WANTED: Participants for a book-loving social experiment. Comment if you want to participate and I’ll send you details. What do you have to do? Buy your favorite book and send it to a stranger (I’ll send you a name and address.) You will only be sending one book to one person. The number of books you will receive depends on how many participants there are. The books that will show up on your door are the other people’s much loved stories #SaveTheCulture #BookExchange
*This is not me asking you to play along.*
I saw on a friend’s Facebook this invitation. I’ve read the news articles that for a lot of people this is old hat and has been going on for a while, I’m not hip though. I got really excited about it. I know, I know, it’s a Pyramid Scheme. I’m from Grand Rapids, home of Amway, I know what a pyramid scheme is. But listen, how often does someone let you recommend books? How often do they let you foist your love affairs on them? As great as it would be if someone sends me books , I am every bit as elated to send this.
I spent all day thinking about it. When I was a bookseller I had a stock answer for my favorite book. Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I love that book but I haven’t read it since college. With my recent experience in American Gods, I wanted to feel completely right about my recommendation. I wasn’t sure that was the right book.
The friend I had copied it from had included an addendum for those of us sending to his friend (a stranger to me). He asked that we add something to it, inscribe something, send a photo, whatever, to personalize it. This further complicated things. I broke it down to a few choices.
Choice 1: East of Eden
Stock favorite book. I felt like the characters were identifiable, the story was timeless about fate, about freedom to choose who we become, about our history, our nation, our work, how we become who we are. I think it’s the type of book anyone can get something out of. It’s also a behemoth of a book. Size matters, if it’s too big and people don’t hit it off right away they won’t finish it. Steinbeck, in my experience, is an author you need to warm up to, he doesn’t dazzle you in chapter one. You grow to love him and the characters.
What I would put with it: A quote that I’ve held on to all these years since I read it the first time:
That’s why I include myself. We all have that heritage no matter what old land our fathers left. All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It’s a breed- selected out by accident. And so we’re overbrave and overfearful- we’re kind and cruel as children. We’re overfriendly and at the same time frightened strangers. We boast and are impressed. We’re oversentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic-and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key or the language of our culture? That’s what we are, Cal – All of us. You aren’t very different.
Choice 2: Of Human Bondage
I loved this book. When I read it, I was in one of those places in life, still trying to figure out what I wanted, who I should be with, what I believed. It was hard. It sucked. I got caught up in things and felt like it tore me in half. I committed wholeheartedly and felt betrayed. I was young but I think everyone has been there at some point. It feels like the human condition. Not only is it large, but it is dense. It’s an older book, not a massive amount of dialogue, it isn’t YA for sure. Would someone take the time to wade through it?
What I would include: There’s a line in it that has always stuck by me, about how people don’t kill themselves over love, they think they will but they don’t. People kill themselves over not having enough money. I’d toss in a five dollar bill and something quippy about keeping her alive a day longer.
Also, if I were feeling ambitious, I may write a note about how I’ve had dreams about this book. My mass market paperback sitting on a diner counter all beat to hell. A guy I knew from high school a decade ago has it. I can tell it’s mine because of some of the markings. When I ask to see it, he gives it to me. I flip through and there are notes from a dozen or more people, responding to the book, underlining, highlighting, having a conversation in the margins about it. It’s a book that actively participates in the living of our lives.
Choice 3: The Prince of Tides
I wept, I laughed, I read pages aloud. It was a completely smart, totally feeling, immersing book. I had no idea what I was in for but I loved every moment of it. It’s also a sizable book. I understand there’s a pretty famous movie out (which I haven’t seen) that may color perceptions.
What I would put with it: I’d paint a small water color of the Esso ad “Put a Tiger in your tank” which is in the book. I’d also include a note about how two years ago my book club did an exchange of a book that’s been meaningful to us. One of my favorite humans in the world brought in Prince of Tides. I trust his book choices competely but I still had no idea how awesome it was going to be. Now, I get to share it as one of my favorite books. The cycle continues.
Choice 4: After Dark
It’s probably my favorite Murakami, who in turn, is one of my favorite authors. The opening scene is a girl reading a book in a Denny’s. When I began reading it, I read the description, her clothes, her food, all of it and then I looked down. I was a girl, reading the novel, in a Denny’s, matching her attire. It was erie. Which is what Murakami feels like all the time any how. Plus, it has the advantage of being a very quick read. It has the disadvantage of being very weird for someone who doesn’t know what to expect. I reacted well to that but not everyone does.
What I would include: I would want to have a late night dinner at Denny’s, take photos, include the ambiance.
There were other options that seemed slightly less viable but still good. The Little Prince, which is short, smart, cute, and beautiful. But it is also generic, the type of gift you can safely give to a stranger. I didn’t want to safely give something. I wanted to passionately give something. I considered Moby Dick because of that great scene with Ahab and the captian he mets at sea, who lost his arm to the whale. When Ahab invites him to join the pursuit to kill Moby Dick and the other captian declines, ever so wisely stating that he still had another arm to lose. It was a jarring worldview to me. I loved being shaking. But there’s an awful lot of whaling for some people.
Which choice would you go with? Have you done one of these Book Pyramids? What did you send and what did you get?