Did you ever have one of those days (or weeks….or months…) where you just couldn’t find anything to read? Where every book you started failed to hold your interest through the first fifty (or twenty…or three…) pages? Where even the covers annoyed you because you knew they weren’t the book for you? Where you genuinely begin believing you will never find another book to read ever again and there is no joy left in the world and all is darkness?
I’ve been there.
We’ve all been there–to a greater or lesser extent. Your addiction to reading might not be quite as strong as mine, but I think you know what I mean. It’s a more common issue for readers than we like to discuss. Sometimes it’s a condition that Lady Pole has described here as a book hangover, when the last book you read was so good, so immersive, so engaging, that you don’t want to leave it’s spell once the final page has turned. But sometimes, it has nothing to do with the last book you read. Sometimes, it’s book stagnation.
We haven’t really discussed that one too much, but book stagnation refers to that feeling when you just can’t find a good book; when the publishing market and your personal tastes seem to be on very different pages (proverbially speaking). Like when every romance novel I picked up wanted to be Fifty Shades of Grey. If that was your thing, I’m very happy for you. It just honestly did nothing for me. Or every mystery I picked up featured a highly-detailed and gruesome murder, as told by the murderer, in the first pages (in italics, because all murderers talk in italics). Again, if you enjoy these books, then I rejoice for you. It’s just not my cup of tea at all. Or when history books don’t have proper citations/footnotes/bibliographies. That’s one that I refuse to tolerate, sorry.
But, thankfully, there is a remedy to both book hangovers and book stagnation. And both can be found at the Library. More specifically, from the people working at the Library.
Speaking for myself, one of my most favorite parts of the job is when a patron comes up and says that they like a certain author, or genre, or topic, and that they don’t like another genre, or a theme, or a type of plot, and asks me to help them find a new book based on that criteria. Not only is it a fun challenge to find the bookish needle in the bookish hay of our stacks, but it’s also a true, heart-swelling moment of joy to talk about books and stories with another person, and connecting with another reader. We may not see eye to eye about what makes a ‘great read’…in fact, we usually don’t. And that makes it so much more fun, because it helps me appreciate the elements of a story that much more.
For example, I’ve had a long talk with patrons about scary stories. And it was fascinating to learn what scares people in fiction. For me, as we’ve discussed here, it’s a lot about the unknown, and the unexplored. For others, it’s haunted houses. For others, it’s true crime novels. And for another, nothing was scary unless it had a soundtrack (so we headed to the DVD section of the Library). Similar things happen with ‘funny’ books. I delight in absurdities, while some patrons prefer black-as-night humor, and still others prefer humorous non-fiction like Erma Bombeck’s work, because the laughs come from empathy, rather than absurdity.
So imagine my joy when a fellow librarian friend of mine sent out a note to the Social Media last night saying that she was suffering from book stagnation and needed help!
I provide the recommendations she received in this hopes that it might encourage you to come in and find some new books for yourself, as well.
Here were the guidelines:
Books Recently Enjoyed:
The Rosie Project
A Man Called Ove
Military History, Contemporary Romance, Gruesome Details in general (though mysteries are ok in theory), scenes of animals or children suffering
(These are just a few of the huge pile that were suggested–feel free to check them out, or bring in your own list of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ to get some more personalized recommendations!)
Joe Gould’s Teeth: Joe Gould believed he was the most brilliant historian of the twentieth century. So did some of his friends, a group of modernist writers and artists that included E. E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, and Ezra Pound. Gould began his life’s work before the First World War, announcing that he intended to write down nearly everything anyone ever said to him. “I am trying to preserve as much detail as I can about the normal life of every day people,” he explained, because “as a rule, history does not deal with such small fry.” By 1942, when The New Yorker published a profile of Gould written by the reporter Joseph Mitchell, Gould’s manuscript had grown to more than nine million words. But when Gould died in 1957, in a mental hospital, the manuscript was nowhere to be found. Then, in 1964, in “Joe Gould’s Secret,” a second profile, Mitchell claimed that the book had been, all along, merely a figment of Gould’s imagination. Lepore, unpersuaded, decided to find out.
The Soul of an Octopus: Sy Montgomery’s popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, “Deep Intellect”; about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?
Hidden Figures : the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race: Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and the space race, [this book] follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances, and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.
Miss Jane: Brad Watson has mad his career by expanding the literary traditions of the South, in work as melancholy, witty, strange, and lovely as any in America. Inspired by the true story of his own great-aunt, he explores the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, born in rural, early-twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place–namely, sex and marriage. From the country doctor who adopts Jane to the hard tactile labor of farm life, from the highly erotic world of nature around her to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, the world of Miss Jane Chisolm is anything but barren. Free to satisfy only herself, she mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still.
The Spellman Files: In San Francisco, 28-year-old private investigator Isabelle “Izzy” Spellman works for her parents’ detective agency as does her 14-year-old sister Rae (their brother, the perfect and non-nosey one in the family, is a lawyer). The fact that the Spellmans are outlandishly dysfunctional, have trouble with boundaries, and are prejudiced against dentists (including the one Izzy starts dating) just adds to the fun–but then things take a bit of a serious turn when a family member goes missing.
Good luck, and good reading!