Join us all summer long for Last Read posts from a long list of talented writers, librarians and readers.
Guest author Julie Ciaramella is a writer and social media manager who lives in Chicago. You can find her rooting for the Blackhawks and trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to write her first novel.
I’m not a re-reader. What’s the fun in already knowing what happens next? With an ever-growing to-read list, I don’t see the point of reading something again. Sure, I might revisit a favorite passage, but I crave something new, not a story I already know.
I’ve always been this way, ever since I made my way through every book I wanted to read from the children’s section of the Penn Hills Library, located in the Pittsburgh suburb where I grew up. I still remember walking around on one of my weekly visits with my mom and coming to the realization that I’d read everything there that I wanted to read. The thought of re-reading something bored me. I was six years old, already a voracious reader, and had recently managed to shock my mom when I took Roald Dahl’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” out of her hands as she read to me and started reading it aloud myself. My parents couldn’t keep enough books around, and it turned out that the children’s section of the library couldn’t, either. That was the day I moved up to the big kid’s section, located on the second floor with the adult books. It was time for chapter books, for Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, and “The Baby-sitters Club.” I would never re-read a book again.
Even though I feel like I’m wasting my time re-reading a book, for my last read, I’d want something familiar. A book that changed my path as a reader and opened me up to a new genre. It took about ten seconds to know what book I’d pick for my last read: Jennifer Crusie’s “Bet Me.”
I read “Bet Me” four years ago and fell in love with it. I’d heard friends say good things, and despite my dubiousness — I went through a phase where all I read was capital-L Literature, and I’d never read a romance novel before — I bought a copy.
“Bet Me” is a classic opposites-attract story, about a recently dumped woman, Min, and a man who’s sort of a player, Cal, whose relationship is set into motion by a bet. Min gets dumped by her boyfriend, David, at a bar, and her friends meet her there, encouraging her to walk up to a hot guy (that’d be Cal) to start a conversation. She needs some convincing, since she doesn’t think a guy that hot would be into her, but she decides to talk to him anyway. As she’s headed over to Cal, she overhears David bet Cal that he can’t get Min to sleep with him in a month. She doesn’t hear that Cal doesn’t accept the bet. What follows are misunderstandings, banter, and lots of chicken marsala. (Don’t read this book when you’re hungry. There’s a lot of food.)
What drew me in was the dialogue, which is my favorite thing to read and write. Crusie’s dialogue is smart and witty, and it sounds like how people actually talk. The book is dialogue-heavy, but every line is there for a reason, to move the plot forward and get Cal and Min together. There’s nothing complicated about the story — it’s about two competent, good people, each dealing with their own issues, and how they fall in love.
Speaking of those issues, one of Min’s obstacles is the way she feels about her body. She’s spent most of her life hearing that she’s not thin enough, and therefore not good enough. Even if no one ever says these things aloud to you, if you’re not a thin person (hell, even if you are thin), you internalize these messages. You feel like your body is gross and wrong and unattractive, and how could someone — especially someone who fits society’s beauty standards — be attracted to you? Despite knowing she’s a fantastic person, that’s where Min is at. Cal is handsome and clearly interested, but Min has spent her whole life believing someone like him wouldn’t want someone like her. Min’s struggles and eventual acceptance of her body resonated with me.
More than for the dialogue and emotional connection to the story, I’d want “Bet Me” to be my last read simply because it’s funny. I mean, if you know you have to choose the last book you’ll ever read, you’d want something to make you laugh and get your mind off things.
And sometimes, even if you know what happens next, there’s comfort in reading stories you already know.