Reading the Recommended

Courtship

It’s over: the community read is over.  I am done reading books by and about our native son, Zane Grey.  I am reminded of the richness of reading in company–how sharing a book makes it a wonderful experience, even if the book is one you’d never slog through alone.  We’ve had, in community, wonderful discussions about the biases of the times in which Grey wrote, and about how Grey actually introduced fairly rounded female protagonists, eschewing stereotypes for spunky, independent women characters.

We’ve talked about Grey himself, and his frenetic womanizing, and we speculated on whether, today, he’d get a diagnosis and a medication that might calm him down–but might also quench the prolific writing that defined his life.  We’ve marveled at his wife, a smart, loyal person, who stood by her husband even as he dished out real pain.

I am glad I know about Grey, know how he launched from this place, know something about his work.

********
But still.  I was so glad when we wrapped up; labors of love ARE labors, after all.  And my secret, in-head voice was saying, joyfully, “Now I can pick a book I want to read and luxuriate in it!!!!!”

I had the book picked out, too: Street Gang. It’s a history of Sesame Street, and it’s been calling me to read it for some time.  Somehow, it seemed just the right book for this rapidly cooling November–reminiscent, evocative, edgy. Me, the book, a soft knitted throw, the comfy chair…

And then Jim came in and said, “Mom! You GOTTA read this book!”

*************

JIm is my 25 year old son. He has Asperger’s, OCD, and chronic depression.  He’s also smart and funny, a voracious reader, and a film aficionado–he especially likes, in that devoted, all-in, way that high-functioning autistic folks thoroughly like a thing, fantasy and science fiction.  Star Wars is, to him, the perfect melding of his interests.

He has been worried lately, Jim has, about the new Star Wars film coming up.  He is especially concerned about rumors he’s been reading on the Internet that Luke may go over to the dark side.  It’s a trend he’s seeing lately, particularly in superhero movies.  The good guys turn bad, or two pure-of-heart heroes are pitted, somehow, against each other.  There’s a trend toward turning those who walk in the shining light of goodness to the murky darkness of evil.  Jim doesn’t like it, not one little bit.

So Star Wars is weighing heavily.  He reads the on-line reports, and he says, “You know, I don’t think I’m going to watch the movie in the theater, at least not until I know, for sure, whether Luke goes or stays.”

The other tension in Jim’s right-now life is a job search.  He really wants to work. He’s been working with a job coach; he did a weeklong training stint and got great reports.  He crafted a resume and plunged with his mentor into the job-hunt process.  And stalled. It’s been a month now; he expected to have a schedule and a paycheck and a whole new life, really, by November.

It’s hard. He’s stressed.  And then he comes, in eyes lit up, proffering a book–a book he is sure I am going to love.

My choices are limited here.

I smile, take the book, and promise to read it. I will read it, I say, as soon as I finish Street Gang, which, to be scrupulously honest I HAVE begun.  I may only be five pages in, but I HAVE started…

But every day, Jim comes in, grinning in anticipation.  Did you start it yet?  Did you start the book, Mom?

Finally, I put Street Gang aside and open The Courtship of Princess Leia. It’s by a guy named Dave Wolverton.

******

Jim could tell you all about Dave Wolverton; he could tell you about the Jedi Academy books in the Star Wars series, and he could fill you in on who is featured, and what happens, in the Thrawn trilogy.  He and many others, he says, think that trilogy ought to be part of the Star Wars canon…

I have watched two generations of Star Wars; Jim’s big brother, Matt, is fourteen years his senior. We lived the saga with Matt the first time ’round. I gasped in shock to hear Vader say, “Luke!  I am your father!” Watching it for the trillionth time, I caught on when Yoda and Ben were despairing the lack of fresh Jedi heirs, and one of them said, “There is one other…”  Ding!!! Leia!  Of course: Leia!

Those things, now, are things every child grows up aware of, with some kind of cultural assimilated knowledge.  Jim thinks he has ALWAYS known Vader was Luke’s dad.

And he’s particular about his Star Wars books. His stamp of approval on this one tells me something. I DO land in the comfy chair, cozied up in that knitted fluff of a blanket.  I just don’t have the book I intended to have.  I open The Courtship of Princess Leia, and I begin to read: “General Han Solo stood at the command console viewport…”

*****

When someone I care about deeply gives me a book to read, I find both an obligation and a mystery to be solved.  The loving ties that connect me to the person dictate that I must put my own desires aside and read what they’ve recommended.

The alert and interested reader in me needs to figure out why THIS book, and why for ME.

What is it about this book that spoke so clearly, so directly, so deeply to that beloved recommender?  And what is it about this book that told that reader I would like it?  What do they see of me in this book?

In that way–that solving-a-mystery way,–reading even a book I never would have opened, left to myself, becomes an adventure.

****

Wolverton published Courtship in 1994.  It’s set in the time after Leia, Luke, and Han spearheaded the Empire’s defeat.  The heady first intoxication of victory is gone; they are discovering just how hard it is to maintain peace in a world that spreads itself across a star-studded landscape.  The worlds they rule have strange and unpredictable inhabitants.  There are little outpockets of Empire loyalists, too, hoping for their own resurgence, hoping to stage a comeback.

It’s not a relaxing life for our Star Wars heroes, but Han and Leia do still seem to be in love despite separations and the awesome responsibilities of leadership and diplomacy…until the Hapan prince Isolder shows up on the scene.  Isolder is handsome and humble, respectful and intelligent.  He’s ruggedly strong; and he’s fine with women in power–Hapan, in fact, is a matriarchal society.

And–his mother, the strong queen, wants Isolder to marry Leia.

So Han, being Han, spirits Leia away to a world he won in a poker game.  And then the fun begins.

Luke, of course, arrives too–a Jedi calvary man set to rescue his sister.  But then he begins to think Isolder might make a good Jedi.

And then the fun gets funner.

Two hundred pages in, I am hooked; I need to know what happens next.  I am reading, now, for myself and not because my son has recommended.  Now, I am reading so I can know the story.

******

But the annoying analytical English teacher trapped inside my reader’s head has to know: what was it about this book that made Jim think I’d like it?

There are several societies in The Courtship of Princess Leia that are matriarchies; strong women abound.  I like strong female characters in fantasies; Jim and I have discussed that.  Obviously he filed away our discussion, and it surfaced when he read Wolverton’s book.

There are clear-cut lines of good and evil here–no blurring until the good guys and the bad guys are indiscernible.  Jim likes that, and likes to share it.  I have to say I’m with him there, too.

There’s an exciting love story, filled with rivalry and endearing foibles, but the sense that at the end, the people who are meant to be together WILL be together.  And that, my friend, is about as comforting as a read can get.

****

I will finish Courtship tonight, and I’ll go find Jim, where he sits with a game guide in his lap, navigating Final Fantasy X.  I’ll tell him what I liked about the book and ask his opinion on the outcome.  He’ll get to a save point, flip the guide book upside down, and eyes shining, he’ll tell me the scenes he liked best from The Courtship of Princess Leia.  I’ll point out the things I know we both appreciate.  He will ask me if I noticed certain things–the ruins on Dathomir, the language clues.

We’ll have a point of intersect.  It may only last 15 minutes, and then Jim may start returning, edgily, his attention to his video game system.  I will read the cues and depart, but it will all be fine, because the message will have been sent, received and returned. Circuit completed.

******

When someone I honor–my son, my friend, my boss, my niece–is passionate about a book, and passionately recommends that I read it, it’s kind of an ironclad obligation. There’s no way NOT to read the book and remain honest, open, kind.  But the reading should be an adventure.

I read because I care about the recommender, but I read, too, to learn more about me.  In that book, the recommender saw shards and pebbles, scraps and fragments, that whispered to him or her, “Pam!  That’s just like Pam!  She’s got to read this!”    And they brought the book, delivered it, two-handed, heartily generous.  “Here,” he said, “here. You’ve GOT to read this.”

My first gift is my willingness–though maybe not, at that point, enthusiasm.  And my next gift is my openness  to discovery; I crack open the cover, I let myself fall in.  The plunge is rewarded; I learn more about my recommender.  I learn more about ME. I read through to the end, and I find much to marvel at. And then, there’s the fun of sharing.

****

I am GLAD, now, I’ve read The Courtship of Princess Leia.  I cherish the discussion Jim and I had about Leia and Han, Luke and Isolder, about nations run by women, nations run by men, and the kind of world we might have if that power balance was truly blended.

But tonight—tonight I sneak upstairs to draw a bath, to slip Street Gang out from under my pajamas, to sink into the steaming water, and to read this book of my own choosing. Back from the galaxy far, far away, I travel in time to the 1960’s.  The reading is enriched by the experience I’ve had inside a recommended book–but I revel, reading  the book I chose.

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16 thoughts on “Reading the Recommended

  1. Thank you, Pam. That gives me a new perspective on the issue of feeling obligated to read recommendations from friends and family. I actually feel trapped and insulted when friends mention that dirty “should” word; “You should read this.” Unless the recommendation is made based on the thoughtful knowledge of what I read, I don’t appreciate one assuming that I will love that romance (sci-fi,chick-lit, whatever) novel from a genre that I would never pick up.

    Then again, I have discovered some wonderful books that I wouldn’t have given a second though to reading based on the recommendations of friends,

    Hey, that gives me an idea for a post on the UnderratedReads page. Thanks for that idea, too!
    .

    1. I know…there’s a bit of a balancing act required when recommending books…as well as thoughtful consideration of WHO we are recommending to and for…I am looking forward to the Under-rated Books post!!!

  2. A very lovely post Pam…I guess if I can talk to Jim, we will have a lovely chat about Starwars…I love the Ewoks in particular lol 😉 I learned a lot from this post…Love, hugs and prayer to you and to Jim. 🙂

  3. Dear Pam,

    This is such a lovely post.

    I loved reading it 🙂

    So many subtle nuances this one has. About Star Wars–about relation between a mother and her beloved child, about tensions son is going through–about their little triumphs, about the books in general, about reading, about recommendations, about friendship, about what makes stories interesting and so on 🙂

    I would love to read this book some day. Your son is indeed blessed to have you as you are blessed to have him 🙂

    I am not a great reader myself. So far a few blogging friends have recommended me a few books I haven’t been able to read. 🙂 But this is the way I am. I rarely read books. I watch films. I would like to read this one someday. Since I have read recommendation so beautiful–it must stick to my memory now and some day it might prompt me to read it as well 🙂

    Thanks for sharing with is 🙂

    Love and light ❤

    Anand 🙂

    1. I am a book person since my childhood, but I respect and love films, too–and any ecommednations you would share will be highly prized! Thanks for your thoughtful response, Anand!

      1. Oh I will surely share recommendations for films 🙂

        Our tastes might vary. Off the top of head :

        David Lynch’s films:
        Inland Empire/The Lost Highway

        Quentin Tarantino/Tony Scott’s

        True Romance

        Steven Soderbergh’s

        Schizopolis

        Cheers,
        Anand 🙂

      2. Oh, but they are not family pictures like Star War ones. So I would suggest not watching them together 🙂 Some gore, profanity and violence is there. I respect them because of their scripts and art 🙂

      3. Vibrant, How about David Lynch’s Eraserhead? I also loved Grindhouse/Death-Proof with Thanksgiving in the middle. Took me back to my teenage years. Tarantino and Rodriguez got it totally right!

      4. Oh I didn’t like Grindhouse and didn’t watch Deathproof. It was too much for me. Eraserhead is also a disgusting film. Very disturbing and magical exploration of psyche in black and white 🙂 Thanks for the discussion 🙂

        Love and light ❤

        Anand 🙂

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