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Let's say I'm talking about a book, and I need to refer to some other book I've read, which I consider to be, of all the books I know, the one that is closest to the book that's under consideration. I would say:

The book I've read that feels closest to this one is...

But this just feels wrong. I can't find any way of phrasing this that seems right. The issue I keep running up against is that I have to do three things:

  1. Refer to all of the books that I've read.
  2. In that set, single out one specific book.
  3. But also somehow apply the superlative "closest" to it.

If you drop the last requirement, this isn't hard. "The only sad book I've read" is easy, because the criteria that singles out your book isn't a superlative. The problem seems to be that I have to single out one book, but once I've done that I can't meaningfully apply a superlative anymore.

Why does the above sound wrong, and what would be the best way of phrasing it?

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It sounds just fine. –  tchrist Jul 26 '13 at 20:28
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I agree with tchrist, there’s nothing wrong with the way you’ve phrased it. You could also say (which you nearly do in your introductory paragraph), “Of all the books I’ve read, the one that comes closest to this one is …”. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 26 '13 at 20:38
    
The book which has the most affinity with this one is... –  Mari-Lou A Jul 26 '13 at 20:48
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about wring advice –  FumbleFingers Jul 26 '13 at 21:05
3  
the question is on topic because it is about English argument structure and valence alternations. –  jlovegren Jul 26 '13 at 23:02
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2 Answers 2

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You are probably feeling unease because you are noting that book is the notional subject of feels in the relative clause, and books don't have feelings. It is I which is doing the feeling.

The construction is acceptable because the verb feel is participating in a middle voice construction, which is where the verb is used intransitively, and has a subject which is considered the undergoer of the action it describes (and the verb is normally transitive). Other examples:

  • iPods sell quickly on opening day. (cf. *I sold the iPod...)
  • Tomatoes cut easily with this knife. (cf. I cut the tomatoes...)
  • The waste gas oxidizes in the incinerator. (cf. The incinerator oxidized...)
  • Bethany is the only one who ****s. (cf. Thomas ****...)
  • The water feels hot. (cf. I felt the water...)
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Instead of feels, why not use a verb like resemble or *remind?

The book I've read that most resembles this one is...

or

The book I've read that most reminds me of this one is...

If you want to emphasize that your consideration covers your entire reading experience, you could say

Of all the books I've read, this one most resembles [or reminds me] of . . .

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