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Monday, March 22, 2010

Right Book Wrong Time?

When I go out to train librarians in how to provide the best RA service, one of the things I stressed repeatedly is that we not only ask the patron about a book they enjoyed and why, but also that we continue the conversation by asking, "Are you in the mood for that, or something different?"

Then, a few days ago I saw this discussion on io9, a science fiction blog, about books you hated and then read later and loved.

As you can see from the comments here, this is a big appeal issue. We librarians need to make sure people are the the correct mood for the book we are giving them.

Here is an example from my own life. I first read Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders at the wrong time. This is a historical novel about a real town in 1600s England. They had an outbreak of the plague and chose to seal themselves off from the rest of the world so as not to spread it. At the beginning of the book the protagonist makes it clear that she survived but that her 3 year-old and 3 month-old did not. We then go back to the beginning to see how everyone (including her children) died. There is much more depth to this wonderful novel, but this is all you need to know for my personal story.

Normally this death and dying would be fine with me, except, at the exact moment I was reading this book, I was the mother of a 3 year-old and a 3 month old.  Trust me, this was not good. I was constantly thinking about them getting the plague, checking them for signs of sickness, and generally being freaked out. This is not how I usually get with a book. I read plenty of horror without getting nightmares, but somehow, this book hit too close to home. It was not a pleasant experience.

Thankfully, I was forced to reread Year of Wonders for a book club a few years later, and loved it. I have since read her next 2 books and loved them too. This was clearly a case of the right book at the wrong time. Thank goodness I revisited it or I never would have known.

Has this happened to you? Let me know about your experiences by commenting here or, if it is a SF book specifically, over at the Library Thing discussion.


Alex said...

Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies, all about missed connections, inability to find companionship, and failed relationships - when I had just embarked on living ALONE in my first apartment. *Shudder* .... it made me feel like I would be alone for the rest of my life, even if I was with someone, 'cause no one really understands anyone, do they? AAAHHH!

I later read her novel, with much apprehension, but it was fine and nothing like my previous experience!

Shonna said...

I tried to read Emma by Jane Austen in my last year of high school, but just couldn't get into it. When it was assigned in my 2nd year university class on the early English novel I was dreading it, but I absolutely loved it.
A similar thing happened with Moby Dick. I was supposed to read it at University for my American lit course and read only the first 3 chapters and faked the rest. Ten years later I picked it up and thoroughly enjoyed it, except for the long whale description bits.