Unwanted Reading Recommendations: Borrowing, Returning, and Remembering Books

What do you do when somebody loans you a book that you don’t want to read? Has this ever happened to you? It has happened to me a few times, and each time is awkward.

It usually goes like this: the person hands me a book and gushes over it. They mention that there are thirty more books in the series that they want me to borrow as soon as I am done with the first one.

In one particular instance, I took the highly recommended book home. I kept that book for a few weeks, allowing it to stab guilt and anxiety into my heart each time I saw it laying on the bookshelf, untouched. I knew from the dust jacket that I didn’t want to read it. Should I give it back the next time I see the person and pretend to have read it? Should I bring it with me the next time I visit this person’s home and slyly put it back on the bookshelf without this person’s knowledge? Should I just read the darn thing? Should I be honest?

These are all of the questions I wrestled with. What to do? I actually don’t remember what I did. I probably ended up returning it face-to-face and explaining that it wasn’t my thing, but why was that so hard?

Books I have swallowed

I think perhaps that I am a people-pleaser. In fact, I know that this is my personality, so I don’t want to disappoint my friends or family members when they hand me things to read. I’m known for being the “reader,” so I should be able to digest anything, right? Well, unfortunately the fact that I read a lot has also refined my tastes. I find that many of the books I have swallowed are not books that other people attempt to swallow. Therefore, I do not attempt to recommend heavy literary tomes to friends whom I know just want to read the latest Alexander McCall Smith, whom I adore, by the way. Anyway, I think my anxiety over reading such loaned books is the fact that I want to please the person who has loaned it to me. I don’t want to disappoint them. I don’t want to have to tell them that their favorite book is NOT my favorite book, not by a long shot. I want to avoid all conflict and remain friends.

Okay, so now here’s my confession. If you see the book you loaned me on this list, I’m sorry. But I think it’s time to come clean. Here are some of the books I have been unable to finish.

Remembering Isaac: The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp by Ben Behunin (Sorry, Kelly. It just wasn’t my thing! I did read half of it . . .)

One of the Children of the Promise series books by Dean Hughes. (I can’t remember which one, but this guy has written more than ninety books, so who am I to judge.)

One that I forced myself to finish but hated every minute of was Paradise Park by Allegra Goodman. This was my fault. I bought the book for my sister as a birthday gift. I hadn’t read it and didn’t know how terrible it was. We decided to have a mini book club and read it together. Well, I’m pretty sure we both feel that every minute spent on that book was wasted.

There’s also the other side of borrowing books. I have discovered many hidden gems because of recommendations from my friends. Sandra Dallas’s Persian Pickle Club is one of those gems. (Thanks, Kelly!) Another is Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. (Thanks again, Kelly!) I would have never picked these books up on my own, but I’m glad that I have read them. Boy’s Life is one of my new favorite books thanks to a dear friend who let me borrow it.

And then there are the manuscripts. Having worked as an editor, people often ask me to proofread their books. A few I’ve enjoyed, a few I’ve suffered through, and a few I’ve downright refused to look at. I want to help people and I want to be a good friend and neighbor, but if I’m not offered payment for my services, they usually aren’t rendered, especially for long documents. If you are a hairdresser, I wouldn’t ask you for a free haircut. If you are a dentist, I wouldn’t demand a free cleaning. My editing skills are just as important as any other career or profession.

One of the books I most enjoyed editing is called Shadow on the Shining Path by Garland Dennett. It is available as an e-book here for only $3.95 and is about his fascinating experiences in Peru while dealing with the terrorist organization Shining Path. Here are the opening lines:

“It has taken me twenty years to find the courage to tell the story of those I have killed. A friend told me I am searching for a false expiation. Perhaps he is right. In any case, it is time to name the names of those who died in Peru because of me. It is time to give a fitting obituary to those for whose deaths I was responsible. This is their story.

“And it is the story of the man we all sought after or fled from. Abimael Guzman, founder of Shining Path. Some know part of the story of his capture. Theirs is an arrogant and an incomplete fiction. I am left with enough arrogance of my own to believe that only I know the whole of it. This is the whole story. It is the story of those I killed.”

Interesting, no?

And then there are the books I know I’ve read but I honestly can’t remember a thing about them. They were THAT good! They are:

The English American by Alison Larkin
Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey
The Butterfly House by Marcia Preston
Once Upon a Day by Lisa Tucker
Tara Road by Maeve Binchy
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Driftless Area by Tom Drury
Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman

I could go on. Perhaps that these books fail to spark any sort of memory says more about me and my reading comprehension than it does about these books. Perhaps I should reread some of them. But I keep a list of all the books that I’ve read, and next to these titles I have typed “No,” which means I would not recommend them.

So, how do you return a book you don’t really want to read? What books have you suffered through for a friend or family member? What hidden gems have you discovered because of a friend’s recommendation? What books have you forgotten?

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