Today I was hanging out at the science fiction table at the Oakland school’s first annual book fair, talking to students about books they liked.
A young man approached me timidly and asked, “Do you know of any books like My Bloody Life?”
I know that book really well, it turns out, and it would have been easy to make my next move. But I didn’t want to get too excited too quickly. That would turn the kid off. The conversation, I’ve learned, is as important as the recommendation.
So I asked him about the book, what he thought about it, why he liked it.
The boy’s eyes widened, and then he paused. After looking around and shifting his weight, he launched into an ode to Reymundo Sanchez and his book. He talked for more than two minutes without interruption. “It’s, like, the first book I’ve ever gotten into,” he said. I listened and nodded.
And then he asked, “Have you read it?”
This yielded several more minutes of conversation. He could tell not only that I had read it but also that I had understood it, appreciated it, seen the value in it.
It was time for me to offer something. So I said, “You know, he wrote a sequel.”
“Really? Are you serious?” His smile was huge.
And so I told him about Once a King, Always a King. I didn’t tell him about the 30+ other books that he could read after finishing up with Mr. Sanchez’s work. That could wait. Certainly I didn’t share with him my personal favorite, Jimmy Santiago Baca’s A Place to Stand. This, after all, was about his reading journey, not mine.
But I did ask his name.
“Mario,” he replied.
And then he reached out his hand to shake mine.