When I first met my husband, way back in freshman year of college, we did the usual getting to know each other thing. Where are you from? What’s your major? Do you want to come back to my dorm room? etc. Standard stuff.
Slowly we got to know each other a little more deeply, largely over AOL instant messenger (which was absolutely huge back then, so don’t make fun). We’d be typing away in the evenings, each in our own dorm room across campus, having fun. But I distinctly remember an exchange in which T professed his love for a book called, The Last Opium Den. Seeing as I was head-over-heels for this kid, I found a copy at the University’s library and read it in one sitting.
I remember thinking, “This is his favorite book?”
I had a moment of doubt. What did he see in this absurd little story? For those who’ve never read it, The Last Opium Den is about a guy… looking for the last opium den. See, he doesn’t want heroin or any other prosaic drug. He just wants opium. Spoiler alert: he finds the den, smokes some opium, and feels something? I don’t even remember what he concluded about the experience. Perhaps something existential? Seems like a good guess. But considering The Last Opium Den is about the size and thickness of a Beatrix Potter book (seriously, it’s like, Benjamin Bunny sized), to me the story was like a little bit of nothing whittled off to a point.
I asked T what he saw in it, after I admitted I didn’t really like it, and he rattled off a philosophy heavy explanation. And since I’ve never been able to get remotely excited about philosophy, I was able to chalk it up to a difference in opinion. I just happen to prefer my stories light on the philosophy and heavy on the practical human experience, and for T a good book is almost exactly the opposite.
But it makes you wonder, should you ever share your favorite book? I’ve mentioned before my love for A Canticle for Leibowitz. I’ve even given a copy to my brother-in-law, but I wonder if he a) he’s read it, and b) if he liked it all?
Maybe it’s pointless to share your favorite novel with someone else? Reading is highly personal. I mean, what is reading but the interpretation of symbols on a page as images in your mind. Obviously, we’re all going to see very different images, based on a collage of items we've already seen and experienced, and thus feel very different things depending on how immediate or real those syntheses may seem.
In high school, my favorite novel was Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News (don’t judge the book if you’ve only seen the crap movie, two totally different things). The Shipping News was the first novel where I decided the author was really something special to write such a story.
I had a friend at school who was also a big reader and I made her borrow The Shipping News from me, because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. She was a sport and read it, but I remember the expression on her face as she returned it back to me; it was apparent she was completely unchanged by the experience. The book meant little to nothing to her. What crushing disappointment that was for me! I wanted to talk about the story and the writing, and that was just not going to happen. Whatever I got out of it, it didn’t do the same for her. And she was one of the few people I knew who actually read.
See a trend? When was the last time you made a reading suggestion that was actually enjoyed and appreciated? My parents loved A Primate’s Memoir, based on my recommendation, but how unbiased an opinion you can ever hope to get from your parents? Maybe they just liked it ok.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone else likes your favorite book, but it can make reading feel even lonelier than it already is. That's part of the reason I felt compelled to start this blog. If there was anywhere I could connect with other readers, you'd hope the internet would be the place, but there's just so much noise. It's hard work to make those reading connections.
What’s your favorite book? Have you ever recommended it, only to be disappointed by the result?