I recently went on a blind date. No, my husband shouldn’t be worried. It was a blind date with a book.
Amy Pagliarella, our book review editor, gave me the idea. She told me about John Warner, a Substack writer and a columnist for the Sunday Chicago Tribune called the “Biblioracle.” People send the Biblioracle a list of five books they’ve recently read, and he selects a new book for them based on their interests. Warner also recently wrote about book “blind dates” offered by some bookstores where you pick and buy a wrapped book (based on genre) for a surprise read.
As Amy shared this, I remembered that my local bookstore has its own “blind date” section. I’d noted the section but avoided its shelves. Choosing my next read is a process I relish. For instance, I started dreaming about what I would read next halfway through George Saunders’ A Swim In The Pond in the Rain. Not because I was dissatisfied — Saunders’ book is excellent! But I enjoy picking my next book so much, I can’t wait to begin. Like a kid making her wish list for Santa, I’ll sift through my Goodreads list of “Wants” and hold each possibility in my mind, contemplating whether the book is a good fit for my current craving. When I need inspiration, I’ll turn to James Baldwin, bell hooks, Abraham Joshua Heschel or Thomas Merton. Or, poets like Mary Oliver, Christian Wiman, Lucille Clifton and Carolyn Forché. When I need a good laugh, I’ll turn to David Sedaris or Jenny Lawson.
I’ve always loved to read, but only in my adult years have I come to recognize how books meet certain needs of my soul. Books are better than chocolate, or even a tub of Breyers ice cream. They satisfy me at a deep, spiritual level. I’m always trying to expand my understanding of others. So I frequently choose books by authors of color, writers from the queer community, international writers or journalists whose political views are different than my own. And of course, I read books for personal and professional growth. I stack these books like trophies on shelves near my work desk, easily within reach when I need a reminder of the wisdom they hold.
Reading, to me, is a holy pursuit and a humble gesture acknowledging that I always have more to learn. Each book I choose holds the potential for liberating discoveries through ideas and knowledge. I appreciated Dana Purdom’s article on page 38 of this issue reminding us how illiteracy was once used to control people of color. The slave codes, Purdom writes, made it illegal to teach any free person of color how to read or write. Throughout history, books have been banned and reading controlled by powerful people attempting to hoard their power. Librarians and teachers of reading should be hailed as heroes in the battle against book bans. Everyone should have the right to freely choose their books.
In the bookstore aisle, I tried to be discerning when it came to selecting a wrapped book for my blind date. Attached to each parcel was a brightly colored tag with hints of what the reader would find inside. Two full shelves held “Romance” — small paperbacks with, I imagined, a shirtless Fabio-type on the cover. There were a few mysteries and a couple of thrillers and a novel described as a Christmas caper — this was in May. Tempted to ask the clerk to go into the back and wrap some more options, I eventually settled on an autobiography of a fashion icon. I enjoy clothes, right? I thought to myself.
My blind date with a book ended as I imagine most real bind dates do. We just didn’t click. As it turned out, I’m not enough into fashion to read a whole book about behind-the-scenes drama of designer runways. I needed an exit strategy. Maybe an assignment? For my next editorial? Something George Saunders would approve of? Or some Indigenous wisdom from Braiding Sweetgrass, which I had just carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully chosen as my next read.
In this summer books issue, we’ve curated book reviews and recommendations that we hope meet the needs of your soul. Picking a book from these pages might still be like going on a date. But we hope it’s more like a match set up by a good friend. Happy reading!