This is kind of a "meta" post.
I realized today that one of the things that attracts me to the "Orphan on a Train" story is because it mimics the experience of reading. Or, part of the experience of reading.
Most of the time, we read old familiar series and books -- books by authors we trust, in genres we can count on. Reading these kinds of books are like visiting your well-loved grandmother. You know what to expect, including the nature of the surprises you'll find. (Some genres might be like a well-loved but psychotic grandmother -- a little scary, but at least in a familiar way....)
But looking for a new book or series -- something out of the ordinary for you -- can make you feel a lot like that orphan on a train, headed for an unknown new territory.
We often approach unknown books with suspicion and trepidation. We fear we are being sent into a joyless existence where we're stuck with people whining or boasting endlessly about things that bore us to tears.
It is a real fear. Every kid has had to spend time sitting on the couch while the adults catch up on their gall bladder operations or the latest gossip about people we don't know, who did things that are so completely uninteresting, you wonder that they didn't die of it.
That, for most kids, is torture.
And, frankly, most books are a little like being stuck listening to Aunt Sadie's liposuction procedure. They are suited to some one else's taste, but not to ours. So we mostly stick to the familiar.
But now and then we have to step outside and try something different. You hate eggplant, but out of politeness, you have to try that Chinese eggplant dish that your companions ordered at that dim sum restaurant.
And by the time we're grown ups, we've tried enough new and strange things to know that sometimes trying new things pays off in spades. Sometimes it becomes the new favorite thing - the thing that you want to know more about, and look forward to spending as much time as possible with it.
And when I think about it, many of the books that are on the list I gave at the start of this series, were books I read when I was in that mood: I was out of books, and wanted to try something new, and had been driven into unknown territory. I was sampling books without jacket copy. Unknown, untested, likely to be painfully boring, or a bitter as badly cooked eggplant.
But no guts, no glory. Somewhere out there are books you'll love that you'd never know about if you didn't jump into it blind once in a while. Somewhere there is shrimp stuffed eggplant in sweet and savory garlic sauce, that is so delicious, it makes you want to faint.
And besides, sometimes there is nothing else available. Like the orphan on a train, you have been forced into unknown territory.
And, to take this to one more level of "meta":
Many of us, as writers, are driven to write by the reader inside us. We approach a new idea with the same feelings of trepidation and anticipation -- looking forward to the experience of opening up a new world. And that world has no reviews, no book jacket, nothing to tell us what it will be like.
And sometimes it feels like we're the orphan sent away on that train, forced into something new by the muse, but more often, we're the runaway orphan -- the one tired of same-old, and in search of something new, something we invent ourselves.
See you in the funny papers.