Welcome to the Dear Book Nerd podcast, a bi-weekly show that answers your questions about life, love, and literature! My special guest co-host this week is the luminous and wise Dagmara Dominczyk. Dag and I discuss three listener-submitted questions and provide advice on topics like: what do I do when a long-lost friend has written a book and I hate it? How do I avoid a friend’s poorly thought-out book recommendations? And much, much more. Don’t miss it!
Dear Book Nerd,
I was recently given a book by someone I haven’t seen for 20 years. She asked for my opinion on it, her first novel. I do not read romances or what disparagers would call “chick lit.” I hated it and resented reading every word when my huge stack of well-written books called to me. She has written and asked for my review again. I am so disappointed that she has ” dumbed down” this way. Help?
– RI Grammie
Dear Book Nerd,
I have a situation that is sort of the reverse of an earlier query…
My best friend and I are best friends of the bookish type. As such, each time we exchange gifts for birthdays or other occasions, 99% of the time those gifts are comprised of books. I have been, well, less than thrilled with the titles I received in the last year or so. Granted, for the sake of honesty, I’m not basing my judgment from actually having read them. But the covers, titles, and subject matter lead me to believe these selections would be worse than a slog for me to get through.
For greater context, this is my childhood best friend. We have been buddies since we were in diapers. We went to different colleges in different cities, and still live at a distance that requires several hours worth of driving. So we don’t hang out or talk nearly as often as we’d like. We’ve changed a lot since high school when we saw each other every day, or at least I have. I think this is contributing to the problem – she may truly not know my book tastes anymore, or maybe she wishes I were still the type of person who would enjoy the books she’s picking out for me, or something else entirely.
I am not completely certain, but from what I gather, she has not read these books herself. So it’s not a matter of her wanting me to read something she loves.
Wise and beautiful Book Nerd, I am unsure about how to proceed. Do I sacrifice my reading time out of love for my best friend and push through these books? Do I leave them on my shelf and somehow “never get around to them”? Give them away and never mention them again? More importantly, should I tell her my feelings?
Dear Book Nerd,
I recently spent a couple of hours with someone who, in another life, might have been my soulmate. I haven’t allowed myself to fall for anyone in a very long time so this has hit me hard. Short of the miraculous – and I do believe in miracles – there are many reasons we can never be together. He probably has no idea I even feel this way.
I’d like to read some books around this. Both books that show impossible love working out, and maybe also books with love not working out but the people still going on to have a great friendship and/or wonderful, meaningful life. I’m not looking for books with affairs – it’s not that kind of impossible love, and those leave me with a nasty taste in my mouth. Maybe he’s rich and she’s not, she’s famous and he isn’t, he’s in Hollywood and she’s just ordinary, there’s a big age gap, they live far apart, they’re from different countries, there are visa issues… That kind of thing. Two of my favourite books are The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips (which, by the way, deserves to be better known). I also love the memoir Come To The Edge by Christina Haag. (Ditto.) The quality of the writing is important to me.
He loves to read, which is one of the things that attracts me to him and one of the things I’d like to strike up future conversations with him about. Ideally, I’d like to fall in love with some books I can then recommend to him. We both read literary fiction, though he tends to read guys and I, at the moment anyway, tend to read a lot of female authors. He loves Saunders, Cheever, and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. What other kind of writers, particularly less obvious ones, might he enjoy if he likes those? I’d like to try them. (Chances are they are writers I would like anyway. I’m not forcing myself to do something that would come unnaturally to me, nor am I thinking I “should” read certain books. This is something I’d like to do and would enjoy doing.)
Links Discussed/Alluded To:
Impossible love stories (Milton Public Library)
Ten of the best examples of unrequited love (Guardian)
Unrequited Love (Goodreads list)
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