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In Futile Search of a Book I Love


Let me be clear: loving books is my thing. I have so many books I love. I find them everywhere: on friends' bookshelves. In waiting rooms. Online. There's an anarchist bookstore in Philly that sends books to prisoners, leaving whatever they don't want out on the street for free. Pennsylvania inmates and I must have diametrically opposed literary tastes, because that small strip of concrete is my haven. For years, I couldn't walk from my house to the corner store to get a carton of milk without piling five new paperbacks into my arms.

So this assignment yielded unexpected failure for me: "Find a recently published book you love and write a favorable book review about it."

I'm not going to name any names here, in the interest of keeping my nascent bridges to the literary world intact. Let's just say I scoured the Internet for explosive new novels, ordered the most colorful among them--literally: a cover glaring brilliant reds and blues and yellows--and delightedly dove in. So certain was I that I'd love this book that it took me a couple hours to realize how much I was struggling. The prose was glitteringly incisive and the plot tightly wound. The suspense, if delicately strewn, was there. But the characters were like seashells: pink and gleaming, perfectly photogenic, and long-emptied of whatever life might have resided there.

Deciding that a favorable book review would be impossible under these circumstances, I chalked the twenty bucks and two hours and moved on. The next novel I chose--a reactionary move, certainly--was long-winded and messy, dialogue-heavy, the tale of a roaming man of unclear motive and terrible luck. Just my kind of thing, I figured. Precision be damned! I told myself this for one hundred and fifty long pages, pages of incredibly dense text and winding prose and interminable misadventure and sporadic moments of hilarity and a total lack of tension. Then, considerably more than two hours later, I threw the book at the wall.

So I'm back to the first novel, which I told myself I'd enjoy more now that I knew how torturous the alternative was. This was true for a couple chapters. I just finished it; I still hate it. Some assignments, I'm learning, literally cannot be completed according to stated guidelines. I'm fifty dollars out, and I've spent a solid couple days immersed in artistic decisions I hope never to emulate. On the bright side, though, this blog post was a lot of fun to write; and though my book review will likely not include enough praise to warrant publication, I will undoubtedly achieve a more judicious critique than I have here. That will take focus and energy, which will sharpen my skills, which is what the assignment is all about, anyway. So. All is well.

I'm planning my next trip to Philly, though. I can see it now. I'll hop off the trolley, walk up Baltimore Avenue, sink my hands into rain-spattered cardboard boxes like trunks of gold. Pull out worn spines, front covers rubbed raw, stained pages, words that feel like home.

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