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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Every Reader Reads a Different Version of the Same Book

That is my first rule of Readers' Advisory. What I find most appealing about a certain novel may not be why you liked it. As we librarians help leisure readers, we need to pay attention to how they describe a book that they recently enjoyed, and we have to listen even more carefully if we have read this book ourselves.

I teach this and we discuss it every semester, but never was this concept more clear to me than over the weekend when I saw this post in which Abe's Books customers named The Road the most depressing book ever.

Would it surprise you that I found this post-apocalyptic novel of a boy and his dad traveling through a ruined American landscape extremely uplifting? Those of you who think I am being sarcastic, I assure you, I am not.

I found The Road uplifting because despite the almost end of the world, a father protects his son at all costs. Their love for each other is inspiring. And the ending is hopeful; in fact, it is the most hopeful and optimistic ending I have ever seen in a Cormac McCarthy book.

Obviously a great number of people disagree with me, but that is fine. I read my own version of this book. Someone helping me would need to use what I said about The Road to find me other dark but uplifting titles.

Other books I would suggest to a patron with these criteria (in this case myself) would be Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, books by Ian McEwan, and The White Tiger (which again lots of people say is too depressing, but I disagree). Also, other books on the list of the 10 most depressing novels may also be good options, although looking at it I know I hated Jude the Obscure, but not because it was depressing. I just didn't care enough about the main character to be caught up in his problems.

So, please remember as you help others and even as you reader reviews for yourself: we all read a different version of the same book. What is considered depressing to you, may be perfect for me. And finding a reader the best book for them, based on what they want to read at that moment, is the ultimate goal.

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