Thursday, October 17, 2002


Has anyone ever recommended a book to you, saying "I KNOW you will love it" but when you picked it up, you found it dull, boring, bizarre or even unreadable? I came across a quote that sums up this experience and simultaneously gives an insight into how general semantics would explain this phenomenon:

No two persons ever read the same book.

-Edmund Wilson, critic (1895-1972)

Since we often pass a book from hand to hand, Wilson probably does not mean we each read physically different books. Instead, of course, he refers to the act of reading. No two persons read the same book because each brings a unique perspective and life experience to the process of reading and interpreting the words in the book. The idea that each life results in a different perspective seems so apparent and simple when you say it out loud, and yet most of us fail to apply it with sufficient awareness and diligence in every day life.

So how do you recommend a book without setting the situation up for failure? A general semanticist would say "I found this book interesting, readable, enjoyable, thought provoking, full of excitement or curiosity, in short, I liked this book." If that suffices to pique the interest of another, good enough. If the other wishes more information, one can elaborate with specifics--"the story of a dog and the boy who loved him", "discusses the development of the alphabet and how reading became a widely practised art," etc. Of course, even at this point, the recommendation has strayed into the highly subjective,since another person reading the "same" book might not see the story of the dog as anything like the central thread of the book.

Stop at "I liked this book," and you cannot go wrong.

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