Right now, I’m about two-thirds through Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won’t Do, by Gabriel Thompson. This book came out in 2010, and I had it on my “vague intentions of reading” library list for nearly a year before finally requesting it. I think I was afraid it would be intimidatingly statistic-filled, or dry and scholarly, or just too much of a downer — the same reasons my Netflix (er, I mean QWIKSTER) queue is full of impressively highbrow, award-winning, critically-acclaimed films that I blow right past in my haste to find the latest streaming episode of “Hoarders.”

Now that I’m finally reading it, Shadows is turning out to be a funny, entertaining page-turner about a guy who spends a year undercover working some of the dangerous, low-paying, debilitating jobs that certain people claim immigrants are “stealing” from U.S. citizens. If you’ve read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, it reminds me of that excellent book (indeed, Thompson cites it as an inspiration). Although its subject is pretty grim, it’s neither self-aggrandizing nor gratuitously depressing, and even has some heartwarming moments. Still, this isn’t a book I would ever want to take on a vacation, or include in a care package to someone in the hospital, or even necessarily re-read.

I’ve encountered this phenomenon with music, too: sometimes a new album comes out by an artist that I like, but I’m just not ready for — say, doom-and-gloom indie rock in the middle of a sunny summer. I’ve bought albums and let them gather dust for months around the house until that magic moment came, and suddenly it was the right time, and every note played in perfect harmony with where I was and how I was feeling then.

Books are much more immersive, and require a much greater time commitment, so it’s no wonder that we occasionally encounter one that we’re just not in the right frame of mind for. I try to think of it as saving the book for the proper moment, rather than abandoning it or quitting. On the other hand, I’ve reluctantly started books that I didn’t think I was in the mood for, only to be pulled in by their excellence.

Have you ever found the right book at the wrong time? What made you put it down at first, and what made you pick it back up again?

Stephanie Perry
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