When I was 15, my English class was assigned to write an essay about a work of literature that I found horribly boring. I can’t remember the book or its author, but I know it was a classic, and even as I loathed it, I knew it was important. I just couldn’t figure out why. Accordingly, with the arrogance of youth, I penned (literally, as we had no computers back then) a scathing indictment of the enduring art before me. My callow refutation ended with a declaration that the book was “eminently putdownable,” which I thought was witty and writerly.
As you can imagine, the first ten minutes of the next day’s class consisted of our teacher Mr. Gratton lacing into me for having the temerity to criticize the canonical author (Henry James? Was it Henry James?). Mr. Gratton didn’t like me in the first place. He never called on me when I raised my hand and he called me Debbie, this despite the fact that my classmates constantly pointed out that Debbie was not my name. He didn’t care. He seemed to see no good reason for learning my actual name. The dislike was mutual, of course. I thought he was a cantankerous jerk. But on this day I realized I was being justifiably excoriated and was humbled. He was right. Who did I think I was, anyway? I was also embarrassed as he railed against using nonexistent words such as “putdownable.”
This memory came to me today as I read Waterstones official announcement of its eight New Year Book Club Selections, which the British bookseller describes as thus:
Unputdownable reads chosen by our expert booksellers
Unputdownable! I may have been wrong about Henry James or Joseph Conrad or whoever it was that I was too young and solipsistic, at 15, to appreciate. But perhaps I was right–just a little bit right–about what readers value. Learning from literature, pondering life, empathizing with characters, eschewing sheer entertainment for exquisite prose or authorial wisdom–yes, all so important. But so is feeling compelled to turn the page and then the next, then the next.
I’m so pleased that the expert booksellers, broad and voracious readers all, have called A Reunion of Ghosts unputdownable. And pleased, too, that they go on to say:
We love our book club. No, really, we LOVE it. We are proud to hold up each of these books and say ‘you MUST read this!’ and, of course, you really ought to read them all – they’re brilliant. We’ve taken the greatest care picking them for you, so we hope you enjoy them as much as we have. This is our selection of the best books to read right now…Past Book Club titles have proved hugely popular with our customers, and we are certain our new choices will become future bestsellers and be the best-loved and most discussed books of 2016.
What I was trying to say in my essay all those years ago was that I didn’t feel this kind of passion, this kind of love, for the great work put before me. Later on, other teachers (some of whom even took the time to learn my name) plus some newly acquired maturity on my part taught me how to read the classics even when I found them “difficult” reads.
What I’m trying to say now is that I’m happy there’s a place where the word putdownable–or better yet, unputdownable–not only exists, but is shouted with joy. That the word is being applied to my own book–well, I love it. No, I really love it! Thank you, thank you, Waterstones.
As for you, Mr. Gratton, no longer with us–I hope your heaven is populated with angels who appreciate the books that you really love. You taught me to be humble and open and a more generous reader. For that I thank you. xoxo, your former student Debbie.