Recommending books to people is scary

Today someone came to my door and then inside my house trying to sell me a water filtration system. Usually I don’t end up in these situations – I just don’t answer the door. Or the phone. Sales people and actors are the scariest people, in my opinion – I respect them, but being around them makes me anxious because half the time I’m thinking “Oh wow your job is so hard, if I were you I would drop dead from anxiety poisoning!” and the other half I’m thinking of all the ways they might be/definitely are lying to me.

But anyway.

I made something up, and then she gave up, and then she asked to look at all my books. I was like, “Sure!” but, nervous. How do you talk about books to people? Well – I know how I do. I struggle and change the subject, is what I do. But it depends on the person, really. Usually, I find it hard to commit to a book in conversation, even if I love it, because I don’t want to accidentally inflict something they’ll find even mildly boring.

Reading a book is so personal and intimate. At least with watching a movie or a show, it’s happening on the screen, but the book is really happening in your head. If it’s well-written enough, a book makes me forget I even exist, so immersive can be the experience. And reading a book you hate is, in my opinion, anyway, so much worse than watching a movie or a show you hate. And I’d hate to inflict that, especially that, on anyone, just by saying “It’s good, you’ll like it!” without any qualifiers. And qualifiers take up time, time that could be better spent not being in a conversation at all, thanks.

Why, yes, I’m a cat person. Thanks for noticing.

She asked if I’d read The Giver, which, of course I have. I’m pretty sure it’s still on the Ontario school curriculum. Then as she was leaving, she asked me to recommend something. “Something like The Giver,” which she added because I asked her to narrow her interests down for me because, like, oh my god.

I couldn’t think of something like The Giver. I eventually came up with Tuck Everlasting. It doesn’t have the same dystopian punch of The Giver, but it’s still a very thought-provoking little book about mortality. It was, um, also on the Ontario school curriculum, and that’s probably why I associated the two. I panicked, OK?

But if she reads it – and, maybe she’s a good sales person and she was just doing some sort of sales trick, but I kind of thought she was serious and wanted to go find a new book to read, so, whatever – I think she’ll like it. Who doesn’t like Tuck Everlasting?

The only other time in my entire life that someone has actually asked me for a book recommendation was during a job interview, and I’m pretty sure it was the question and answer that lost me the job. Which is OK because I didn’t want the job – I just wanted job. Because it was the recession and I was a student and it was almost impossible to convince anyone to hire you as a student in a recession. I don’t even remember what this particular job was. Data entry? And what that company did, or what it was called – I have no idea. I have forgotten everything except the book thing.

So he asked, and I said, It by Stephen King. Which is still one of my favourite books. It is something special, people. Also he was a white guy in his 40s or 50s, so, safe rec, right?

My people. He was so unimpressed. And he never said why, and I honestly didn’t care because, a) It was a recession and I was a student and it was a long shot and what is this job, exactly? and b) Why would I want to work with someone who is weird about Stephen King?

I am open to critiques of Stephen King. I just have a feeling his wasn’t particularly nuanced.

So I just explained why I loved the book so much and then left the interview feeling like, “Well, at least I got to talk about It, and I mildly annoyed someone who probably deserves to be mildly annoyed, frankly.”

I do sometimes wonder what book he was looking for.

Lolita? That’s my least charitable guess. Maybe something by Philip Roth, whose work I have never and will never read because, man, who has time for that, right? Or some other big shot contemporary white guy author, I don’t know. I also can’t even come up with any other big shot white guy contemporary author names. I may be an English major – and I don’t care. In fact, I was taught I didn’t have to care. Times have changed.

Maybe he was looking for something by Faulkner or Dickens – two comparable names if I’ve ever put two comparable names into a sentence before. Or, slightly more charitably, Octavia Butler or Toni Morrison or Ursula Leguin. Maybe some brilliant Canadian like Joy Kogawa or Miriam Toews.

But then if that’s the case, still. There really shouldn’t have been a wrong answer.

Except Lolita.

OMG I bet he wanted me to say something by Rand.


I’d rather have a discussion about my likes and dislikes with someone or someones who would also talk about their likes and dislikes, and maybe we’d all do some soft pitches for books that each of us may enjoy, to then ponder over and maybe choose from. That seems like a better way to recommend books, than on the spot, or as a trick question in a job interview. But what do I know?

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