Years ago I was on a bus with my friend Lisa. She was reading a book by Margaret Atwood called the Blind Assassin. I knew of Margaret Atwood from reading The Handmaid’s Tale in high school. I had also read some of her poetry.
At some point during our bus trip, Lisa finished the Blind Assassin and cried. “It’s so sad,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”
At that moment, several years ago–though I trusted the taste of my friend and though I had respect for Margaret Atwood–I had no desire to read The Blind Assassin.
“I’m not really in the mood for more feminist fiction.” I told myself. During that time of my life I was victim to a diet composed predominately of white male authors.
Years pass. Margaret Atwood releases more books. There is the Oryx and Krake (Oryk and Crates? Crate and Barrel?) book that’s making splashes around the country. O and K turns into a trilogy. I hear people talk about it, but nope, I wasn’t interested.
I have the memory of reading The Handmaid’s Tale in high school nestled on the kitchen floor of a vacation rental I was staying at with my friend’s family. I had the memory of being, me the white male (how noble and sensitive of me!) being racked to desolation by the oppressed female protagonist’s story. As I type this, I think I might have read it twice. But in no way was I interested in reading any more Atwood. Not then.
More time passes by.
I graduate from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I work as a bartender and haphazard actor in the area. I do comedy shows. I move to New York. I stroll through Central Park with my buddy Jules one day. We see a Strand (i.e. legendary independent bookstore whose home is in lower Manhattan) kiosk set up on the southern tip of the park. We had never seen it before. A Strand kiosk this far north! We peruse through books. We buy each other books. It was a good memory.
Weeks pass by.
I’m walking with my girlfriend around Central Park. Even though it’s out of our way and we’re both tired and it’s cold and the sensible thing is to go to a train and go back home, I become hell-bent on finding that kiosk and perusing it with her. The walk goes on and on and on. Maybe it’s not there anymore? Maybe it’s already closed? We see it in the the distance. At last. She and I look at books. I see The Blind Assassin. My girlfriend is looking for a good piece of fiction. Lisa’s recommendation lingers in my mind. I tell her to pick up the Atwood and she does.
Days and weeks.
My gf finally gets around to cracking open The Blind Assassin. She loses interest around page 36.
(My girlfriend catches me writing the above sentence. “What! Are you writing about me?” I explain that I’m not using her real name and it’s not about her as much as it’s about how book recommendations can time travel. I explain Lisa and the bus. She smiles. “It only took me having zero interest in it for you to pick it up. I love that.” Later as she reads a draft of this post she says, “I love how you say, ‘I love that.’ I hope the reader really gets what I mean when I say that…”)
Days and weeks.
I finish whatever I’m reading. I have no idea what this Blind Assassin book is about. But I don’t feel like buying a book and something stirs in my head compelling me to crack open the pages. I do.
Thirty-six pages in and I’m less than impressed. I still have no idea what the story is about. I’m confused by the post-modern collage of newspaper articles, diary entries, and excerpts from the book-within-the-book also called The Blind Assassin.
Next day I get to page 60. Something compels me to keep reading. Before long I’m at page 120. And I love it.
I’m currently a little after page 330 (half-way through) and I still love it. It stirs my imagination and really pushes me to consider what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin while reconsidering what it’s like to live in mine. To me, The Blind Assassin is doing what any good book does at a given period of time.
Years ago was not the time.
Just like the quality of a movie or play fluctuates every time you see it (dat’s a no-brainer!), so does the quality of a book. But there are certain times when a book or movie or play will call to you and it is can only be good.
Today I went for a walk with Jules. We talked about book recommendations that travel through time. Four years ago he bought his friend Into Thin Air an account of the 1996 Mt. Everest Expedition. His friend just got around to reading it a few weeks ago. He didn’t realize the author had been on the expedition. He thought it was just some journalism bullshit. He couldn’t imagine how great it would be.
Something to keep in mind when recommending books or anything to others: Even if they don’t read your book then, they just might do it eventually and when they do, it will be the perfect time and they will thank you.