I have an awkward confession to make: I am something of a book pimp. Or, to put it in a way that won’t make my father furrow his brow and shake his head, I am a book matchmaker, adept in the art of finding just the right book for just the right person.
…This title being entirely self-appointed, of course, in that people rarely actually ask me to do this for them, and on the random occasions they do are inevitably frightened off by my over-zealousness. Friends, beware. If you make an offhanded comment that you’d like to read more, I will start carrying around five or six books in my purse for the next time we meet and give you short essays on why these particular pieces of writing will change your life. You have been warned.
But to be fair, no one is safe from my meddling, whether you express a desire for books or not. Even telling me you aren’t a reader won’t be an adequate deterrent to keep me from pushing you my particular drug of choice. You are merely throwing the gauntlet, my friend, issuing me a challenge. I will find you the perfect book, or I will die trying. And by ‘die trying’, I mean max out my credit card at Barnes & Noble. But oh, what a way to go.
In the course of becoming a (self-proclaimed) connoisseur of this particular art form, I’ve come across a few tricks of the trade that I will now impart to those amateurs beginning your book-peddling journey. I must warn you, though, that this is a thankless job, one that might result in doors slamming shut in your face, calls being avoided, party invitations getting “lost in the mail.” But, wait, who are we kidding? That was going to happen anyway. And at least the social pariah-ness allows us to spend more time with our “real” friends—a.k.a., book characters, the greatest friends of all (Lizzie Bennet’s never forgotten my birthday, y’all. Just sayin’).
But, I digress. Without further ado, here are some tips on how to get people high on reading:
Start with Gateway Books. Much like gateway drugs (of which I am something of an expert, having attended Agua Fria High School), gateway books are tools which can be used to start your reluctant reader off with something that seems light and harmless but slowly builds up an unshakable dependency over time. My suggestion would be a book that’s been adapted into a movie your would-be reader has seen and liked—something like The Hunger Games or The Help. That way, your reader won’t have to worry about getting lost on the plot details or characters, already know they like the story, and will therefore be more inclined to crack open those covers. You can even be extra sneaky and have similar books lined up as follow-up gifts. “So you liked The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants at Christmas, eh? Well, here’s I Capture the Castle for your birthday…” etc. etc. Suckers! They’ll never see it coming.
Think Thin. Yes, we all know that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a delightful, witty, wonderful book (wait, was that a not-so-subtle promo? Consider yourself BookPIMP’D!) but if you plop down all 800+ pages in front of someone who still (foolishly!) thinks reading is a chore, you’re gonna scare that poor soul away from that sundae before they can even pick up the spoon. Start out with something a little less intimidating, which generally means smaller page count, bigger font. Which leads to…
Go Young (Adult!). Yes, I am fully aware that young adult novels can be great literature, that they can be deep and mind-twisty, that they can uplift the soul and tear it apart and paste it back together again. But, generally speaking, themes from young adult novels tend to be simpler and therefore much more universal, which translates to much more readable for any age group. And the best way to get people hooked on Phonics? Is to find them a book they just can’t put down.
Offer them sexy bookmarks as incentives.
Need I say more on the subject?
Judge a Book By Its Cover. Yes, we compulsive readers know that sometimes the most atrocious cover can house the most wonderful book. However, there are times when a book’s cover REALLY doesn’t do it any favors. For example, I think one of the greatest marketing strategies for the song of Ice and Fire series was to change from their old cartoony-fantasy covers to sleek, simple covers (that, and to turn it into a really popular TV show). ‘Cause even as someone who likes fantasy, I always feel like a huge dork lugging around covers featuring a woman with plunging cleavage or a dude with antlers growing out of his head. Imagine how much worse that must be for someone who’s already looking for excuses not to read! So if you have the option between a glossy mysterious awesome cover or one that features potentially off-putting cover art, be superficial. For the love of books, people! It’s a noble cause!
Gender Matters. I’ll probably get some flack on this one, but I maintain that gender plays an important part of what people like to read. And yes, we all know there are exceptions to the rules (that girl who loves Tom Clancy novels or that guy who couldn’t put down Twilight), but chances are if you hand a reluctant male reader a copy of Little Women and expect him to become a lover of books and all things Louisa May Alcott, you’re going to be disappointed.
I could (and might) write an entirely separate post about tricking people into liking “boy”/”girl” books, but remember, this is about baby steps. We’re weaning people off mashed peas (youtube videos about getting hit in the groin) and trying to get them to digest solids (the great American novel). GENERALLY SPEAKING, guys will be more interested reading about a male protagonist and gals about a female protagonist, at least to start out with. Again, baby steps. But don’t worry, we’ll get him to fall in love with those March sisters someday.
Think Outside the Box. Starting to get the hang of it? Good. Now, disregard everything I’ve said up until this point. ‘Cause sometimes (usually) people will surprise you with what they end up loving. For years, I tried to tempt my brothers with things like Neil Gaiman, Marcus Zusak, William Goldman, etc., only to learn that one actually prefers angsty YA and the other humorous memoirs. ?! Who knew. Not this girl. And I suppose it doesn’t really matter, in the end, that I didn’t personally help them discover their book “types”. I choose to believe that everything I did was prep work into helping them enjoy reading. Because everything is about me, obviously.
And if all else fails… Everybody likes Harry Potter. And if they don’t, you should probably stop being friends with them since they most likely don’t have a soul.
To sum up, when in doubt, just keep in mind my personal life mantra: Whenever someone says they don’t like to read, what they’re really saying is, “I haven’t found the right book . . . yet.”