Books move in mysterious ways.

Books move in mysterious ways.

I mentioned last week that I was reading Ready Player One, but I didn’t tell you why.

A month ago I hadn’t even heard of the book, a 2011 sci fi novel by Ernest Cline. I first encountered it when I was updating the Kindle deals page. (Job perk: I actually encounter a lot of new-to-me books that way.) The description sounded interesting, but I didn’t feel compelled to read it.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Ready Player One kept coming up. My local writing partner said she was reading it, and recommended it. She raved about the audiobook, so I downloaded it from Audible but didn’t do anything with it. Before I could begin, my brother-in-law—whose tastes differ wildly from mine—told us all about it at family dinner, and he never talks about books at family dinner. And then Will came home from work with the paperback.

I believe that books find their way to you when you need them, and this book was clearly determined to find me.

I just finished another book that’s been on my list for too long: Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen, and I finally read it thanks to a giant nudge from MMD readers.

In Garden Spells, there’s a character who feels compelled to give odd little gifts to her friends and neighbors: strawberry pop tarts, two quarters, a silk shirt that’s three sizes too big. There’s a bit of magic about these gifts: the giver never knows what they’re for when she gives them. But they always turn out to be extremely important to the recipient, who soon finds that she needs those strawberry pop tarts for an unexpected guest, or two quarters to make an emergency phone call, or whose life will change when she goes to return that shirt. The gifts seem odd—even random—when they’re given, but they’re soon revealed to be vital.

I feel that way about reading. Sometimes I seek out a book because I need it, like my current reads on parenting and writing. But more often I feel compelled to read a book for reasons I can’t discern, and only later find that it’s essential to me, right then—not before I started reading it, but after.

I pay attention to cosmic hints, including hints about books. A decade ago, I felt like everyone I knew was telling me to read The Divine Conspiracy. I was halfway through the book—which was really shaking me up—when my son was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. That book—and the insights I’d already gleaned—accompanied me to unfamiliar doctor’s offices, airplane terminals, hospital waiting rooms, and the Ronald McDonald House. I couldn’t have asked for a better literary companion for that particular journey.

A few years ago, Crossing to Safety was the book that kept coming up—not because it was a bestseller or buzzworthy—but because all kinds of people I knew in different ways kept urging me to read.

Last summer, Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak was the book I couldn’t escape. I can take a hint, so I ordered a copy and plopped it on my nightstand. (I never read it. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it until I sat down to write this post, but you better believe I’ll have it finished before the week is out.)

So why Ready Player One? I have no idea. I may not find out for weeks, or months, or maybe it was just a fluke (but I doubt it). I just know that books—like many other wonderful things—move in mysterious ways, and I’d do well to pay attention.

I want to know when this has happened to YOU. Has there been a time when you felt like you just couldn’t escape from a book? What was it, and why did you need to read it?

Books mentioned in this post: 

46 comments | Comment

46 comments

  1. Jackie M. says:

    First, I shouted a little hurray when I read that you tried Sarah Addison Allen — isn’t she wonderful? Read The Sugar Queen next — the books seek characters out in that story, too. 🙂 I completely agree with you that books appear when you need them — it happens to me all the time — the first time I really realized it was when my mom died in 2011, and, I swear, every book I picked up had a character who had lost his/her mother — and I wasn’t choosing them on purpose. It was downright uncanny. It’s happened in other situations since then. One of those crazy quirks of life. 🙂

  2. Erica M. says:

    I’m definitely adding Garden Spells to my list! Ready Player One has been on there since it came out, but I keep getting distracted by other books. Maybe one day the “need to read” will hit me.

  3. Cool post! I will have to revisit my shelves to see what those books are to me! One is Angle of Repose that has been recommended to me so often. Still waiting on the shelf.

    I adore Ready Player One! I always recommend it to people who are trying audiobooks for the first time. It’s an amazing listen.

  4. Danae says:

    How interesting! I have plenty of examples of books that “found” me at just the right moment and were exactly the medicine I needed. But most of these were books I chose to read rather arbitrarily, or as they became available from the library. I can’t think of a book that I felt I couldn’t escape before I decided to read it. The closest might be A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle. I saw it pop up on a few favorite reads lists one day and impulsively requested it from the library. It arrived before any of my other hold requests and I moved it around the house for several days, just looking at it, before I finally began reading it. I ended up savoring every page and feel like it is simmering below the surface, waiting for the right moment(s) for me to realize why it moved me so much. I plan to buy myself a copy to reread and mark up at some point.

    • SoCalLynn says:

      I love A Circle of Quiet! I wanted to highlight and remember something from almost every page. It is part of a quartet called The Crosswicks Journal. I just finished the second, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother. Wonderful.

  5. JoLyn says:

    The book that found me is “A Heart Like His: Making Space for God’s Love in your Life” by Virginia Pearce. The book is told through the experience of eight friends performing an experiment. I was invited to participate in a focus group that would do the same experiment and then meet with the author to share our experiences. These people did not know me, and had no idea that our family was dealing with great heartache at the time because of a rebellious teenager who was going far off the good path. But that invitation, this book, and the experience I had doing the experiment unexpectedly gave me the exact answers I needed to save me and help my child. I believe the changes it made in me were what eventually brought my child home. It was what I call a life-changing moment and that book is now my treasure that I have shared countless times wih others.

  6. Sarah M says:

    Oh my gosh, YES! I don’t think I’ve ever found someone who agrees with me on this–that books totally find you in the right season–not always, but when they do Watch Out. The few that have been that way for me was the perfect winter to read Little Women; a hard artistic time for me reading Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water; and then finding Tim Keller’s Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering after a really hard near-two years. I’ve been so grateful for those books in those times. There have been others, but those are the three that I remember easily.
    I loved this post!
    Sarah M

  7. Laura says:

    Lovely. I think this is absolutely true, and certainly one of the reasons I’m an English professor, so it makes me want to reflect more about the right books at the right times in my life. Thanks!

    • Anne says:

      It makes me happy to think there are English professors like you out there, who believe so strongly in the power of literature!

  8. Anne says:

    It’s all right, it’s all right. Alllllll right. (I’m sorry, no one had done it yet! 😉 I had to

    I know what you mean by this post, and I can’t think of what book has crept towards me. I’m going to be more aware of it now though.

  9. Belinda says:

    My favorite books that “found” me…Sue Monk Kidd’s spiritual memoirs, When the Heart Waits and The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s The Gift of the Sea. I truly believe that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears,” whether it be in the form of a person or a book.

    I love your blog–hands down, my favorite. Thanks for your “bookish” wisdom and passion!

    • Anne says:

      I didn’t know about Sue Monk Kidd’s spiritual daughters—thanks so much for sharing! (And thanks for the kind words. 🙂 )

  10. tonilea says:

    You folks are way more insightful than I am. I never really thought about this idea that books find you. It is interesting and I will now try to remember to take note. I really enjoy reading your blog and have found your book lists to be helpful.
    Thank you

  11. Miriam B. says:

    Middlemarch seems to be that book that’s following me around right now. I don’t have immediate plans to read it though. The length is really intimidating!

  12. Heather says:

    Books do come to you for various reasons. I do believe in signs too that point you in the right direction. Love your book recommendations!

  13. Heather says:

    I can’t even put my experience adequately into words, but “Till We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis floored me. His insights on beauty and womanhood are astounding. And then his views on the nature of faith and God (he wrote the first half when he was an atheist and finished it when he was a Christian)…just wow. I didn’t grasp how much this novel (his last and, according to him and J.R.R. Tolkien, his best) affected me until I finished it. I just sort of sat on my bed after I closed the book, staring at the wall, mouth agape. I needed that book and can’t wait to revisit it again and again.

    • Anne says:

      I’ve only read that one once and I think I was too young when I did! Time to revisit it. I’m pretty sure I still have it on my shelves somewhere.

  14. Jamie says:

    Ready Player One crossed my radar today as I talked to teammates about summer reading selections for our ninth graders. Isn’t it wonderful when books create the web in the space we inhabit? Guess I need to add it to my Good Rewads list.

  15. Jess says:

    I know exactly what you mean here! I have been saved over and over by just the right book at just the right moment.

  16. Katie says:

    Sometimes I have books on my bookshelves for years without reading them. I often overlook them when I’m looking for something new. But then, all I need is that one time where I see the book’s potential, and it’s exactly the right time to read it.

    • Anne says:

      I do that, too: I have books on my shelves I own, and want to read eventually, but I often overlook them when I’m looking for something to read.

  17. Jennifer says:

    Well,this is a little eerie. There was a time (maybe a year ago?) when I kept hearing Ready Player One mentioned, but I never picked it up. Last month, a copy came in my son’s Loot Crate box. He had never heard of it, but I recognized it right off. This afternoon, I went down to his room looking for a different book, and Ready Player One literally fell off the bookshelf at me (he’s 19 – nothing is neatly filed in there!). And now I find your post mentioning that very book. Creepy. Guess I’ll need to start reading it!

  18. Dawn says:

    I have the opposite problem; books that I WANT to read so badly, but just can’t get past the first few pages. Jane Eyre, people. This book does not want to be read by me! I’ve started it at least five times, requested it on audio from the library and tried a few other ways of getting it into my brain, but every time I get distracted, some other book takes over, my kid hides my copy, or the library email saying my request is in just doesn’t make it to my inbox.

    Have you ever had a book that actively avoids you? I’d love to know I’m not alone in this.

    • Anne says:

      “a book that actively avoids you”—I’m chuckling at this. (I’d believe it’s a thing, and I’d love to hear more examples.)

    • Melissa says:

      Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis is one book that always seems to avoid me. I love Lewis, and my grandmother gave me this book for Christmas 10 ish years ago. Every time I have tried to read it, something came up, whether another book, or life became too crazy. The worst part is, the first couple of chapters are so intriguing, which makes me want to read it even more. I haven’t picked it up in years because I was interrupted so many times. Hopefully I will have time to try again this year!

  19. Most certainly! Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers found me just a few months ago. An old childhood friend who I have not seen in 20 years reconnected with me last year on FB. She randomly asked me if I had read it, and I had not. She highly recommended it to me, but for some reason I was just not even interested in looking it up. Fast forward to almost a year later I was talking about some books on FB and she asked me had I read it yet. I told her still had not, so she mailed the book to me! I have never had someone do that! It sat around for two weeks before I finally read it and OH MY! I can’t think of a more perfect time in my life to have read it. I cried so much at the end of it that I had to text her and thank her for being a vessel because God had surely used her to send me that book.
    Others that have found me just when I needed them and not a moment to soon:

    One Thousand Gifts- Ann Voskamp

    A Million Miles in a Thousand Years- Donald Miller

    An Altar in the World – Barbara Brown Taylor

    I don’t think I would have appreciated these books as much as I do had I read them any other time in my life.

  20. Lindsay says:

    So when I read this post a few days back, I was thinking the Ready Player one was coming up a lot on my radar lately as well. And not so coincidentally I think, I have been reading lots of non fiction and feel ready for a fiction break.
    So I decided to check out the audiobook from the library. The same day, my 21 month old son got ahold of my Kindle and, thanks to Amazon one click ordering, bought me Ready Player One. I’m taking it as a sign and reading the book.
    P. S. I heard you speak on a How They Blog podcast today. It was so fun to hear your voice:).

  21. Kari says:

    My husband, a 3-book-a-year reader, received a copy of Ready Player One in his LootCrate in January. He devoured it and quickly passed it onto me. It is not the type of book I normally gravitate to, but I loved it. It filled a little hole that I didn’t know I had.

  22. Karrie says:

    YES! I thought it was just me! There have been several over the years. Currently it is “Outlander”. I started it, like it very much, set it down….picked it back up…read some more…read two other books..started watching the the tv series…didn’t finish that…and am thinking of just giving up. No idea why even though I like it, have always loved books set in Scotland, have always enjoyed historical settings…I cannot seem to stay with this perfectly good story.

  23. Rachel says:

    The book that has been popping up for me over the past year is L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I think you even mentioned it not too long ago. I read it as a child and always listed it as a favorite but it was never one that I read over and over. I finally checked it out from the library a few weeks ago. Re-reading now as an adult has been thought provoking and the timing was just right. Maybe I’ll pay attention the next time a book follows me!

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