Much ado about reading

Well things are starting to get weird in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is a good thing! What makes Haruki Murakami so amazing is his ability to mix simple, lovely prose with some of the of the craziest, acid induced imagery in modern literature. So far this in the story that has touched on: a mysterious cat disappearance, a fortune teller obsessed with water, a house that is seemingly cursed, a woman who has dealt with being overly sensitive to pain - then completely unable to feel pain, a sociopathic genius, a 16 year old that surveys men for baldness, and one very confused, unemployed gentleman and his wife. That's a lot of craziness, and I'm only a quarter of the way through. When I read 1Q84 last year I knew that Murakami was capable of dreaming up some fantastical scenes, but this novel is on a whole other level.


Yesterday one of my friends asked for book suggestions on Facebook. She had just finished the Divergent series and wanted something new to dig into. This should have been my time to shine. I am nothing if not a well-rounded reader. If you get me in the right mood I will writer 3,000 word essays on the works of David Foster Wallace and the later works of Stephen King. But when someone tells me they enjoy books like The Hunger Games, or Divergent, or 50 Shades Of Grey, then asks me for a suggestion I don't really know what to say. It's not that I'm some kind of snob. I understand that sometimes you just want to read something easy. I just have a hard time finding common ground when it comes to recommendations. Usually I'll just tell that person to start using Good Reads, then I'll sulk away feeling like a complete failure. Once I told a Hunger Games fan to give Battle Royale or The Long Walk a try, but a couple weeks later when I asked that person if they had started either of those books they said that they didn't feel like those books were for them.

It's a lot easier to suggest Non-Fiction to people. If you can get a handle on what a person's interest are, it's not very hard to find a book that corresponds to the subject matter. When it comes to recommending fiction, however, I really struggle getting people to like the thing I like. This can make reading a bit of a lonely experience. When I finish a really riveting novel like Rachel Kushner's, The Flamethrowers, the first thing I want to do is talk about the book with someone. One of my great pleasures in life is sitting down with a friend and talking about the things that we both love and care about. When I was a sports writer it was really easy to get into long discussions about sports with my family and friends. Most of the people I know and care about are big football fans, so when we get together for family gatherings, or when a bunch of us high school buddies get together, sports is usually the main topic. There's something really isolating about not having anything to add to these conversations, especially when I was initiating/leading those conversations two years before. Since none of close friends read literary fiction the only place I can go to talk about these books is online, which is great in its own way, but theres a kind of thrill in talking to the people your close with about pop culture that I just don't get to have when it comes to reading.

This is a strange thing to complain about, I know. Reading is, by its nature, a lonely activity. I've been in a bunch of online book clubs, and if I lived in a bigger city I would probably go to a lot of readings and other kinds of literary events. It just feels like at the moment I'm stuck in a little boat during a massive sea change in my life. I either need to me more proactive about suggesting books to others or I need to start going to places that care about literature as much as I have do, or both. I don't want to tell people not to read books like The Hunger Games trilogy, but I need to be better about suggesting books that may be a bit more challenging, but will also be enjoyable and hopefully stretch their tastes as a reader. Who knows, with time I may be able to foster a group of people to get so broad in their reading habits that I can finally start that Infinite Jest book club.