Recommending blind dates (with books)

Last week was National Library Week, a time to think about how libraries are in many ways a lifeline of knowledge, a vital public resource now as much as ever.

A Marshall- Lyon County Library reading promotion demonstrated why that’s true by providing me with an unusual reading opportunity. It helped for surviving the winter of 2018-19.

The concept was a Valentine’s Day tie-in for the month of February called “Blind Date with a Book.” Books were offered to patrons wrapped in bright red paper. They included a short, creative description to indicate what they’d contain.

That was the only clue. Otherwise it was an invitation to take a chance, to try a book with the idea of maybe liking it and to reserve judgment until after the last page.

The library has offered the promotion for February before, but I’d shied away from it. What if the title sounded like nothing I’d read? Would I stay true to my commitment and read from cover to cover?

This year I decided it was worth a try. The descriptions were written by a librarian, someone who fits into a group who can be trusted with a creative book description. Logically there would be something to make each selection worthwhile to an open-minded reader. In other words, they wouldn’t steer people wrong.

The first one I chose had a description that emphasized a mansion, ghosts and history. It sounded like a great combination for historical fiction with hopefully a little suspense.

It turned out to be a romance called “Rebel Waltz.” I gave it a try, and found that it had enough of what I was hoping for (a masked ball based on the Old South, a protective ghost, and a family estate destined for change because of the modern economy). All in all, it was a book I wouldn’t have picked off the shelf but that became an enjoyable investment of my time.

The second book was called “Raven Black,” which came with the description of a recluse who sat up on New Year’s Eve waiting for guests that never came. That sounded interesting, probably the basis for an eccentric main character who had gifts unknown to the general public.

The book had that and much more besides. It’s a mystery-suspense novel with a big range of suspects. I figured everything out with my experience teaching environmental education when a character’s reaction to a nature situation made no sense at all other than a strange way to look at life.

Those who didn’t zero in on the ending because of that or another clue have an action-packed surprise at the end. It was definitely both an interesting mystery and a character-oriented novel.

I checked out two more near the end of the month. I knew the first was based in the southwestern United States and involved family life, so it was probably good. It turned out to be the modern classic “Bless Me Ultima,” regarded as one of the best late 20th century Hispanic novels.

This one took longer to read than any of the four, but it was well worth the time. All the detailed descriptions of events and symbolism come together for a well-rounded look at coming of age and spirituality. It was a great book because of how its many ideas were framed by excellent storytelling.

Maybe the biggest surprise of all was my fourth and last try. The description talked about being stuck without an idea and said “maybe we can figure it out together.” My first guess was a character learning about life in ways most readers can identify with in one way or another.

It was actually a non-fiction book called “Your Idea Starts Here” with 77 ways to solve problems creatively. I’ve never been opposed to thinking outside the box. I guessed, however, that it might fall into the standard definition of “self-help” by being long on theory rather than life-based reasoning.

It’s definitely not in that category. Instead it was a very well-grounded set of ideas from an experienced professional artist-designer. The citations at the end range from the 1980s movie “Working Girl” to the Meyers Briggs personality test.

Overall it’s long on the art/design field, but that’s not surprising. It seemed like the same basics could be framed in experiences from the medical profession, teaching, farming, business ownership or countless other career paths.

I learned the significance of the “11 circles” collection. I even found out how it’s possible to have both a marketing strategy and undeniable truth with fortune cookies by enclosing the prediction “your next fortune cookie will be more enlightening than this one.”

What’s more, it had a suggestion for going beyond the “Blind Date with a Book” idea. Tips about randomly seeking new possibilities included checking out the first library book that someone returns while you’re there.

I’ll pass on that one. The odds are much better with a trusted recommendation, from either a librarian or a like-minded friend.

That was enough to make “Blind Date with a Book” a good opportunity to find out how many different areas of a library can offer items that provide good combinations of enjoyment and insight.

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