The Goldilocks Guide To Good Reading

ZeitounRecommending books is often more miss than hit, so I feel a little nervous when I’m asked to suggest ‘a good book’ to read. After all, one person’s ‘good’ is another person’s ‘awful’. Add into the ‘good’ book request mix an immediate under-pressure terror to recommend something suitable for people who otherwise might not be avid readers and I, well, draw a blank. How are you supposed to narrow down the books you read to pick a ‘favourite’? How are you supposed to then select one that might become someone else’s favourite too?

I understand why people look for recommendations—in fact, more often than not I look for them too. We’re time poor and books require a not insignificant time and financial investment, so we want to get it right the first time, every time. But if you’ve ever been a member of a bookclub, you’ll know that reaching consensus on whether a book is good is nigh on impossible. I’ve never been so outraged and so willing to shake someone as I was the night my bookclub did Dave EggersZeitoun, an exceptional, simple, hauntingly-good non-fiction book about a New Orleans businessman who stayed behind to help during Hurricane Katrina.

One guy who shall remain nameless went against the consensus grain that Eggers had crafted a masterpiece and that the American legal system (and, arguably, psyche) is deeply flawed. Without ruining the story for those of you who haven’t yet read it (you should—it’s excellent; and yes, I’m aware of the irony that I’m recommending a book when I’ve just said it’s incredibly difficult to do so), he argued that Zeitoun well and truly deserved what he got. How that guy got out of there alive that night I’ll never know. And anyone who says bookclubs are for the meek and mild should spend a night at ours.

These days I tend to think of reading experiences not as one-size-fits-all book selection, but as being more akin to that of the Goldilocks fairytale—the protagonist tries out things that are too big, too small, too hot, and too cold until they find things that are, for them and them alone, ‘just right’. Which I why I’ll no longer recommend a single book. Instead I apply a kind of Goldilocks Guide to Good Reading and recommend something big, something small, something hot, and something cold to given them a broad and varied selection. My hope is that they find something in the mix that they consider ‘good’ or even ‘great’.

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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.

4 thoughts on “The Goldilocks Guide To Good Reading”

  1. Although, Katrina was played night after night on the evening newscasts, I have not delved deeper into the personal stories and insights of those that lived through the tragedy that occurred. I have added this title to my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I have read Zeitoun and it moved me so much. Have also heard some great ABC and This American Life podcasts about the terrible experience that was Hurricane Katrina and the lack of humanitarian response.

    If you are recommending a book like that Goldilocks book burglar, I will hungrily look forward to them.

  3. Thanks for the recommendation. I usually respond to requests for a ‘good book’ by asking what they have read that they loved. That gives me some insight into what that person might like … no good recommending literature when the favourite is trashy romance, or a thriller when they hate the genre .. nonetheless you can never guarantee anyone will like anything …

  4. Ha, either there are two guys out there who caused similar rage to bookclubs, or we were at the same one!

    I think the best thing about the Contrary Man’s arguments were that they solidified for me what I loved about this book and what about the American response to Katrina was just horrific.

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