Reading reflections in the Bookinglass

An expat with a love of fiction

How not to recommend a book

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There are many ways in which you can put someone off reading a book. The trap I fall into is that of the overly enthusiastic advocate.

“You MUST read this book”

When I read Not Untrue and Not Unkind by Ed O’Loughlin, I was completely enamoured long after I finished reading it. During my honeymoon period with this book I expounded  its brilliance to whomever would listen to my soliliquising. But only my mum has embarked upon reading it.

Here is how I now know not to recommend a good book.

The book is set mostly in the civil war torn Congo and follows the life and career of the Irish journalist who reports from “cities of half-remembered conflicts”.

I have always wondered about the lives of those foreign reporters I saw on the BBC. It is thrilling to imagine seeking out places that most people would run a million miles away from.

More than anything, the poignant imagery and the cynical undertone really struck a chord with me. For example, the title of the book sounds like a cheesy and pretentious memoire that is an extract from the end of Philip Larkin’s poem, Talking in Bed. It is a finely-tuned joke that balances that shallow offhand use of a well-known poem, with the depth of feeling that he borrows from Larkin’s words nonetheless. As you come to realise that the narrator despises the type of bigwig journalists who romanticise their career and experiences in such a nauseating way.

The imagery is surprising and original. From the first page:

“The days and nights mill round like mismatched fighters, short and long, long and short, from summer to winter to summer again…”

I love how the weather in the UK is likened to what I imagine as cold, sweaty, mistrustful, grim boxers skirting around each other in a ring. The lack of daylight does seem like it loses out to the dark in the Winter and the change in seasons plays a unpredicatable role in people’s lives. This author is a master at creating atmosphere and setting.

But it was not until the hilarious scene with the journalists treking into the jungle in search of a gorillas that I truly madly deeply fell in love with this book.

There are few moments when you have to put down a book and wipe your eyes from tears. I was brought to this twice in Not Untrue and Not Unkind, once from laughter (gorilla scene and the unfortunately-worded T-shirt scene) and once from devastation (most of the other scenes to be fair).

But I shan’t give too much away. Therein lies the problem with recommending a book. It’s like when someone tries to inform you about what makes an in-joke funny: it flops like a flat lilo of undrollity. The more someone goes on about something that you can’t participate in, the less you want to know about it.

So my waxing lyrical about Not Untrue and Not Unkind is pointless really until you have read it too (and please tell me if you do!) and can put people off reading it altogether. So for now, as I am still not used to this what books would you recommend and why malarky, I advise you to get over the first chapter, just the first chapter, and get to the gorilla part and then you’ll be hooked.

Do you think you can be put off reading a book by someone who is too pushy?


Written by bookinglass

March 30, 2011 at 11:00 pm

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