Oh, the magic of finding a great book through the sheer power of chance! Is the summer the best time for that to happen?
Although we celebrate summer as a season of freedom, it’s also the time of year when readers get the most direction about which books to pick up for vacation reading.
Well-meaning arbiters of literary taste – including, of course, the folks at “Chapter & Verse” – offer lots of well-meaning suggestions and reading lists to help connect book lovers with just the right title.
Nothing wrong with any of that, of course. The next best thing to reading a book, after all, is discussing it and – when it’s a good one – recommending a page-turner to others.
But today I’d like to offer a few words in praise of serendipity in summer reading – the magic of finding a great book not because someone pointed you toward it, but through the sheer power of chance.
All of this came to mind recently when I bumped into a book by Robert James Waller and startled myself by liking it. Waller is best known as the author of “The Bridges of Madison County,” a wildly popular novel about a pair of lovers in a star-crossed romance. Hats off to Waller for penning such a whopping bestseller, but I never opened the covers of “Madison County” for myself.
The premise of his novel always struck me as firmly in the genre of chick-lit, so I made a point of steering clear. And thanks to Waller’s signature novel, I’d mentally filed him as a woman’s writer, assured that I could skip all of his books without regret.
But the other day, while visiting my local library, I spotted the spine of Waller’s “Old Songs In A New Café” from the corner of my eye and decided to pick it up. That’s how I learned of Waller’s previous life as a newspaper essayist before he became a publishing sensation.
“Old Songs In A New Café” assembles about two dozen of his vintage columns, mostly from “The Des Moines Register,” and they’re a pleasure from start to finish, bringing Waller’s poetic sensibility to bear on everything from the death of a treasured pet to the departure of a daughter for college.