So you’re talking books with someone and you find they’ve never read one of your very favorite authors. “Oh, you HAVE to read Gosling McGooseberry!” you cry.
“Okay,” says your victim. “Which book?”
What’s your answer? You want to recommend a good book, of course, to show why you’re so wild about McGooseberry, but do you want to suggest his BEST book, knowing that everything from there is downhill? Surely you don’t want to start them on the worst book, either. (It happens every time I watch a TV program someone recommends. “They’re usually better than that,” I’m told.)
The answer can be easy in some cases. Some authors don’t give you much choice. With J.R.R. Tolkien you basically get The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, though there are other books, of course. And anyone reading one of the new popular series really needs to start at the first book in the row. It isn’t essential, but it is kind of designed that way.
But with, say, Agatha Christie, who wrote numerous novels about a variety of continuing characters, where do you start someone who has simply never gotten around to her? One of the short story collections, a Miss Marple or a Poirot novel, one of the novels that was turned into a movie so your target can download the video and pretend they read the book?
A Book Fair volunteer is trying to introduce people to an entire genre of music she feels is neglected, and recently addressed a group of high school kids. “I showed them the second-best performances,” she confided in me. “I told the teachers if they’d have me back, I’d bring the really good ones.” Was this the proper strategy or just one of those brainstorms you have at 3 A.M. and should forget to write down?
As a Book Fair manager, I would simply say “Buy them ALL, and go through them at your leisure”, but what with all the blogging and tweeting and Facebooking, who has leisure? So I thought I’d inquire of the blog-reading community, and maybe get together a nice Christmas shopping list for somebody. Where would you start a reader’s encounters with William Faulkner, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ray Bradbury, Raymond Chandler, or who-else-might-be? The assignment is: Who is one of your favorite authors and where should a new reader start? And WOULD you start them with the best, second-best, most typical, first?
NO points will be awarded for saying “Well, I wouldn’t start them on Gosling McGooseberry, who’s a crummy writer and was just lucky Ed Wood decided to make a movie out of The Road to Berwyn”. Excuses for not reading don’t pay for the light bulbs and toilet paper.