Cherish the books no one else seems to like
“Child Reading” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1890
There’s a book that I love that no one else knows about. It caught my eye in the college library, magically tucked away right where I liked to read in the fiction section, curled up safely in a corner. The cover was oddly attractive, with dandelions framing a three-faced figure. His sharp faces looked angry. But the fox on the spine looked good.
A few years later, I found a new copy of this book, Pat O’Shea’s The Hounds of the Morrigan, with a new cover: a wonderful painting by Kinuko Craft that I loved even though it didn’t look like the memory of my younger self from the book. The book is not lush and rich but crisp and rambling, a story about Pidge and her sister Brigit, about Cooroo the fox and the magic sweets and many more details that I remember ramblingly. A spider named Napoleon. Wanting dogs to be nice. The cover was not my cover, but I was still happy to see the book available again: maybe someone else would read it!
I still only know one person who knows this story. I know there are other readers, but there feels how I love this one alone. You don’t have a book like that? And isn’t that a strange feeling?
What I’m not sure is why this feeling seems so strange now. I have said before that I didn’t know for most of my life that being a reader could be a thing, a hobby, a kind of fandom. Reading was exactly what I did between climbing trees and riding a bike. As I got older, I had a friend who read what I read, fantasy novels passed between us while our classmates read true crime and thrillers. It wasn’t until my first job in children’s publishing that I came into regular contact with people who had read at least some of the same books I had – books we loved when we were kids, books we read for work, classics like The book of three and Above the sea, under the stone and new loves like Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Series and MT Anderson To feed.
Reading is a solitary activity, but at some point it became more than that. I searched for like-minded people on LiveJournal, on Twitter, on long-dead websites and platforms; I made more bookish friends, I worked in a bookstore, I went back to publishing. I’ve recommended books to clients and colleagues and taken their recommendations in turn, and somewhere along the way I’ve discovered the absolute joy that comes when two (or more) people who really, really like a book start talking about it. This joy is contagious in the best possible way. I feel like it multiplies exponentially. It feels like it needs to be shared.
There are a lot of good things (and a lot of terrible things) about being online, but the book community – any community that allows you to have those fun (and sometimes angry) times with other people – is the place to be. one of the good things. Sure, reading is lonely, but the full experience of a book doesn’t have to be. There are so many ways to find book connections now – with other readers, with the authors themselves, with essays, articles and blogs and even a single tweet that gives you a fresh perspective on a beloved book. since a long time.
And so, the lost books, the ones no one seems to remember or ever read, the authors who never made it to the top of the community, at least in their own corner of the world, these are increasingly feeling more alone. It’s as if they occupy the space differently or vibrate at a different frequency in my mind. I to know there are people who love it too The Hounds of the Morrigan, who would also give up a lot just to get a peek at O’Shea’s unfinished sequel. There are other Jo Clayton fans, readers who fell in love with a green girl named Serroi and the woman with the diadem on her head and all the many books that followed. I have never yet met anyone else who is even heard by Kathleen Sky Witchbut I know they are there too. Guardian of the Storms? The guardian of the light of Isis? I almost thought I had dreamed that one up until it was re-released a while ago.
These are the books I buy whenever I find them on used shelves, ready with an extra copy to shove into a friend’s hand if she shows the slightest curiosity. I’ve done this enough times with Franny Billingsley Carillon that I no longer feel alone in my love for her.
This is one of the most practical and proactive ways to find more readers of your most popular and least popular books: find copies and give them to people. (Assuming you can find copies. Assuming they’re not rare and haven’t been out of print for decades.) But don’t you sometimes want serendipity? That feeling of stumbling upon a copy of a book you forgot you were looking for, but instead stumbling across someone who also loves that book? There’s something magical about these books, neglected, hidden in the open, our own coffee-stained and covered copies. Like they have secrets that you can’t discuss with someone else unless they say certain things first. Like just saying the title to the right person is kind of a spell.
Online there are books around which huge communities have sprung up, massive and passionate fandoms that trade fanart and the greatest Tumblr posts and quotes and fics and jokes and memes and dreamcasts. There are TV adaptations that turn years-old novels into bestsellers, until you can’t go anywhere without seeing someone reading one, or spotting an abandoned paperback on a car seat. Metro. It’s exhilarating to see these things happen, to see books fly into the stratosphere of pop culture, brilliantly lit and reflected in a million shining eyes.
But some books, like some readers, are wallflowers. The projector could still be nice. A little more sparkle, a few more pairs of eyes. A minor revival. But it’s cozy here in the corner, with a wall to lean against while we read. Don’t we all love wallflowers? What are yours?
Molly Templeton lives and writes in Oregon and spends as much time as possible in the woods. Sometimes she talks about books on Twitter.