Love You, Don’t Love Your Recommendations
I have a very good friend, Jessica, who is also a good reader, and we’re in the same book group. But aside from book club books which we mostly agree on, our reading interests are diametrically opposed. If I loved a book, she’ll hate it, and vice versa. Which doesn’t stop her from recommending books to me! I smile, roll my eyes a little, and say to her, “but you know I always hate books you love, right?” and she insists this one will be different. But I’ve been burned too many times to try. (Although if she mentions she hated a book, I perk right up and ask “What’s the title?”) I’m not sure why she’s so insistent on continuing to recommend these to me. I think she’s very optimistic and on one level thinks that if she love love loves a book, everyone will. Whereas with my background in bookselling, I really try to tailor my recommendations to the recipient, regardless of what I personally have been reading and liking. In fact, I’ve even been known to recommend books I don’t like to people who I know will like them!
The bum books are somewhat difficult for me to track, because mostly I don’t finish books I don’t like (life is too short!) so I don’t include them in the list of books I’ve read. But one that comes to mind right away is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. It was recommended to me by my youngest sister when she was still in school. I liked other books she’d suggested but this one I detested. A family tree/list of characters at the beginning should have been a red flag. I was still having to refer back to it every couple of pages when I was halfway through, and I threw in the towel.
Another that was recommended by all and sundry for a while was Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. I was listening to the audio book while driving to and from work. It was literally putting me to sleep and then I’d hit the rumble strip on the side of the interstate and wake up…and it would happen again and again. I found the book filled with bad southern stereotypes and just tedious with very little plot. When I was 2/3 of the way through, I went to the friend who had pushed it on me and asked if I had correctly guessed the “surprise” ending. When he confirmed it, I said “That’s it! I’m done!” Ejected it and never looked back.
The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard was recommended by a college friend and it had won the National Book Award which made it seem like a slam dunk. It is lyrical, poetic, romantic, atmospheric, and I just was bored to tears. It took me well over 100 pages before I could stop pausing every time the name Leith came up and think, “Now who is that again?” (Answer: the main character.) Yes the imagery is beautiful and the language is evocative, but nothing happens. Even when something does happen, it is beaten around the bush, referred to so obliquely that I often thought I skipped a page by accident.
I take all recommendations with a big grain of salt. Luckily, I don’t actually get too many of them. Most of my friends know that with 350+ unread books in my house, I need another book to add to my TBR list like the proverbial fish needs their bicycle. And often when I do get recommendations, I nod and smile and then forget. It turns out unless the book is a loaner most people don’t ever ask you later if you actually read it. So don’t worry if you are getting bad recommendations. Life is too short to read bad books!
Carin Siegfried is a freelance book editor in Charlotte, the founder of the Charlotte chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, and Vice-President of WNBA (National).
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