Recomendations From Strangers

A book recommendation is a personal thing. What you suggest someone read discloses a lot about how you perceive that person. We all have stories of awkwardly accepting things in the name of polite society.

My mother, not a reader, occasionally still finds James Patterson at garage sales for me. It is very sweet and well intentioned, however since high school I’ve stopped reading literally anything I can get my hands on.

In high school, a theater teacher once recommended Tea and Sympathy as a script I would love. I’m still baffled as to why.

Most recently, the president of my company took me out to lunch to get to know me better. We discussed my work  history, five years of bookselling experience and some previous fundraising events with the store. He is an antique book collector. It was an interesting and enjoyable conversation. He shared his commitment to “save” at least one book each year, finding an old but beautiful book, spending the money on a local artisan who restores books. We talked about how to ensure the right buyer gets the right books, such as tribal books he owns which are dear to him but may not be as valuable to non-Native Americans.

Surprisingly, the next day he came in with two books in tow. One was a gift for me, Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir by Anatole Broyard, and the other for my boyfriend, a former submariner, Ice Station Nautilus by Rick Campbell, was for lending.

I’ve started reading Kafka was the Rage. As I do I ask myself, “Why would he have given this to me?” I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve not yet read Kafka, but if I’m honest, from what I’ve heard, I’m not going to love him. Certainly, there’s a bookish element. There are nice lines such as:

For young people who had just left home… books were like dolls or teddy bears or family portraits. They populated rooms.

But it largely seems to be about sex. My impression of the man who lent me the book is he is a kind, older, conservative, religious man, and frankly it surprises me a bit that he’s read it. What’s more, the impression I think I generally give during a one-hour long lunch does not match the characters or the tone of the book at all. Perhaps if I continue it’ll all make sense. Or maybe it’ll end like Tea and Sympathy and I’ll stay bewildered for years to come.

Incidentally, another co-worker gave me a 1911 copy of Hume’s first volume A Treatise of Human Nature after a twenty-minute conversation over cocktails . It’s an ancient library copy, it’s just gorgeous. I got it because, for my undergrad (in philosophy) I wrote my final paper on Hume, he’s one of my favorite philosophers. That is how to give a book.

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