I didn’t love reading Eragon. But I struggled right through because my son implored me to read it, his favourite book. With talking dragons, magic, sword fights and an ordinary-boy-destined-for-greatness plot what’s not to like? Absolutely nothing – if you are eleven years old, that is. Cough, cough, formulaic, cough. However my son also recommended I read The Hunger Games, which I loved.
To be fair, I too have burdened my boy with recommended reads. Who knew he wouldn’t like A Wizard of Earthsea? It was only when I subsequently re-read it myself (and went on to devour the five sequels) that I realised how adult and complex are the themes the Earthsea books encompass. But when I read some of those same sequels twenty or more years ago, I was totally nonplussed too. In turn I also suggested my son read Black Beauty. He loved it.
Which all points to something every enthusiastic reader knows anyway – books speak to each of us differently, and differently to the same reader at different times. And might explain why the To Be Read pile is a toppling tower of guilt and procrastination and random purchases made when hungry or angry or in a quandry and gifts given by well-meaning friends who don’t know us quite as well as they think they do.
With this in mind last time I pressed a book upon a friend, I enclosed a note. In the note I explained that I understood that book recommendations were a burden and that I didn’t mind a bit if my friend didn’t read or finish this particular book.* I only wished that said friend might come home safely to tell us of his adventures. To this day I’m not sure if he’s read the book… or even if I meant my note.
Perhaps the difference lies between a disinterested recommendation like “I enjoyed this book and for these reasons I think you might too,” and all-out insistence: “You have to read this book because it will change your life.” Which really means “You have to read this book or I will be hurt.”
It could be that I’m over thinking this. I confessed to my son that I didn’t really enjoy reading Eragon. And do you know what? He wasn’t the least bit worried.
*Leviathan by Philip Hoare. The friend is a crew member with an anti-whaling organisation. Obvious recommendation, no? I can’t believe he didn’t read/enjoy/comment on it. Sheesh.