Reading Habits

One Man’s Frenzy: Loving Books Nobody Knows About

There is a book that I really like, but no one knows about it. It caught my attention in the middle school library, magically sitting in the same place as my favorite fiction section, tucked away safely in a corner. The cover is very attractive, with dandelions outlining the figure of three faces. The pointed face looked angry. The fox on the spine looks good though.

A few years later, I found a new copy of the book, Pat O’Shea’s Morrigan’s Hound, with a new cover: a gorgeous Kinuko Craft drawing that I adore, even though it doesn’t look like it fits so well with my youthful memories. This book is not flashy and rich, but it’s full of energy and fighting spirit. It tells the story of Peach and his sister Brigitte, about Kuro the fox and the magic candy, and many more details that I can’t remember, like a spider named Napoleon and hoping the hounds get friendly. The cover isn’t mine, but I’m still excited to see this book on the market again: maybe someone else will read it!

I still only know one person who knows this story. I know there are other readers, but it feels like I’m the only one who likes this book. Don’t you have such a book? Isn’t it a strange feeling?

I’m not sure why this feeling seems so strange now. I’ve said before that for most of my life, I didn’t know that being a reader could be a thing, a hobby, a fan. Reading is what I did in between tree climbing and biking. As I got older, I had a friend who read what I read, and fantasy was passed between us while our classmates read true crime and thrillers. It wasn’t until I got my first job in children’s publishing that I regularly came into contact with people who had read at least some of the same books as I had: books we loved as kids, books we read at work, like The Book of Three and other classics, new favorites like Over Sea, Under Stone, Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, and M.T. Anderson’s Feed.

Reading is a solitary activity, but at some point, it becomes more than that. I searched for like-minded people on LiveJournal, Twitter, long-dead sites and platforms. I made more nerdy friends, worked in bookstores, and in publishing. I recommend books to clients and colleagues and take turns taking their recommendations. In the process, I’ve found the absolute hilarity that arises when two (or more) people who really, really like a book start talking about it. The hilarity is contagious in the best possible way. It feels like an exponential multiplication. I feel the need to share.

There are many good things (and many terrible things) about being online, but a scholarly community—anything that allows you to have fun (and sometimes anger) with other people—is one of the good things. Of course, reading is solitary, but the full experience of a book need not be. There are so many ways to find book connections these days—with other readers, the authors themselves, papers, articles, and blogs, or even just a tweet that gives you a new perspective on a long-time favorite.

So, those lost books, those books that no one seems to remember or never read, those authors who never reached the pinnacle of commonality, at least in their own corner of the world—these people feel all the lonelier. Like they occupy different spaces in my head or vibrate at different frequencies. I know there are people who also liked “The Hounds of Morrigan” and would give up a lot to watch O’Shea’s unfinished sequel. There were other Joe Clayton fans and readers who fell deeply in love with The Green Girl Named Theroy and The Woman with the Crown on her Head, as well as the many books that followed. I haven’t met anyone who’s heard of Catherine Skye’s The Witch, but I know they’re there too. Stormguard? Guardians of the Light of Isis? I almost thought I was dreaming about that until it was re-released a while ago.

I buy these books whenever I spot them on a used shelf and have an extra copy ready to slip them into a friend’s hand if they show even the slightest bit of curiosity. I’ve done this multiple times with Franny Billingsley’s Chime, so I don’t feel alone in loving it anymore.

Here’s one of the more practical, proactive ways to find more readers for your favorite, least-appreciated book: find copies and give them away (assuming you can find copies, assuming they’re not uncommon and haven’t gone out of print for decades). But don’t you want the unexpected surprise sometimes? That feeling of stumbling upon a book you forgot you’d been looking for but instead stumbled upon someone who also loved it? These books had a fairy-tale feel to them, neglected and hidden in the open, our own booksscuffed with coffee stains and coverings. It’s like they have some secrets that you can’t discuss with other people unless they say something first. Like saying a title to the right person, it’s a spell.

Online, there are books that have sprouted huge communities around them, huge and passionate fanbases trading fanfics and the greatest Tumblr posts, quotes, novels, jokes, memes, and dreamcasts. There are TV adaptations that can turn years of novels into bestsellers, until everywhere you go you see someone reading one of them, or you find an abandoned paperback on a subway seat. It’s exciting to see these things happen, to see books soar to the pinnacle of pop culture, to be illuminated and reflected in a million shining eyes.

But some books—unlike some readers—are wallflowers. A spotlight might still be nice. A little more light, a few more pairs of eyes. A little renaissance. But the nooks here are comfortable and we can lean against the wall while we read. Don’t we all love some wallflowers? What’s yours?

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