I was at my Library Book Group a couple of weeks ago, and somehow the conversation started out with a reference to how many books a certain member of our group reads in a year.
"Oh, she reads a lot," said one. "Tell them how many books you read in 2009."
"136," said our certain member.
You realize, don't you, that that's more than 10 books a month? And yet, contrary to form, I was not dismayed. Much. Because in her count for 2010, she will include one that I selected: To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis.
Yes, it was my turn to lead the discussion, and I chose this, one of my favorite books ever.
"What's it about?" they asked me last month when I told them my choice.
"Well, do you like books about Victorian England?" I said.
"Yes," they all responded, though a couple of them said it rather hesitantly, as if I had asked them if they enjoyed taking vitamins.
"And do you like mystery novels?"
"Yes!" they all responded again, this time with much more enthusiasm.
"So is it a Victorian mystery?" someone asked.
How to answer such a question? The book, in case you don't know, is about love and missed opportunities and chaos theory and life in a Victorian England country house and the 1940 Luftwaffe raid on Canterbury and human resilience in the face of great odds and Waterloo and early 20th century English detective novels and cats and spiritualism and time travel and pen wipers, to say nothing of the dog. But I couldn't tell them all that because they would just be confused.
"Not really," I finally said. "But if you like Victorian England and Agatha Christie, you'll like this book."
"Agatha Christie didn't write Victorian mysteries," someone pointed out.
"She wrote those Egyptian ones," someone else said.
"This isn't really a mystery," I said. "Well, it sort of is, but that's not the main point."
"Then what's it about?"
"It's kind of science fiction. Kind of."
"Agatha Christie and science fiction??"
I knew they'd be confused. I told them they just ought to read it.
And most of them did! When we met a couple of weeks ago, there were only two out of the group who hadn't finished it. One of them said she never read science fiction.
"I got about 80 pages into it and then I had to stop. All that talk about computers and the net and technology. . . I just couldn't understand it. It was too confusing. I guess I don't have the brain for it. I haven't ever even seen any of the Star Wars movies."
I guess I can relate to her lack of understanding. But I certainly can't comprehend why someone would never have seen a Star Wars movie.
The other member who didn't like it (and didn't even get as far as 80 pages) said the plot was too hectic and confusing.
But everyone else enjoyed it. They said it was funny and delightful and they couldn't put it down and they loved all the characters in the book. Stuff like that. It made me very happy to have been instrumental in introducing them to this book, because I think everyone should read it. Everyone. Even if you haven't see Star Wars.
I chose this book partly because I was excited about Connie Willis' new book, Blackout, that came out a little less than a month ago.
Gary and I went down to Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego to hear Connie Willis talk about Blackout and to get a copy signed, along with a few other books of hers we have. (She also signed my copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog.) She talked about her reasons for writing the book. Much of what she said during the signing is pretty much the same in content as a couple of guest posts she did for the Suvudu blog, and it's better to read it in her own words, so I'll link to her posts here and here.
Blackout is another time travel story, about England during the Blitz. It's actually part one of a two-book set. But they're not two separate stories, like a duology (a bilogy? What do you call a set of two books?); it's just that the story was so long it wouldn't fit into one book. Both parts are written, but part two, All Clear, won't be published till later this year. I don't mind. I'm kind of holding out on reading Blackout so that I can read both books as one, but it's getting kind of hard to put it off. Whenever I'm in the living room and I see Blackout on the shelf, I want to pick it up and start reading. Actually, I've already read the first chapter, so I'm not doing so well. But taking the time to re-read To Say Nothing of the Dog certainly helped.
To Say Nothing of the Dog is not the only book that I've felt everyone should read. But it is one of the more unusual ones that I recommend on a regular basis. And I realize that not everyone is always going to like my recommendations as much as I do.
What about your choices? Is there a book you've read that you think everyone else should read? Or is there a book that came highly recommended to you and yet you thought it was boring or awful? A lot of books my college professors recommended (or required) fell into those categories. Sometimes there's no accounting for taste. Not mine, theirs.