Book-Recommending Family Folklore

The Life of PiThe ongoing Crawford family folklore is that someone—most likely my brother—made off with my un-cracked, un-dog-eared, un-read copy of Fahrenheit 451. But there’s a lesser known but equally important one. That is, that my brother is no longer allowed to recommend books for me to read.

I used to accept recommendations from him*, I really did. But a very famous, very popular book he once recommended to me changed all that. So was it a book of the ilk the uber-violent American Psycho? No, it was the more palatable Life of Pi.

I know, I know, it won the Booker and has sold a bazillion copies around the world. I know that most people are blown away by the simply executed fable about a boy who, along with a tiger, is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. I know that my brother certainly isn’t the only one to like this book. And I can concede that, although I absolutely hated it, I did love the concept and Yann Martel’s writing style.

American PsychoSo why did I—and do I—hate the Life of Pi so much? The animals all—**spoiler alert for those of you who are in the minority who haven’t yet read it**—get eaten.

As a super squeamish, tree- and animal-hugging vegetarian who is likely to faint at the mere hint of gory scene, the animals’ deaths put me off big time. I know you’re saying that it’s fiction, that it’s an analogy, and that no animals were actually harmed in the making of this book (and forthcoming movie), but for some reason the eating disturbed me. For the record, I read the whole book, which is why I feel confident about commenting. And my brother can attest to the tremulous, incredulous phone call he received when I finished it, which opened not with ‘Hello’ but with ‘You didn’t tell me they got eaten’.

The running joke is, of course, why I didn’t stop reading. But, as I told my brother, I kept thinking that that was it, the survival of the fittest was over, and it would be smooth reading from thereon in.

And then another animal would get eaten.

But the point of this blog isn’t whether or not I should have been upset by fictitious animals getting munched. It’s that you can never really know whether someone will feel the same way as you do about a book you recommend as a good read.

I’m always conscious of ‘the Life of Pi incident’, as it’s now known, and whether one of my recommendations might turn out similarly disastrously (and ultimately funny). Was the book as good as I remember it being, I wonder. Was the writing outstanding it just or was it where I was at when I was reading it that made it good? And is there anything in the book that I wouldn’t notice or be upset by, but that someone else potentially would?

To cover myself, I suss out people’s reading habits before proffering suggestions, relate the book to similar titles, and offer blanket disclaimers about how I liked it, but it’s been a while since I read it, it might be somewhat dated now, and so on. But that makes book recommending sound a little too serious. More often than not, whether recommending books or having them recommended to me, I ask one simple question: ‘Do any animals get eaten?’

*and it should be noted that I still actively seek out recommendations from others

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.