i’ll admit it. i check people’s books out. on the subway, in the bookstore, on the curb of the street, in their homes – if i see someone reading a book i like or by an author i admire, it’ll make me pause, look at the person, and want to talk to him or her. i’m openly prejudiced. i immediately think – he must be interesting to talk to. or, i wonder what he thinks of that book or how he’s come to read it. even someone i wouldn’t normally consider attractive can gain the veneer of enticement by virtue of the book he has in his hands. but i am equally biased against people who read certain other books. it’s always better for me to get to know you before i find out what you like to read.
i might as well say it. i’m a book snob. a literature snob. i only partially believe in my snobbery. i am fully aware of the fact that usually, what you read says nothing about you. or very little, at any rate. people who read shit books (or don’t read at all) can be ultra awesome: reliable, fun, exciting, and excellent conversationalists. conversely, people who read high-minded prose can be vulgar and cruel. they often are. nevertheless, i get intrigued. i see someone on the train reading the latest book by Javier Marías or The Invention of Solitude and yes, i can’t deny it, my interest is piqued.
it’s hard to admit this since i would never treat a friend differently or even think less of him or her in any way because of what he or she reads. but if i don’t know you, or know someone who knows you, i make automatic assumptions. it’s a terrible thing to do, excessively unfair, ridiculously discriminant, biased, and intolerant. i know. but i can’t help it. c’est la vie.
i also understand, however, that taste in books, like everything else, is very subjective and that everyone is entitled to his or her own preferences. almost no one i know likes Omensetter’s Luck (or has even heard of it, for that matter), but i think it’s one of the best books written by an American author this century. this is why it’s very hard for me, although i get a number of requests, to recommend books to friends. i need to know the person very well, and also know their tastes in literature, and even then i sometimes get it wrong. it doesn’t help that, like my taste in many things, i like most literature, and have read a not insubstantial bit of obscure-ish stuff that others wouldn’t like or appreciate. let’s take music – i like everything from country pop to latin jazz, from disco to choral to folk to hardcore gangsta rap. quite possibly the only types of music i don’t like are drum and bass and hardcore heavy metal. most of my friends might like a handful of those types of music, and of course, i can and should only listen to certain things with each of them. so it is with books. but it’s even more complicated.
on top of all this, i have an english lit background – i can appreciate and love something for qualities other than an interesting plot or well-developed characters. language is extremely important to me, and a special turn of phrase can convince me that an author is genius where others would undoubtedly be bored out of their minds.
this altogether too-lengthy preface is here just to say that the entries i make on this blog about books are not necessarily recommendations. it’s not a book list, it’s not a bestseller list. it’s just a collection of thoughts on some books that i happen to really enjoy and love, or on the novels that i’m currently reading. and i can guarantee you, dear reader, that at least some of the books i like you are not going to like at all. at all. and this first may very well be one of them.