the lender/giver – and they think that whatever important thing it does for them, this book will do for me. It’s like a test, it shouldn’t be a test, but it’s like a test. Am I the person they think I am? Is the donor the person I think I know?
Then I look at the bookshelves in our house, loaded with books I cannot bear to part with, and think how many are there because friends insisted that I should read them. The most recent is Redhead by the Side of the Road byAnne Tyler. The only reason I’ll let it out of the house is because I want to share it with my sister.
Ah, that’s what’s even more worrying than being given a book by some-one who thinks the book is important. My giving away a book I think says something significant. What if I get it wrong? What if they think The Rosie Project is offensive, not funny? What if they dismiss The Wulf Enigma? What if they can’t see beyond Margery Allingham’s upbringing and period to her insight and wit?
Far harder to get over than discovering someone doesn’t like raspberries (how can anyone dislike raspberries?) or even that they prefer cats to dogs.
So why do I/we still share and recommend the books we like and love? Because we readers are generous people and want to share our pleasure. And because we love to talk about books and what they show and tell us. And because that’s one of the ways we make connections with other people – and now I come to think about it, the importance of making and sustaining those connections is what Redhead by the Side of the Road is all about.