Why You Shouldn't Recommend Books

I have given up taking book recommendations from the masses. I am a quick reader, but I won’t read things if I don’t like them, or if they don’t entertain me. I have developed opinions about novels over the course of my reading career and I don’t like to force a novel past my eyes. I haven’t read past the first chapter of Moby Dick, and probably never will. I did not particularly like Neuromancer. Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle is horribly long-winded and if I wasn’t already hooked by his other books, I never would have gotten past the third chapter. The Jungle put me to sleep, depressed. Yet there are books I love that I know would make people scratch their heads and wonder what I was smoking.

Recently there was a call from Pharyngula to recommend Science Fiction books for young readers. The conclusion I drew from reading the responses was that it was a bell-shaped distribution ranging from crazy to excellent. Most of the responses (in my opinion, of course) were reasonable, while some steered people away from (imo) good books and others steered people toward bad ones. The final decision: Mass Book Recommendations are utterly useless. Or maybe udderly useless as you get stampeded toward the mainstream (Of course, there are some excellent books that everyone has read. “Exception to every rule,” and all that).

I am personally of the opinion, as evidenced in the Harriet Klausner post, that you should take a book recommendation with a large grain of salt until you and the reviewer develop a relationship. I have friends whose book taste I know and vice versa. I don’t feel like I’m leading them astray when I tell them “read this, don’t read that.” Likewise, there are a few professional reviewers that I trust to accurately predict my enjoyment of a book (there are those reviewers whom I can trust to hate anything I’d like, too, which is an accurate prediction.)

Of course, you shouldn’t depend on anyone’s judgement for reading. Not mine, not your brother’s, not the NY Times, not anybody! You should merely pick something up and read it. If you don’t like it, move on. That’s a great way to review books!

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4 Responses to Why You Shouldn't Recommend Books

  1. Ken says:

    I made the mistake of buying “Winkie” on the recommendation of Entertainment Weekly as being a “modern-day ‘Velveteen Rabbit’ for adult readers.” Oh god, it was horrible. I made it a third through the novel, but it didn’t get any better. I felt the author had an axe to grind, and it was readers ‘getting it.’

    Unless the recommendation comes from a known source with similar tastes, take the recommendation as you would a weather forecast from a 12yo. (Movie recommendations are easier)

  2. Schiec says:

    Please continue to recommend books, at least to me. I have thoroughly enjoyed the ones you have thrown my direction.

  3. Bill says:

    To Schiec, From Bill: You are one of the aforementioned friends of whom I know. If you want to start reading some harder scifi, try The Reality Dysfunction by Peter Hamilton but be aware that it takes a loooong time for that story to start weaving the various and sundry character threads together into a coherent whole.

  4. Steph says:

    Books are such a matter of personal taste. They’re like dating. You meet, go for coffee, check out the jacket (yes, we’ve ALL judged books by the cover). If you’ve got some chemistry, maybe you make a second date and go from there. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, so you continue the search.

    Also, some people are more discriminating with their reading time. I am a “finish it no matter what” type. If I start a book, it’s VERY rare that I won’t finish it…it has to be BAD. Apocalyptically so (I’ve finished Darksword trilogy books). I won’t say it hasn’t happened, but it doesn’t happen often.

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