Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Book Recommendations Go Wrong

A couple of days ago an article in The Guardian addressed the issue: "When book recommendations go wrong. How many times has someone pressed a book on you 'that you'll love' which you actually loathe?" Of course this has happened to me. I'll bet it's happened to all book lovers. And just like the example given in the article, my worst offenders have been exes, as I discussed in my Dealbreakers post.

I have a very good friend, J. 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. 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, right? 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 actually pretty 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 my 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, L. when she was still in school, and 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 that 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/from work. It was literally putting me to sleep and then I'd hit the rumble strip 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, M., 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.

About ten years ago you shouldn't swing a cat without hitting a girl reading The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, which was recommended to me by a girlfriend, S., who I didn't know well. I found it pretentious, disjointed, precious, and frustrating (although this one I did finish.)

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!


BookQuoter said...

I am currently reading One hundred years in Solitude, and I am also finding it very tiresome to constantly refer to the family tree. I am trying to finish in the hopes that I will like it but I don't know.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I hated Cold Mountain! Hated it!
But I also hated The Help...and I think I am the only person on the planet that felt that way.

Kay said...

Oh, yeah. I've tried to read best-sellers and those books that are supposed to be so fabulous -- and then I just couldn't get into them. Prime example, THE PRINCE OF TIDES. I just. Couldn't. Do it.

Stopped by to let you know, I posted an interview with literary agent Laurie McLean on my blog: www.kayemevans.com/blog

She provided awesome info, the most substantive answers I've received from a literary agent. Hope you can check it out!

Rebecca Chapman said...

I have to admit that I loved One Hundred Years and Cold Mountain!

I sometimes read a book recommended to me that I don't enjoy and I am notorious for recommending books to my sister and mother that they don't like.

But I figure - everyone has different tastes so I am just going to keep recommending away

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

Cold Mountain has been on my TBR shelf forever because every time I think about reading it, I think it will be boring.

But your last comment is so true! Almost every time someone gives me a book, they don't ask about it later. But I still tell people not to expect to hear back from me -- a book has to percolate on my TBR shelves for quite a while before I get in the mood to read it.

Christy said...

I've never read 100 Years of Solitude, but I've been told by people who've read it that it slogs and slogs and then suddenly the ending comes along, blows the reader away and puts all that came before in a new light.

I've read Cold Mountain but it was back when I was in high school. I liked it all right.

A few people recommend books to me, but not many. I'm usually recommending books to other people, but it's usually people I know well.

kate wiseman said...

100 years of solitude is a slogger. Love in the time of cholera, on the other hand, is AMAZING. I hated Wuthering Heights. It's a classic love story blah blah blah people, get a life, admit your feelings, quit haunting the freaking moor or wherever you live. Yee gads.

Carin said...

100 Years of Solitude was very appropriately named. I am still trying to forget that book. When the Aurelianos (you know...the 21 of them or however many there were) grew pig tails or something, I was just done. I'm not sure that I will ever read anything else by him.

Off to read your Dealbreakers post!