Have you ever found yourself avoiding a book a friend has recommended, or that everyone in the universe seems to be reading, or—worst of all—a gift book you just cannot force yourself to crack open? I want to hear about it.
I’m one of the only adult women of a certain age I know who never read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert—despite its appealing cover and many rave reviews, and even after enjoying her wonderful TED talk. I think it was partly because that book sold itself by the dozens; other books needed me more, to read them so I could recommend them to customers. There are several books like that: The Red Tent, Room, Gone Girl, Water for Elephants—bestsellers so popular they have no trouble finding their audience. Those, I don’t feel so bad about. But then there are the books that have dogged me for years.
I must have been 10 when my mom gave me a book called Shush’Ma, a novel with a pastel palette featuring layers of mountains in the distance and a big bear in the foreground. Books were my favorite gifts, but for some reason, this one left me cold. I wasn’t that interested in bears, and I didn’t like the pale cool colors and static composition of the dust jacket. For years, I looked guiltily at that book, intending to read it, and for years, I avoided it. The Shush’Ma-related anxiety that accumulated over a decade or two surely would have surprised my mother; I think I’d gotten it into my head that this was a special book to her and that by refusing to read it, I was somehow rejecting a part of her.
Googling it now, I see that it was a Navajo story, and perhaps if she’d told me that, I might have been more interested. I spent half of my childhood in Arizona and we had several books of Navajo and Hopi tales that fascinated me. Shush’Ma, sadly, was not among them. I never did read that book, nor did I read My Antonía by Willa Cather when my favorite high school librarian recommended it. I felt guilty about that, too, and when I finally did read it, I loved it—years too late to tell her.
I see this avoidance sometimes in the store: books whose covers are such turnoffs to kids that they don’t even want to touch that book, much less hear a booktalk about it or read the jacket copy. People are increasingly visual animals, and even adult customers admit to rejecting books based on cover art and design they find unappealing.
But there are other reasons for rejecting books that are quirkier and funnier. Once, Josie recommended Water for Elephants to a customer, who said, “I don’t like circus books set during the Depression”—as though there were an entire genre. One kid said he “didn’t like any books where the animals talk like people.”
Some kids refuse to read hugely popular series like Harry Potter just because everyone in the world has read them, and it becomes a point of pride for them to be different. I can be a contrarian myself, and often avoid bestsellers for similar reasons. But not always. I haven’t completely figured out my own underlying rationale; I raced through Life of Pi and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but wouldn’t read The Art of Racing in the Rain despite everyone absolutely loving it. What’s that about? And I can be worn down; I eventually relented and listened to Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and thoroughly enjoyed it. But reading a book is a solitary experience, and part of me likes the private intimacy of reading a book not everyone has read.
It’s funny to catch yourself resisting a book, and to figure out why. I rarely read the final book of any series. I’m not sure if it’s because I lose interest along the way, or—more likely—it’s that I don’t want the world of the book to end, so by not reading the last one, I prolong the dream.
What’s the weirdest reason you’ve ever avoided a book? And do you feel guilty about it?
P.S. I’ve lived in least 15 or 20 houses/apartments since I was 10 years old. I have brought Shush’Ma along with my other books to each one. I still have not read it.