In the months leading up to the publication of my first collection of stories, I was in a fever of excitement. Finally, people will read my work! My friends will read it. The book came out and I had a publication bash given by a wonderful cousin; my goddaughter oversaw the selling of autographed books and everybody at the party bought one. It was everything I had imagined! I was delighted.
A week later, I was perusing the stacks of used books at the Housing Works Bookstore in New York City. There was my book, in perfect condition, squeezed between Marc and Markson. I had a heart-thumping moment of shock. I slid it out and opened it to the title page. There was my signature along with the name of the “friend” who had bought the book at my party. That she hadn’t read it was disappointing enough, but that she couldn’t even bring herself to keep it was a knife in my heart.
A friend is only truly a friend if they support your work, and supporting it means reading it, right? Not so fast. If I hung onto that opinion, I’d have far fewer friends and all of them would be fellow writers. And yet, when I find out a friend hasn’t read any of my books, I am always a little shocked: I can’t help but believe not being interested in my work means they aren’t interested in me. But I am also aware that there are a few mitigating reasons why a friend hasn’t read my work.
Hard to believe, but some people don’t like to read. They love that you’ve achieved your goals and are engaged in your work, but the idea of reading your book fills them with dread. If they don’t read any books, they’re not going to read yours. A non-reading friend whose wife had enjoyed my second collection made a sweet and much-appreciated effort. He read the first story in the book, thought about it, and came up with a question to ask me. I understood that he was not going to read further and that was OK. I loved the gesture. Is he my friend? Yes, and maybe even more so for his effort.
A friend of mine who is a diehard fan of science fiction novels hasn’t read my book either. If I had written a collection of sci-fi stories, she would have gobbled it down because sci-fi is all she reads. Ditto my friend who is only interested in biographies, and another who loves gooey romance. Sure, they could have put down their preferred genre for a couple of days and taken a dip into literary fiction, but their dance cards are full with more attractive partners. Are they my friends? Sure.
I’m never too busy to read, but I know many people who are. Likely they read one or two books a year and those only when they’re on vacation. They bought my book, sure, but then forgot about it. If a book can’t be found in Hudson News at LaGuardia, it’s not going to be read, and when was the last time you saw a story collection share space with People magazine? Do I like being ignored? Of course not, but I get it.
My aforementioned and much-loved goddaughter wouldn’t read my work for ages because she was afraid she wouldn’t like it. Though this isn’t a reason people admit to, I think it’s a common one. I will forgive my goddaughter anything, so she doesn’t count, but what about these other friends who doubt my brilliance? What, makes them think they won’t like my book? Why won’t they give it a try? These people aren’t as good friends as I thought.
I think she won’t read my book because it isn’t “important” enough.
A few months ago, during a catch-up over coffee, a friend enthusiastically talked about the books she’d been reading. She reads a lot, and the books are usually high-profile literary fiction. She’d just finished an award-winning novel and wondered what she should read next. “How about my book?” I said and was rewarded with the darkest look I’ve ever received. “I’ll have to get it,” she said in a gloomy voice, as if she would have to scale mountains to find a bookstore. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t asked her, but I think she won’t read my book because it isn’t “important” enough. Is this woman really my friend? Eh, no.
Now my third collection of stories is being published. No longer do I believe all my friends will read it. I am far more understanding these days. But a friend who doesn’t read my work for whatever reason will always be a pebble in my shoe.
Louise Marburg is the author of three short story collections including YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION, which was published in November with Eastover Press and is the winner of the Eastover Prize for Fiction.