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In our daily practice as readers' advisors, we generally focus on the immediate issue at hand--getting a book into the hands of a particular reader. This is as it should be, and we need to be facile at providing our readers with appropriate suggestions that are based on our discussion with them about what appeals to them about their reading. It is also important, though, to step back occasionally and to think about how readers, rather than an individual reader, respond to what they read. Here, Duncan Smith describes his experience in working with a reader over the past two decades in which he recorded her talking about her reading experience. Smith moves from the individual to the universal in suggesting that a better understanding of the reading experience will allow readers' advisors to make more thoughtful suggestions to our readers. Smith is the creator and product manager of EBSCO Publishing's electronic readers' advisory resource NoveList. He inaugurated this column in the Winter 2000 issue of this journal, when Mary K. Chelton was its editor, with his article "Talking with Readers."--Editor
Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind opens with the ten-year-old main character Daniel, awakening from a dream--a nightmare really. The nature of Daniel's bad dream is that he can no longer remember his mother's face. Daniel's mother had died six years earlier as a result of a cholera epidemic. Daniel's father runs a bookshop, and that may explain his unusual solution for calming his son's fears.
The father takes his son to a secret and magical place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. You enter the cemetery through a carved wooden door "blackened by time and humidity." (1) To Daniel's eyes, the cemetery appears to be "a carcass of a palace, a place of echoes and shadows."
For Daniel's father and his colleagues who attend the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, "books have souls--the soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it." Books are brought to the cemetery when they are no longer remembered. There they "live forever waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands."
It is a tradition at the Cemetery of Forgotten Books that whenever someone enters its rooms for the first time, they choose a book to adopt and make a lifelong promise to keep the book alive by reading it, ensuring that it will never be forgotten again.
Daniel's path to the book he adopts is reminiscent of the way many readers find books in libraries. He roams through row after row of shelves until a title catches his eye. In his case, it is a "timid" volume sitting on the corner of a shelf bound in wine-colored leather with gold letters. Just like the readers who roam the stacks in our libraries, Daniel pulls the book off the shelf, flips through a few pages, tucks the book under his arm and heads home.
Back home, Daniel starts to read the book to which he has made a lifelong commitment. As he reads the opening lines, Daniel experiences what happens to all of us when we start reading not just a book but the right book. Once he starts reading, he cannot stop. He reads through the afternoon, through the evening. The world of the book becomes as real to him as the world of his room. He doesn't stop until he is finished, and once he is done he remembers something that one of his father's regular customers had said:
Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which sooner or later no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover or how much we learn or …