How Do You Choose Just One Book?

How Do You Choose Just One Book?

So if you’ve been paying attention, you know that I have the very cool (I hope) Carlin Gettliffe from Project Ontheread coming to stay with me. And it’s my job to pick one book for him to read while he’s here.

Now, as you might have guessed, this is no easy task for me. HOWEVER, never let it be said that I backed away from a challenge.

Before I get to my decision making process, Lanceschaubert made an observation in the comments on Monday that he would get to know Carlin a little bit first and then choose the book from a short list of what he called “crucial books for life.” He felt this was not intended to be just about your all time favorite book.

So I agree about wanting to choose an important book versus just a favorite book, but I’m going to have to disagree on the catering side, although to be fair, Lance was not the only one to mention catering his recommendations to his audience. In fact, even I do this all the time in my normal life.

However, I believe that with Project Ontheread, Carlin is looking for recommendations that are specifically NOT catered to him. He’s staying with strangers for exactly that experience—to read books that have been meaningful to his hosts, and see if they will have meaning in his life.

Actually, I haven’t met Carlin yet, so I have no idea if that’s what he’s thinking, but hey, that’s what he’s getting here, so hope that was your plan, Carlin!

But what is an important book, anyway? (JASON!! What’s an omelet?)

Can it be a book that has had an impact on my life that I also happened to love? Is that even possible?? Or do we have to struggle with a book in a “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” kind of approach.

Ooh, this is actually really interesting given my book choice, but since I’m not revealing that today, we’ll have to come back to this.

Anyway, here’s how I chose my book:

Well, I noticed that many of the books on Carlin’s journey so far have been non-fiction. However, the first thing I did in making my own selection was rule out non-fiction.

Cue big buzzer sound à la Family Feud.

Sorry, non-fiction. There’s a lot of big, important non-fiction out there. I’ve even read some of it and pretended to read plenty more. However, in my heart of hearts, I’m a fiction reader, so I just wouldn’t feel right recommending non-fiction.

The second thing I noticed is that a lot of people recommend the “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” sort of book which is also often called “great literature.”

Yeah. I didn’t choose one of those either. Not only am I a fiction first kind of gal, but I’m really a lover of commercial fiction.

What can I tell you? I love a great story!

Perhaps you can’t dissect every line and word for symbolism; or maybe you can. Either way, it doesn’t really matter to me. That’s not the kind of reader I am.

In fact, in a article just today, “Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre Fiction Is Disruptive Technology,” author Lev Grossman discusses literary fiction versus genre fiction. I particularly liked this quote:

“But plot is an extraordinarily powerful tool for creating emotion in readers. It can be used crudely, but it’s also capable of fine nuance and even intellectual power, even in the absence of serious, Fordian prose.”

When I thought about what book to choose for Ontheread, I wanted to choose a book that I had not only loved and felt had an impact on me, but also one that I thought represented the kind of book that I most love to read—the oft maligned commercial fiction.

I feel strongly that there’s a place for books that are read purely for entertainment purposes. But I also think there’s a tremendous amount that can be learned—that I have learned—from reading commercial fiction. And I really wanted my book choice to represent that side of me.

I’ve learned about friendship, betrayal, love and loss. How to be a good daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend, and neighbor. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about relationships and what kind of person I want to be. And I learned a lot about what kind of person I don’t want to be.

So just to be clear, I don’t want to pretend like I was raised by books. Or wolves. Or books about wolves, you know? I have wonderful parents and my core values came from them and were learned at home. But I do come from a family of readers. And I learned a lot from those books.

The book I chose describes a world I have very little (ok no) exposure to. I have no real way of knowing how much is true or not, except from other books, news stories, history, and common sense. But I find, with every read, that there are incredible lessons of friendship, loyalty, love, integrity, betrayal and more within those pages.

Not to mention a damn good story.

I am enjoying the book as much on this read as I can ever remember enjoying it on countless reads before.

I can’t wait for Carlin to get here and read it. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

And in the meantime, I love seeing your choices! Keep telling me which book YOU would choose in the comments.

  • deseraemcg
    Posted at 14:33h, 23 May Reply

    Having to choose one book might destroy me, because whenever I read a book, I expect it to change me in SOME way. The best book I’ve ever read (EVER) was A LITTLE PRINCESS and the runner up to that, in my opinion, was PRINCESS ACADEMY. But I have no idea what ONE BOOK I’d recommend.

    THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, probably. Because if someone HAD to read a book of my choosing, I’d want to choose something that represented, as you said, the kind of story I enjoy most. And that is one that reflects a life of many trials— love, loss, betrayal, redemption, bravery, compassion— there were so many things in that little mouse’s tale…

    Yes. I’ll go with Despereaux. What did you choose, Michelle?

    Warm wishes,

  • Melanie Bennett
    Posted at 14:34h, 23 May Reply

    I am now completely obsessed with his project. And I had no room for more obsessions. Thanks A LOT, Michelle. And if you want to know, I’m totally lame and would pick To Kill A Mockingbird. I love that book. I have a kid named Atticus, for pity’s sake. But I might also pick Travels With Charly by John Steinbeck because it’s pretty perfect for what Carlin is doing right now. And the fact that it’s not a long read may be a super bonus for your husband.

    • Kimberly Sabatini
      Posted at 14:42h, 23 May Reply

      She’s a killer, isn’t she??? LOL! If I were to pick one book…oh…how can you make me pick just one book??? I think right now my book to recommend to everyone within shouting distance is THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. It is…heart work and I aspire. <3

    • Wolfson Literary
      Posted at 14:43h, 23 May Reply

      Oh, serious props for naming your kid Atticus. Your selection of TKAM would clearly be no run of the mill easy way out.

      My husband and I used to talk about naming a daughter Ayla because she was so kick ass in Clan of the Cave Bears, a book that was a serious contender for my choice here, but ultimately lost out, in part because the series got so bad that I didn’t even buy the most recent book. But CotCB remains a favorite. But we didn’t name our daughter Ayla. 🙂

  • Sara B. Larson
    Posted at 14:46h, 23 May Reply

    Well, I already answered the question in the last post. I can’t wait to find out your book!

    I just saw that you posted the picture that Erin took of you. It’s gorgeous!! But you’re being silly–yes, Erin is extremely talented at photography, but she’s not a miracle worker. Well, not enough to make you unrecognizable in person. Anyway, the point is that you’re very pretty and Erin just showcased it very well. 🙂

  • Jennifer Wilck
    Posted at 14:58h, 23 May Reply

    I love the way you’ve approached picking out the perfect book.

  • Daisy Whitney
    Posted at 15:44h, 23 May Reply

    Now that you’re talking commercial fiction, my favorite commercial fic read is Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin. I’ve read that 3 times and the only other novel I’ve read 3 times is Where She Went.

  • Issy
    Posted at 22:42h, 23 May Reply

    Well, if it was me picking a book that I loved and that impacted me (because it’s -always- about me), I would definitely go with Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery. That book grew with me, revealing nuances every year that I had missed the year before. Plus, it’s a great example of (slightly dark) children’s literature(… and I prefer Emily over Anne.)

    If I was going to go with something published in this century, I’d have to think on that one– so many good books have been published lately.

  • hjgarrett
    Posted at 23:25h, 23 May Reply

    I would say then, pick one with either a high impact in your life, or you’re emotionally tied to. I know several who roll their eyes when I talk about New Moon by Stephanie Meyer. But I am deeply emotionally tied to one of the characters in it. New Moon released about a week after my fiance’ of 3 yrs literally disappeared and abandoned me. As I read each chapter, I followed Bella through her hurt & pain and found myself being comforted and healed by Jacob’s friendship and loyalty. So much so that I wrote down the first words that flowed through my mind, and kept them taped to my mirror to remind me… “By the time it was over, I closed the pages and stared at the cover. My soul was now safely nestled amongst the words, forever to be guarded by Jacob’s hands.” It may or may not sit well with someone else, but for me, there were days that the only reason I could breathe was because of that book.

    • Aurelia Blue
      Posted at 12:46h, 25 May Reply

      I agree ^^^ New Moon was an extremely powerful book about love and loss and then love… I sat up all night in a roach motel in Gatlinburg, while my vacationing family slept, reading it under a funny little green light that illuminated the control panel of the window air conditioner, it moved me so much. I absolutely loved how Meyer left those calendar pages blank month after month. That’s how it feels…. it’s just how it feels. Sometimes a special friend is the only way you can move one. Often times, actually, I think. I am a fan of the The Twilight Saga simply because the love story is so very true to real life. I’d never even been tempted to read about Vamps and Weres until someone gave me Twilight. I fell so in love with the love story that I stayed with it. I think all the aspects of loving relationships are well traversed in the saga, but New Moon was by far the most heartbreaking and heartening to read. I’m sad when readers dismiss it. I’m very sorry to hear of your experience by the way “hjgarrett.” I hope so much more love and friendship has flowed into your life since those days.

  • Aurelia Blue
    Posted at 13:11h, 25 May Reply

    sighhhhhhhh… that should be “move on,” up there… I’m a terrible speller and gramarian… it’s noted in the AureliaB owner’s handbook (section 9-er, paragraph 10-ish…with regard to Style verses Correctitudity…somewhere around there…) due the fact I’m so bad sometimes… sorry 😉

    On another note, major props to you, Michelle for going with commercial fiction!! I too, have learned a lot about about the kind of person I do and do not want to be from reading these types of stories. It’s just this kind of detail that made you a great, and definitely very interesting, person to chose a book for this project. I am dying to know what book you utlimately picked… baited breath…. happening right here…right now….tell us…. pretty pleeeeeeeeeeeaase???

    I’d also like to add that as a writer and reader and lover of all art, that I sincerely detest the system of “if you like this one, then you should read that one.” My sister is a librarian (actually, she’s a media specialist, it says so on her diploma that she worked super hard for six years to earn, so I feel the need to be correct here, even if only in the parentheses, haha), and this is her method of finding reading material for her students. I’m not saying she hasn’t sent some awesome reads my way, but I’m still a huge devotee to browsing the shelves. It really bugs me when I log into a major retail site or flick on my e-reader and see a list of reccomendations made soley on the last few purchases I made. I’m sorry, but how can anyone or… thing… figure out my tastes when they/ it have no idea why I was drawn to that particular book, or even if I purchased it for myself? Personally, I feel a little cheated when being “catered” to. I like this project’s premise of “show me what made a difference to you,” very much. I think we can miss a lot if we don’t diversify. Our writing is also cheated.

  • Aurelia Blue
    Posted at 13:48h, 25 May Reply

    *grammarian*… can I just blame it on the sleepless baby or having 3 teen kids or something, lol…. solar flares….it was definitely the solar flares..

  • Aurelia Blue
    Posted at 13:50h, 25 May Reply

    *bated” breath… I’m done..
    let the collective cheers commence… Happy Memorial Day weekend to those of you so inclined…bye….zzzzzz

  • Carlin Gettliffe (@gettliffe)
    Posted at 20:21h, 26 May Reply

    “However, I believe that with Project Ontheread, Carlin is looking for recommendations that are specifically NOT catered to him.”

    That’s exactly right. I’m less interested in knowing what people think I might care about than I am in what themselves care about. One thing that’s quickly emerging is that there are many different aspects of books that people respond to: the story, ideas, descriptions, characters, poetry of language, etc. They all bleed into each other of course, but each aspect is in itself a “language” for communicating something the author finds important. I love the idea of reading books that aren’t in my native “tongue”, which tends to be ideas, and opening myself to being changed by what I read in a way that’s actually guided by someone else’s experience of a book’s worth.

  • The Empty Pen
    Posted at 18:28h, 28 May Reply

    I immediately think of books I haven’t read in years (I tend not to reread books)…and I’m afraid that maybe they aren’t so good after all. The pressure to impress is in my own head, but there none the less.

    I’d go with “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks.

  • On The Couch « Wolfson Literary Agency
    Posted at 09:54h, 29 May Reply

    […] I’ve been talking up this book I chose and how I chose it. And I can’t wait to tell you what the book actually is. In fact, I’m going to do that […]

  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? | Wolfson Literary Agency
    Posted at 08:08h, 06 May Reply

    […] Well I mean, first there was the agonizing decision–if I had to choose just one book to recommend, what book would it be?? […]

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