Monday, December 28, 2015

R is for recommend

For two months I lost the thread of reading. Surely it must happen to any reader, and you are here, so you are a reader. Is it so? Every once in awhile do all the books you try fail? The stories and tales and paragraphs and thoughts all lie flat on the page? What a bunch of words and sentences. You poke them with a stick. "I remember these things flying." You say, "But just look at them, sitting there with all their vowels and punctuation, sprawled and listless. Aren't they supposed to do something? I remember words having feathers!"

For myself, as each book failed to lift, I made the mistake of driving deeper and deeper into genre writing, thinking how easy it can be for these addictive tales to get airborn. They all just seemed like a bunch of ill designed machines, and their flaws were the clearest thing about them to me. I began to doubt reading itself, but could not let it go. I just pushed harder at it. Desperate, I began to run after every book I came upon. I threw off genre and grabbed the quirkier early works of Booker Prize winners, innocent looking Juvenile Fiction, forgotten bestsellers. I sought out familiar looking things by new authors. I re-read. And I began to question my whole reading life: Did I make it all up? Words can't fly! That's absurd.

Marcus the teen librarian saved me. He said this one was good and it sounded good. He gave me his copy checked out from a library different than our own. It was a large type copy, an old trick to make an end run on a piece of popular, but not too popular, waitlisted library literature.

A regular part of our conversation includes a fair accounting of the books Marcus has just read or is reading. Since he reads what seems to be roughly ten books a week it's a fair sized listing, and I always feel slightly like I'm browsing, shopping, as he walks me through his even handed capsule reviews. He is always honest about the quality of the work he describes, and only upsells at the end, which invariably seems strangely amusing after a tolerant, cool, looking on the bright side assessment. But I know that feeling: "I'm reading it. You read it too, and we'll talk about it, even if just to figure out why it never does quite what it's supposed to."

But Marcus had a good one here. I doubt he even called it great, even as he spoke very well of it and found he never had to qualify as he praised. 

I was in quick.

"Yes." I said. "That's the book I want." And it was.

I know that feeling too from his side. One makes the catch. One sees it. One says "Hurry, let me get the book in his hands." Which, thankfully, he was able to do.

H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald. It's a non fiction memoir about training a goshawk, about T.H. White, and about not understanding yourself very well even as you pay close attention. Do I recommend it?

That depends upon the look in your eye when I tell you about it.

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