1. The title and the design of the book are uninspiring beyond what I can emphasize. The expression "You can't tell a book by its cover" may or may not be true (I'd say it's one of those expressions that sounds so true, people generally believe it without evaluating it for trueness), but this book's cover misleads: the title is dull and unmemorable and non-evocative of the contents (even after reading the book, I can't call the title to mind without peeking); the cover is pretty but dull and unmemorable; BUT THE BOOK IS NEITHER DULL NOR UNMEMORABLE.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (photo from Amazon.com)
2. There are some distressing scenes of the sort I would feel betrayed by if the book had been unqualifiededly recommended to me. Have you read The Poisonwood Bible? Remember the various jungle horrors? Snakes, vines, endless insects, malaria, hallucinations, contaminated water, determined zealots, dying children? It is not as bad as that. But there is some similar material. Here is the REAL major problem: if I had read it unwarned, I would have felt betrayed when I read it---but if I HAD been warned, I would NOT have read the book. AND I WANT TO HAVE READ THE BOOK.
3. There is a very tense labor/c-section scene. And another. There is a scene where things look dramatically grim for a child. There is an injury to an infant. I want to give you spoilers, because I would myself have wanted spoilers. But I don't know if YOU would want spoilers. I've heard that for some people, spoilers spoil a book, rather than allowing them to read it without dying.
4. If I'd read the inside of the book jacket, I would have had NO INTEREST in the book. NO INTEREST. The second sentence would have made me all but certain I wasn't interested; the third sentence would have sealed it. I HATE this kind of book. Or so I'd thought. If I tell you what the book is about, you might think, "Bleah, I hate that kind of book." You might not read it. You might read it but indeed not like the book. WHAT IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE BOOK?? What if you WOULD have liked it, but because of something I say you don't read it??
This book was a problem for me, because it had already been my turn on the hold list but I'd run out of time to read it and had had to return it unread. I put myself reluctantly back on the hold list, my number came up again, but I couldn't get to it until only a week of the check-out period remained. I thought, "I will just START it. It looks so dull, I probably won't like it. Then I'll be able to return it and let the next person read it." I got three pages into it and said to Paul, "I have bad news. I think it's a great book. I will have to finish it."
Luckily I was able to finish it in three days. When I finished reading it, I burst into tears and I cried for a couple of minutes. I will try to define the type of crying, because this sort of thing seems important: it was crying for a wonderful book, for a wonderful story, for a complete package that worked from beginning to end, and for an author who PULLED IT OFF. It was also crying for what a STUPID title and STUPID cover, which MIGHT HAVE MADE ME MISS IT ENTIRELY. It was great crying, and I wanted to do more of it but Paul finished the dishes and took off his headphones and I didn't want to be crying in front of him.
Er, not to oversell it. Which brings me to the last problem:
5. One crucial element to my enjoyment of the book was that I went into it not even remembering why I put it on my hold list, not knowing what it was about, and not expecting to enjoy it. I looked at the cover, I looked at the title, I didn't bother to read the inside of the jacket, and I thought, "Let's get this over with." You can't recreate that experience after I've told you about it like this. I have ruined it by recommending it.