My regular Wednesday conversation with Don Moore was actually a Friday conversation this past week, the kind of enforced flexibility that is an occupational hazard of being a parent. Our discussion went in several directions, many of which deserved a post or more in their own right, but one of which resulted in one of those things that are so precious to any serious reader: a recommendation, in this case, Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkely: University of California Press, 2002).
I have not yet read the book, of course, though I ordered it yesterday, so I want to emphasize that what I am valuing in this recommendation is not the book in itself, nor even the knowledge of the book as such. What I am valuing in this recommendation is the relational gesture that it performs between Don and I. The recommendation is valuable in this sense because of the risk that is implied when he says, “Read this; I think you will like it,” and the recognition of that gift when I say, “Yes, of course; I respect your judgement.” It is valuable because the gesture itself says, in its giving and its receiving, “Let this book be something that we have between us as a common ground and a common experience.” It is valuable because it says, “Let us try to know one another better by knowing that I have offered this, and you have received it, and we both have read it.”
The one who recommends, in this sense, gives a part of the self, opens a part of the self, to the one who receives it, and the one who receives the recommendation is one who receives the other through it, the one who is hospitable to the intimacy that the other offers. For this reason, it is possible for me to name a book to another without really recommending it, without it being a gift of my self to the other. The recommendation as such depends on the willingness of one to offer it or of one to receive it precisely as a recommendation, and it achieves what it is in potential only when both the giver and the receiver will it in this way.
The lending of a book, therefore, from one to another, has the potential to be an incarnational and a sacramental act, in that it both is and is not the embodiment of the relational gesture of recommendation. Though it can never be the recommendation as such, it is the body and the flesh of a recommendation. It bears, or it can bear, if it is willed to bear, the intimacy of the offering and receiving, the sharing and the remembering, that is implied in the recommendation. By physically offering what is mine, or by physically receiving what is yours, I enact with you the gestures of giving and receiving, the gestures of recommendation, that form the relation between us.