Sunday, June 19, 2011

Maybe How to Live

(Where we will begin.)

I recently had an experience that, if being completely honest, most booksellers would call at the very least wince-inducing: the request for a book recommendation to serve as a gift, and a gift-giver who seems to know absolutely nothing of the recipient except for their age. "I'm looking for a book for a guy who's turning 34", for example. And there the information well seems to run dry. It's like when you would go to company barbeques with your parents and someone would say "Oh, the Whatzitfaces have a son your age, you'll have someone to play with." Except you're a girl and you're 9 and boy children are gross bizarre aliens to you and it turns out that Junior is actually 7 which is a GIANT difference and you both have to sit in the backyard and guess at everything to find anything at all in common with this other life form. Didn't you hate that? These moments can be sort of like that.

The nice thing is that sometimes they can take a turn for the thoughtful. This customer (shopping for a recent high school grad) did have some vague parameters for the book she was looking for, and they were as follows: "Nice", "something that will teach {the reader} something, maybe how to live", "with some pretty pictures or something", and "not a stupid book" (the latter was repeated many times).

She did not say: inspirational, motivational, uplifting.

She did (essentially) say: smart.

I liked that.

Sometimes I think that, particularly in this season of graduations, transitions, and new beginnings, it's easy to default to words like "inspirational", when what we are really looking for out of the world is "intelligent with joy". One is prescriptive, the other descriptive -- one kind of book tells you how to be, the other shows ways that people are and, perhaps most illuminating and comforting, how people have been before you. Of course, books intended to motivate and inspire can serve a wonderful purpose, and sometimes that sort of finger-wagging "just do it, damnit" tone is exactly what one needs to do some bootstrap lifting when life inevitably is very hard. But in general, I am of the opinion that a book that makes your world bigger is better for you than a book that makes it smaller and more about you.

And this is how my vague and tight-lipped gift-giving customer and her could-be-anyone invisible gift-givee have ended up with a copy of Maira Kalman's The Principles of Uncertainty. I recommended this with complete confidence in its ability to meet her parameters.

It's nice:

It has pretty pictures:

It will teach the reader something (maybe how to live):

And it's not stupid. It's smart:

But not, you know, too smart:

And (last but not not least appealing) about we've got it in hardcover for a mere $12.98 (not listed on our website, as it is a remainder, but we've got plenty of copies. Just give us a call).

Intelligent with joy. Off you go, could-be-anyone. This is good for you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An excellent choice and an excellent bargain. This was my bedtime reading until I finished it a few nights ago, alas.