Thoughts on choosing books from the Biblioracle:
Why do you ask people for their most recently read books, as opposed to their favorite books of all time? This was the main question asked of me by Laura Miller in her recent article on book recommending, and while you can read my response there, I’d like to expand on it a little further while also betraying some secrets of the oracling business.
The key for any soothsayer/fortune teller is to, above all, keep it vague. This is why horoscopes mention “mysterious strangers” or “unexplained ailments.” Armed with such predictions, the individual is likely to go into the world, and thanks to confirmation bias, have such predictions fulfilled. The bar is low.
If I was setting myself up to provide one of your top reading experiences of all time, I would invariably fall short. Think how rarely those books come down the pipeline. My most recent “life-changing,” “so good I’d skip the season premiere of Mad Men for it” read was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and I read it more than five years ago. I’ve read many truly excellent books since then, but to get into the personal pantheon takes some doing.
My goal, then, is to provide value by recommending a book that you will simply enjoy if read it next. It’s modest, but also real. My theory is that what you’re going to respond to, reading-wise, at any given time depends on all kinds of things, but one of the most important variables, I believe, is what you’ve been reading most recently.
It’s like this. The Biblioracle just got back from vacation. While on vacation, the Biblioracle ate like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. The food was plentiful. The food was good. One morning during vacation he ate his breakfast at the Farmhouse Bakery in Vandalia, Ind., and chose something called The Farm Boy, which is a combination of ham, sausage, bacon, peppers, sausage, onion, sausage, hash browns, cheese, sausage, and eggs smothered in sausage gravy. The portion provides sufficient calories for a hardworking farm hand to do their entire day’s labors. The Biblioracle went home and took a nap of the near-coma variety, which is to say, it was amazing and delicious, but the thought of eating the same thing the next day had me reaching for a bucket.
Upon arriving home from vacation, it was the Biblioracle’s job to prepare dinner for Mrs. Biblioracle, and as he paged through their book of recipes, what looked good to him was “beet salad.”
Under normal circumstances, the Biblioracle does not particularly care for beets, and definitely not in salad form, but his body was crying out for a break, a break from cholesterol and calories and I’m proud to say that the salad (marinated beets, arugula, goat cheese, toasted walnuts) was delicious and his arteries thanked him.
To extend the analogy to reading, one of my most treasured reading experiences of all time was David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I shared my experience reading that book in a different forum, but long story short, I read it during a time when I could give it the attention it demands, when it provided a counterpoint and quasi-antidote to what I’d been recently reading (and writing). At many other times in my life, I quite easily could’ve picked that book up and put it right down.
Dumb luck means I’m going to hit the sweetest of spots with some of these recommendations, just as some will be complete whiffs, but mostly, I think what any of us is looking for from a book is the experience of feeling like it was time well spent.
Time to twist again like we did last month. Put your five most recent reads in the comments below and I’ll tell you what to read next. The Biblioracle will be open for business today from 1 to 3 p.m. Eastern time.
As always, if you have any feedback on the Biblioracle’s recommendations, write at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, we’re now at the magic number of 100 Twitter followers, which means he’ll start providing bonus book recommending content between Biblioracle appearances.
List the last five books you’ve read, and the Biblioracle tells you what to read next.
The Biblioracle will be open today, July 27, from 1 to 3 p.m. ET.