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June 17, 2013 / The Promiscuous Reader

On reading, recommendations and umlauts


Another unhappy customer…I gave him a grotesque recommendation.

One of the benefits of being a promiscuous reader is that, having read a wide variety of genres and books, I can use this knowledge to amiably  chat about a number of different topics (needless to say books are my go-to-topic for small talk) and I can recommend books to people with a broad set of interests.  This is also one of the pitfalls of being a promiscuous reader.

The problem arises when I forget that, although I enjoy reading a spy novel, followed by the latest Hilary Mantel, and then blazing through an apocalyptic vampire story at the same time as the latest Malcolm Gladwell, not everyone enjoys such varied tastes.  Some people only want to read Malcolm Gladwell (in less polite circles I may call this reader, Mr. Tall & Snooty) and others stick with crime procedurals (typically I call this reader, dad).

These two examples are fairly easy to keep sorted.  If it doesn’t have The New Yorker seal of approval, don’t even bother mentioning it to Mr. Tall & Snooty and if it doesn’t have a hard-boiled, recovered alcoholic private detective with three failed marriages my dad will take a pass.  Other readers are more difficult and so I have learned to be a little more cautious with them.  I recently realized (it took me three unread loans…I’m a slow learner) that a close friend absolutely does not like anything of the apocalyptic, vampiric, or zombierrific genres.  Okay…David Sedaris it is, then!

Happily, over the years, I have also learned the trick of “having the proper hook.”  Naturally, I learned this by first  having the improper hook.  With my dad, for example, referring to any book as Swedish, Nordic or Scandinavian instantly results in a glazed, far away look and a vigorous shaking of the head.   This is, undoubtedly, due to his experience of trying to assign English names to all of the characters in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This probably started out easily enough, Mikael was Mike, Lisbeth was Liz but once he got to Gottfried, Birger and Holger things became a little more complicated and he gave up after a very confusing 150 pages. Now, if the book has an umlaut in it my dad steers well clear.

A successful hook for my dad is, “it’s like early Stephen King”.  A couple of years ago, after I unsuccessfully recommended  Justin Cronin’s The Passage to my aforementioned, David Sedaris-loving friend, I was hunting around for someone to share it with.  I decided to loan it to my dad with the caveat that it was a broad, epic story, like The Stand, but that it came together in the end. It was a risky recommendation, considering the number of characters, lack of private investigator and coming on the heels of the disastrous Dragon Tattoo experience.  Fortunately,  he loved it, remembered more details and character names than I did and promptly pre-ordered the sequel, The Twelve.

Occasionally, an easy recommendation pops up, in which I don’t even have to think about how good the book was because the situation requires the person read it.  My recently retired colleague told me she was spending a few weeks in the south of France in an area called Languedoc.  “Languedoc?”  I cried!  “Near Caracassone?  I know just the book!”  Only, I couldn’t remember the title so after a bit of Googling I figured out it was Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.  I recalled thinking it wasn’t the best book I’d ever read, but nevermind, if I were within spitting distance of Carcassone, it would definitely be the book I’d want in hand.  I only hope she feels the same.

What book recommendations, disastrous and otherwise, have you made?



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