Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Recommendations

I've been thinking about the spectrum of reactions to having a book recommended--from the bafflingly negative reaction of a friend of mine who will not read a book if I recommend it--possibly out of fear that he will hate it so much it will "kill" our 30-year friendship--to the exaggeratedly positive reaction of book bloggers who apologize when it turns out I don't like a book they adored--as if I'm going to blame them for "making" me read it.

There's no need to apologize. I can't say this any better than Trapunto already said it in her post about The Book that Killed a Friendship--if someone doesn't like a recommended book, then "that's the breaks, toots!"

This is why I've decided not to try to be better about keeping track of who has recommended a book to me. I tend to form a gestalt from all the reviews I read and hear. For a while, as a book blogger, I thought it would be a good thing if I kept better notes about who recommended what. But gradually I've come to believe that the gestalt method is preferable. How many of us are actually that swayed by a single review? Even my very oldest friends don't always know what will make me stand up and applaud, and it's not their responsibility, either. It's mine, and mine alone. If I like a book, I'm not going to be grateful to everyone who led me to it--at least not every time--and if I don't like a book, I'm certainly not going to be angry at anyone about it.

One of the points of talking about books here (hey, I've rediscovered that there's a point!) is that it's not personal. I would hope that my friend who avoids my recommendations because of his hyper-sensitive fear could see my review of something and get interested without feeling personally urged to read it. And I would hope that at the other end of the spectrum, readers who don't care for one thing out of the kinds of books I read and discuss would suspend judgment for long enough to browse for something else that might suit them better.

Although sometimes I do talk about a book in terms of wasted time, I also tend to agree with Trapunto about "book time." No time spent in book world is ever entirely wasted, at least for me. No time there is ever coerced, either. If I choose to read something, it's my choice...and anyone who has ever lived with me will tell you how difficult it can be to make me do anything I don't want to do!

So feel reassured that anything said here is not going to result in the tossing around of acronyms, however clever, like the delicious imaginary ones Amy and Trapunto came up with (in the comments):
IBYTIAGAM (I'm bummed your taste isn't as good as mine)
ISYOCATTWID (It sucks you obviously couldn't appreciate this the way I did)
TBYTS (Too bad your taste sucks)
and the crowning touch:
TPYAB ('Tis Pity You're a Boor)
...which makes all of us John Ford fans roll out of our chairs...

If you're not a John Ford fan WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU? See, it's just ridiculous. This is not personal... until I send you a book inscribed specifically to you and stand over you until you've finished reading it! Understand?


Ana S. said...

lol! I love the acronyms.

I prefer the gestalt method too. Very often I can't quite pinpoint what the review that swayed me was, and that's probably because there wasn't a single one.

Care said...

TPISAYR!! (this post is super and you rock). Reminds me of your other post that suggested we actually learn from books that we don't like. i really enjoy the process of trying to figure out WHAT it is that bugs me abt a book rather than diss it as 'bad'. Not that I ever figure it out, sadly...

Teresa said...

Love the distinction you make here between making a personal recommendation and a general recommendation on a blog. When I recommend books to real-life friends, I'm actually much more likely to fill the recommendation with caveats than I do on my blog. This may be weird but I feel like readers of my blog have a better sense of my taste than my real-life friends who come to me for recommendations. Readers of my blog can see my thoughts on *everything* I read (not that they necessarily read all my reviews, but even semi-regular readers of my blog get a broader view of my tastes than friends who don't read it).

I do keep track of which review sways me to finally pick up a book, but I don't always mention it in my review, especially if the review skews negative. I don't even know why I keep track; it is, after all, sometimes more of a gestalt thing, but there's usually some point at which I decide to add a book to my "someday" list, and I make a note of which reviews did that. But really it's often a mix of things that cause me to pick up a book, not one single review.

Harriet said...

I also adhere to the gestalt method. The thing about reading books that someone else recommends is that it turns reading into a social venture. Even if they liked it and I didn't (or vice versa), it gives us something to talk about. It's why I enjoy my book group. It's very rare for us all to agree on a book, and if we do, the discussion tends not to be as good as for books where there are more opinions. There are, however, certain types of commentary on certain types of books that might kill a friendship. If, for example, someone were to tell me that they thought Jane Eyre was a stupid book written by a hack, I would take the comment as if the person were calling *me* stupid and a hack. Because Jane is one of those childhood book loves that has become part of me and because such comments show the commenter didn't really attempt to engage with the material. If, however, that person were to say that they didn't care for the book or "just couldn't get into it," that would be fine. I wouldn't take it personally. Which is why the apologizing book bloggers are a different species from the "Jane Eyre is stupid" type critic. And finally, I love talking to people about books I love, whether or not they liked them. If a book is worth the time, then I love hearing different perspectives, analyzing, hashing it out, arguing. It's fun. And it's interesting.

Amanda said...

I like keeping track of who got me thinking about a book, or in some cases, who pushed me over the line to actually read a book I've been dithering on.

Jenny said...

The John Ford reference made me shriek with laughter, thoroughly alarming my puppy. LOVE IT. And I am gradually coming to believe that it is a waste of time to keep track of who recommended what. I may change my TBR list soon, just have it be a list of books. That would be simpler anyway. Oo, maybe I could alphabetize it...or organize it by categories of book ("goes off to live with books", "dystopian books", "books I don't think I'm really going to like but I feel like I should read them anyway").

FreshHell said...

Good to know because I don't know John Ford from a hole in the head. I have gotten to the point in my life where I read what I want to read and I don't really care what it "says" about me. I like Stephen King AND the Brontes. I like a good story. And what that means to means is not what it means to others. I say I don't like sci-fi, but I find myself reading it on occasion which I think says more about the author's ability to suck me in to a story than it does about genres in general. I will never hate you for disliking a book I love but...ISYOCATTWID. :) Kidding.

readersguide said...

It is funny, though. A good friend of mine whose taste is fairly similar to mine can't stand Swedish mysteries. They're just too dark and she can't see the point of them. I look at her and wonder how she can possibly not love them, but she doesn't. And, she inexplicably likes science fiction, which just does not interest me at all. But I do love to talk about books, and sometimes it's as interesting to talk about why you didn't like something as why you did, and sometimes when you have to read something, for a book group, for instance, which you would never have picked out yourself, you end up liking it. So -- I admit that I do sometimes think less of people who don't love books I love. I think, maybe, that they are shallow or have moral failings. But mostly, if it's not a case of Jane Eyre, as Harriet mentions, it's just sort of interesting. Books are surprisingly personal, actually, and the bit that resonates strongly with one reader may have nothing to say to another, who may only be annoyed beyond words at the part that the first reader didn't even notice.

Jeanne said...

Nymeth, I'm glad to hear you do this, too!

Care, Years of teaching is part of what makes me suspect that when I don't like a book, the problem might be me. For instance, I think most 18-year-olds haven't had enough disappointments in their lives to be able to love Death of a Salesman as much as it deserves.

Teresa, I increasingly get the sense that I have more real-life friends who are avid readers than many book bloggers do. And I've never been good about making lists and keeping track of the kind of reading I blog about. If I were, though, I might be as circumspect about it as you are.

Harriet, as I said to Care, sometimes I think it's inability to engage with a book, rather than refusal.

Amanda, If you like keeping track, that makes it fun for the people who suggest stuff to you! I'm just less fun than you are.

Jenny, I laughed out loud when I read the John Ford reference, too. But my cats are pretty used to me.

FreshHell, John Ford wrote 'Tis Pity She's a Whore in the early 17th century and it was often performed in the Restoration. So it's a bit esoteric except among English majors who like that smutty stuff.

ReadersGuide, Sometimes I am shallow. It's mysterious, as you say, how our likes and dislikes intersect with other peoples'. My adult attitude is borrowed from something a wise friend of mine said in high school about how the romantic taste of others is something we'll never understand so there's not much use trying.

Trapunto said...

That is baffling. Way to miss out on a lot of good books. Your opinion must make a big impression on your friends.

In The Jane Austen Book Club I was really surprised by one character's policy of wholesale annoyance at book recommendations--or was it being given actual books she didn't like? That response had never occurred to me. I detected an element of rebellion.

I would know John Ford from a hole in the head. . . but only just. There are a lot of unattached phrases rattling around in there with the bullet casings. (I think I saw a college production of 'Tis Pity in my early teens, but I'm not sure. Are there any other Restoration comedies with incest?)

Jen Vincent said...

Have you ever seen Daniel Pennac's Rights of a Reader? If you google it, it'll come up. Number 1 - The right not to read. I think that is so true. If you don't like a book, don't read it! I love recommending books, especially books that I like or I would love to get someone's perspective on. To me reading is a completely social experience. After I finished Catching Fire (the sequel to Hunger Games) I could not wait to talk to my friends who had read it and to compare what they thought of the ending (especially since I bawled liked a middle-schooler being dumped for the first time). If I love a book I'll tell anyone to read it but it doesn't bother me if someone doesn't like it. I'd much rather hear why they didn't like it than for them not to even give it a try. Like you said about teens maybe not having enough life experience to understand or truly appreciate a book like Death of a Salesman, that's so true about all books. Every person brings their own backgrounds experiences to a book that makes them connect or despise it.

Jeanne said...

Trapunto, Beaumont and Fletcher's The Captain!

Mrs. Vincent, sometimes that feeling of not being able to wait until someone else reads a book is almost unbearable. That's why Aarti and I want more people to read Benatar's Wish Her Safe At Home and I want everyone to read Harkaway's The Gone-Away World!

Jenners said...

I really enjoyed this post ... especially the acronyms. I have to say, ever since people started actually reading books because I wrote about them on my blog, I feel a tremendous responsibility that they like them, which does seems kind of odd now that I think about it! I mean, I don't get upset if a I read a book that someone loved and it doesn't rock my world ... yet I feel that someone will get upset if I love a book and they don't. thanks for helping me see that it isn't worth worrying about and those peole just suck! ; )

edj3 said...

Well I'm one of those people who recommended a book you ended up not liking so much. And while I hoped that wouldn't be the case, our lives didn't end.

In a twist on what you wrote, I suspected my liking The Wasp Factory said more about me in a possibly not good way than your not caring for it said about you. And in that case, it probably did :-)

What's good for me in reading your blog and others is that I do tend to stick with books I'm pretty sure I'll like. Reading your reviews challenges me to move away from that--granted with mixed results, but I do think the benefits outweigh the experience of reading a book I ended up not liking. Which happened this week; I read a book recommended by my son and found the ending so awful that it colored my entire perception of the book.

Jeanne said...

Jenners, In dreams begins responsibility...

Elizabeth, I think we can go overboard with feeling weird about enjoying books that have deeply twisted and disturbing characters. I like having read The Wasp Factory better all the time. Distance helps--but it was an experience I wouldn't have wanted to miss.