The Next Chapter: The Book Whisperer

It’s June already. Memorial Day Weekend passed with no plans, unlike other years when I would go to my mom’s house in NJ or go to a party to attend. Some days I feel at loose ends. One thing that keeps me busy and sane is making book recommendations on Bookstigram and Facebook.

Right at the start of the lockdown, I saw a video by John Cameron Mitchell, the man who wrote Hedwig and the Angry Inch and he said it’s important to keep a schedule. My mornings keep me busy. I joined a group on Facebook where you try to write a poem a day for the month of June. I also play a game on my friend Wil’s page where he posts photos of actors on their birthday and you list the movies of theirs that you liked. I admit I cheat and look up most of them on IMDB. I also make book recommendations, which came out of me posting photos of stacks of books on Instagram. I usually picked out a theme and then searched for books in that category. I did stacks on Irish authors, female authors, poetry anthologies, etc. I even made stacks of CDs that were Broadway cast albums I owned and one of 60s bands. After a while, I was running out of ideas, plus I was annoyed having to put my books back on the shelves. Then I thought it was better to make book recommendations since I have at least 50 years of reading under my belt, I thought it would be a better use of my time.

I was inspired partially by the book recommendation videos of Graham McTavish on Instagram. I don’t know where I heard about his videos. I admit I never heard of him. I thought he was on Games of Thrones but he was on the Outlander series. In his first video, he recommended novels and I had read two of them: The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh and The Darling Buds of May by H. E. Bates. He also later made videos on books on history and biographies. Some of them, like the story of Lewis and Clark or a biography on Vincent Van Gogh, sounded great. Some, like the history of Longitude and Latitude, didn’t pique my interest.

There is a process for me in making a recommendation. First, I check a list I made of books that I want to recommend. They are all books that I like and that I have read. I try to make each day’s post seem random. I want the effect that you put a coin in a huge vending machine and you have no clue what book will tumble out. Then I look up the book on Google because if it’s a book I read in my teens or 20s, I might have forgotten finer plot points. I then make notes on both the book and author and take a screenshot of a book cover from Google images. I try to write a brief summary of the book, concentrating more on the themes rather than a blow by blow account of the plot. After a friend suggested I write a little bit about the author, I add basic information on when they were born and other books they wrote. I try to make my recommendations as short as a Bicentennial Minute. I’m not writing a thesis on Up the Down Staircase or Gentleman Prefer Blondes.

I refuse to call them reviews because I don’t go into great detail. I just want to be a cheerleader for books.

Now I have come into problems once in a while. I was going to recommend The Day of The Locust by Nathaniel West because the Netflix show Hollywood got good buzz but I forgot that the main character had rape fantasies about an up and coming Hollywood starlet. Thankfully I read about it on Google and decided to pick another book. I also wanted to hype up the National Theater’s YouTube channel streaming A Streetcar Named Desire but I know that play is problematic so I decided to write about another Tennessee Williams play, The Night of the Iguana instead.

What I love about the book recommendations is that I spend most of the day obsessed with it. I’m constantly checking Instagram and Facebook to see if anyone has responded to my post. I’m always trying to figure out what book I want to talk about the next day. What I love most is it’s another way to open up the discussion about books. I have had people thanking me for recommending A Death in the Family by James Agee or How Green Was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn. And I have branched out this month, recommending LGBT books and film, since Pride celebrations have been canceled this year. I’m glad I have the chance to be able to start conversations about books I love and I hope my bookish friends feel the same way.