Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The magical, mystical path linking book and reader
Julia Keller CULTURAL CRITIC - Chicago Tribune
July 26, 2009
Every book tells a story. Sometimes the best story it tells -- enthralling, astonishing, unexpected -- has nothing to do with the narrative concocted by the author. Surrounding every book is a meta-story, a radiance that shifts and changes with each set of hands that picks it up, flips impatiently through the opening pages and finally finds the page labeled "Chapter 1."The extra story is how that book made its way to you in the first place.

Do me a favor. Take a look at the books on your shelves or your coffee table or your nightstand, in your purse or your backpack or your back pocket. Recall, if you can, how you first became aware of each one and, once aware, how you acquired it. Try to pinpoint the moment when a certain book intersected with your consciousness. Some books, no doubt, were recommended by friends or colleagues or critics. Or maybe you found the book in the basement of your house when you first moved in, stuck in a dusty old cardboard box left by the previous owners, back by the hot water heater.
The tale of how a certain book came into your life is, in effect, a courtship story: The chance encounter, the first shy glance, the recognition of a shared sensibility and finally -- ah, bliss! -- the consummation.

Many and various are the ways that books spring into our hands. It's rarely a straightforward process, a fact that must give publishers fits. They spend millions on marketing, but in the end, books come to us through routes that are so specific and chance-ridden that even the savviest advertising strategy must, of necessity, be frustratingly imprecise. Two events brought this home to me: The death a week ago of Frank McCourt, whose 1996 memoir "Angela's Ashes" became a success beyond the wildest dreams of McCourt or his publishers; and the fact that I recently stumbled upon "The Painter of Battles" by Arturo Perez-Reverte, published in paperback this year by Random House.

Read her full piece at the Chicago Tribune online.

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