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Nick Hornby thinks you'll like (some of) these 40 books.
March 1, 2009 7:43 PM   Subscribe

You strike up a conversation with someone you don't know, and you're getting on OK, and then suddenly, without warning, you hear the five words that mean the relationship has no future beyond the time it takes to say them: “I think you'll like it. via 3quarksdaily

The list (three pages), and a printer-friendly link to all 40 books.
posted by cgc373 (108 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Even worse than "I think you'll like it" is "Here, you can borrow it."

This is problematic for several reason. The first is that, no, I won't like it, and I don't want to borrow it, but I have to borrow it now because if I don't you'll think I'm either ungrateful or condescending or both. So now I've got this stupid book I already hate, which raises the second problem: your expectation that I am going to read it and then talk with you about it. "I haven't got 'round to it yet," doesn't work indefinitely, and “I’ve only flicked through it” raises the same issues as problem one (i.e. ungrateful and condescending). So you read the fucking thing and, yes, it’s as vile as you imagined it would be, but do you go and tell this person, this generous and considerate soul who believes they are doing you a favour by lending you this ridiculous piece of excrement? No, of course you don’t: you smile, you swallow, and you choke out “Yes, it was actually rather interesting, but not really my cup of tea,” which is basically you admitting to them that “I am an asshole.” So, circuitously, what has occurred is that you have dedicated several hours of your lifetime ration of tolerance and understanding to an enterprise that has resulted in nothing more than yet another person considering you a prick.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:06 PM on March 1, 2009 [37 favorites]


Ah. See, I only recommend good books, so I just say, "You'll like it." None of this pansy "I think, maybe..." business.
posted by niles at 8:09 PM on March 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


If after 50 years you still don't know what you like the why the hell not just take advice from random strangers?
posted by H. Roark at 8:10 PM on March 1, 2009 [11 favorites]


Well, dahlia, you could take the time to frame exactly why you didn't appreciate the lent item, but you risk coming across as thoughtful, insightful ,and incisive. Especially if you can make the lender understand that the differences come from a dislike of the lent item rather than a dislike of the lender.

Please note tat the above was said with love and was not intended as snark.
posted by lekvar at 8:11 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, I could do that.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:20 PM on March 1, 2009


I pride myself on being very discriminating when it comes to telling a friend they should read/listen to/watch something. I'm happy to tell people something I'm really excited about, but suggesting they need to experience something is just really disgusting and revolting behavior.

Happy-Go-Lucky was an amazing film. You should all really go see it.
posted by bardic at 8:21 PM on March 1, 2009


Well, dahlia, you could take the time to frame exactly why you didn't appreciate the lent item, but you risk coming across as thoughtful, insightful ,and incisive. Especially if you can make the lender understand that the differences come from a dislike of the lent item rather than a dislike of the lender.


I'm sort of with our turgid friend on this one. I always have a big pile of books to read and read them according to my own whims. I just don't like people pushing books on me. Even if I go read a book a few years later I don't regret not reading when it was first recommended. I usually just say "yeah, I should read that." And if pressed I will try and pawn if off on Mrs. HotBot.

Now GIFTS of books are always welcome.
posted by shothotbot at 8:24 PM on March 1, 2009


Even worse than "I think you'll like it" is "Here, you can borrow it." [etc.]

turgid dahlia, you've been watching my life on spy-cam, haven't you? I've been through this exact experience more times than I care to remember, the worst of which was being given a book about time-traveling clones ... and it's sequel.
posted by Donnie VandenBos at 8:25 PM on March 1, 2009


Or better: vouchers!
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:25 PM on March 1, 2009


Ooh Oooh! I know the answer to this one!

Metafilter: I think you'll like it.
posted by clearly at 8:26 PM on March 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


I haven't read his list in detail yet, but I must say - I didn't know pinching bums was presumptuous. Ohhhh...an ENGLISH bum...like an ass. Ok. Gotcha.
posted by spicynuts at 8:29 PM on March 1, 2009


But pinching the homeless is kosher?
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:33 PM on March 1, 2009


Recommendations from people in person make me edgy, but not for the reasons he listed. He seems to think it's presumptuous of people, and I guess I see what he's getting at, but it's too well-intentioned for me to get huffy about their thinking they know what I like. They're just excited about something and they want to share it with me. That's too touching for me to say it's anything like they pinched my ass.

The reason I don't like those personal recommendations isn't because I probably won't like it -- I probably won't -- but because most people, when they're excited about something, will get irritated or defensive or bitchy if you try it and don't like it.

So when I get a recommendation, I'm not offended that they recommended me something. I'm wary because I know that if I actually read it, it's likely to lead to an uncomfortable conversation where they make me the bad guy.
posted by Nattie at 8:33 PM on March 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've learned from recent experiences that my tastes are waaay leftfield and I should not recommend anything to anyone.

(Or: take it from me, and don't watch Holy Mountain with that cute boy/girl who is into you. He/she will likely be traumatized and not speak to you for a week.)
posted by naju at 8:33 PM on March 1, 2009


"Buddy, can you spare any-"
"SURPRISE!"
"Hey, what the fuck!"
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:34 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um... I have friends who recommend me music that they "think I'll like" and they're right about 90% of the time. And vice versa. Is this not normal? When you learn what your friends like?
posted by ORthey at 8:36 PM on March 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've learned from recent experiences that my tastes are waaay leftfield and I should not recommend anything to anyone.

I was vaguely courting a girl several years ago and in order to impress her with how unique I was I gave her a copy of Michael Gira's The Consumer. She seemed to be busy every weekend after that.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:38 PM on March 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Especially if you can make the lender understand that the differences come from a dislike of the lent item rather than a dislike of the lender.

You have an overinflated sense of either the maturity and understanding of the people who lend me books, or my own powers of persuasion.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:38 PM on March 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


I love what he says about The Magus and had almost the same experience reading it. Except that what I remember more than devouring it is being so mad that after all the beautiful suspenseful truly mysterious buildup, the ending was so stupid and banal.

His list is terrific. Some really unexpected picks here and some intriguing titles that I think I'll look for. I'm impressed with how many women authors, and contemporary ones at that, he picks. Also, he deserves congratulations just for this:
I don't think that you ought to read everything on this list and nor do I think that you should have read them already; I hope that you haven't, in fact... If, as a result of these recommendations, someone sets off on a reading journey that he or she wouldn't normally have taken, and that journey ends in the sort of blissful, allconsuming absorption we all used to feel closer to the beginning of our reading lives, then I'll be happy.
That's so refreshing to hear after a long spate of "must" lists - 100 Classics You MUST Read, etc. I feel like the last 5 years have been all about books i MUST read, albums I MUST hear, sites I MUST see. I'm all for recommendations, but isn't there still room left for individual, independent discovery along a path no one has yet laid out? MUST we plan everyone's route through the entire world?
posted by Miko at 8:38 PM on March 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


MY MOTHER TOLD ME NOT TO TALK TO STRANGERS.
posted by Postroad at 8:39 PM on March 1, 2009


turgid dahlia , when this happens to me I react most violently against the book, author or even publisher.

"Oh THAT piece of shit, man I couldn't fucking stand it, no way. I read the blurb and the first page or so but no way, just terrible- I hate everything about it, and to such a degree that I doubt I will be able to have a conversation about it"


This has one distinct advantage in that they never ask you again.
posted by mattoxic at 8:42 PM on March 1, 2009


"try it, you'll like it"

*plops alka seltzer into glass of water*
posted by pyramid termite at 8:42 PM on March 1, 2009


"Try it, you'll like it."

*unzips*
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:46 PM on March 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have one friend who works in a superb independent bookstore. Twice a year, at Christmas and on my birthday, she manages to hit a point where the at least two of the three Venn diagram circles of "Ricochet Biscuit would love this book," "RB does not have this book" and "RB hasn't even heard of this book" overlap.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:46 PM on March 1, 2009


My friends and I participated in a sort of book-swap secret santa thing last year, in which each participant anonymously assigned a book to a randomly-selected other member of the group. I was given this. If you pick up a copy for yourself, watch for the changing fonts for each speaker, especially the edgy typeset used for the misunderstood teenager who sets the abandoned warehouse fires that keep risking the life of his firefighter father.

I was relieved to find out, weeks later, that my assigner just thought it'd be funny if I had to read it.
posted by Partial Law at 8:48 PM on March 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Even worse than "I think you'll like it" is "Here, you can borrow it."

Years ago when I was trying to either shop or self-produce my own screenplays, I went back to the dean of NYU film school, with whom I'd had a close working relationship. He was happy to see me, and my friend and I went into our arranged meeting to get ideas from him. Towards the end of the meeting, I pulled a copy of the screenplay out of my bag and said something to the effect of, "well, if you want to read it, here's-"

He cut me off, still smiling sincerely, with, "keep it. I'm not going to read it."

I should've been offended, but I knew it wasn't personal, and instead I was sort of amused and honored by how honest he was with me about it.

That said, Nick Hornby is the one who said, "It's what you like, not what you are like," so I'd hope he'd have some degree of faith in the ability of the deep flirtation with someone of similar tastes to introduce one into something they might not have considered before. I know I got into Metric and Tegan & Sarah that way a couple of years ago.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:52 PM on March 1, 2009


By the end of the book, though, he comes around to: "It’s not what you like, it’s what you’re like that’s important."
posted by Miko at 9:04 PM on March 1, 2009


don't watch Holy Mountain with that cute boy/girl who is into you. He/she will likely be traumatized and not speak to you for a week

Or they just weren't as into you as they thought and the Jodorowsky gave them an easy out for a few days so they could evaluate their feelings without hurting your own.

Hey, better you hear it from me than on the street, man.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:15 PM on March 1, 2009


The irony of this post is awesome.

Good post BTW. Thanks for thinking that we'd like the article.
posted by sien at 9:15 PM on March 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love reading things that people I love loved to read, and I hound them always for more books, because reading their favorites either makes me love them more for loving such a book, or helps me to understand them better.

But if I don't like or trust you in the same way as I do my family or close friend, I probably don't want to read it.

*waiting for person I don't know all that well to recommend me a book I'll really like, but not hoping for it...*
posted by localhuman at 9:17 PM on March 1, 2009


This phenomenon, known as "streeping", started in 1979 when Perzsike Frenkel of Newark, New Jersey, saw Kramer vs. Kramer and gushed to all her friends, "Isn't Meryl Streep the most amazing actress ever?" Her friends--many of whom had not seen the movie--spread the word, and the tipping point was reached around mid-1996, after which time nobody dared to say otherwise.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:18 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, noticed he put Mystic River on his list.

I can now safely ignore the rest of his list.
posted by bardic at 9:24 PM on March 1, 2009


I like Nick Hornby, I really do. A Long Way Down is an excellent, excellent book. And High Fidelity is pretty good, even if it's way way overrated.

But he's really not at his best when he tries to play the "look at my obscure references the THINGS I LIKE DEFINE ME" card. Not because that's not a viable worldview, but because some of the things he picks are SO SO SO lame and pedestrian. You can't set up characters as obscure music fanatics and then have them talk about great songs and mention "Smells like teen spirit." Just, no. And you can't write a Young Adult book and try to be down with the kids by basing it around Tony Hawk.

But, really, A Long Way Down is great. Check it out. You'd like it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:24 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


[S]he manages to hit a point where the at least two of the three Venn diagram circles of "Ricochet Biscuit would love this book," "RB does not have this book" and "RB hasn't even heard of this book" overlap.

I like the implication that you have books you haven't even heard of.
posted by lore at 9:27 PM on March 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


some of the things he picks are SO SO SO lame and pedestrian

It's amazing how many authors do this - recommend lame, pedestrian books. I've come to think that they're something they admire in the ability to be so accessible, so familiar. I'm lucky enough to live in a town with great, frequent author talks, and I've noticed this pattern. Augusten Burroughs recommending Elizabeth Berg ("a female Updike") was memorable.
posted by Miko at 9:27 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um... I have friends who recommend me music that they "think I'll like" and they're right about 90% of the time. And vice versa. Is this not normal? When you learn what your friends like?

I'm not sure if it's normal or not. When it doesn't work out, though, the problem seems to be that your friends know you like X movie or Y singer or Z book but they don't understand what it is you like about it. They'll try to recommend something that seems similar to them on the surface, but it's completely missing whatever element you liked about the thing they think it's similar to.

So, using music as an example, someone might see I like Depeche Mode and think oh, I like New Wave -- I don't -- or electronica so they recommend something like that. They don't understand that I like Depeche Mode because of the vocalists, the feel to the songs, and the lyrics. Things like this is why Pandora doesn't work for some people. There's so much more to a song than how it sounds. Just like books, they will be more or less appealing based on what you value, how you grew up, what's important to you, what you spend a lot of time thinking about, etc.

There are some people that just like anything in a certain genre. I have friends that will love any horror movie, or any techno song, or any fantasy book. There's nothing wrong with that. Are you and your friends are more like that?

On the other hand, there are a few people who I've had hours-long discussions with about things we have liked and disliked and why, and yeah, those friends are always better at recommendations. If I hear something like, "I didn't like this, but you probably would," then I'm sold. If you've had conversations like that with those friends, then it'd be expected that the recommendations are better.
posted by Nattie at 9:27 PM on March 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


...I guess what I'm saying: these are immensely popular authors who themselves write books that move hundreds of thousands of copies. They aren't obscure writers and they don't really admire obscure writing. They write to be read. I think this is reflected in his list - many of these books are widely read, widely liked, and keeping bookstores in business. They may be popular and they may not be that high-art or obscure, but they get read. A lot. And a lot of people enjoy them.
posted by Miko at 9:29 PM on March 1, 2009


I always thought I'd get on so well with Nick Hornby. Now it seems the relationship has no future, before we've even met.

drjimmy11, I think Hornby has to tread a very careful line between being populist enough to not insult his readers, and obscure enough to make them feel they're part of his exclusive club. And hence sell heaps of books.
posted by girlgenius at 9:29 PM on March 1, 2009


For me the worst part of "I think you'll like it" is the chance that the other person is actually right. You've spent years putting together that collection, congratulating yourself on its eclecticism, glowing with the knowledge of what a genre-hopping, fad-dismissing, canon-defying iconoclast you are. You can hear them all: "bunglin jones, man! Who knows what that guy's gonna be reading tomorrow? He's shelved Moby Dick right next to The Acid House in his living room! The Bible next to Chomsky! No one can get a handle on what goes on amidst the vast and intricate tracts of his intellect. How could anyone possibly predict what he would actually like?" But what they really say is "Readers like you are a dime a dozen. Your bookshelves are evidence of a solid, but mostly unremarkable middle-class education.This book would fit right in. There's a very good chance you'll like it." And, quite often, they're right.
posted by bunglin jones at 9:30 PM on March 1, 2009 [26 favorites]


*waiting for person I don't know all that well to recommend me a book I'll really like, but not hoping for it...*

Fine. Here goes. Years ago, my mother, who knows me better than I always think she does but who rarely gets my taste, sent me a copy of Bel Canto, by Anne Patchett. I had no hope for it, but started it anyway, since she'd gone to the trouble and all.

I, at least, thought it was unbelievably good. Your mileage may vary, of course. I'd also recommend Blameless in Abaddon, by James Morrow, which can be slow going at times but which is absolutely worth it for the emotional payoff of the final paragraph.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:32 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


...you hear the five words that mean the relationship has no future beyond the time it takes to say them:

$20, same as in town.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:35 PM on March 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


I have this whole sort of thing about "canons"- I feel like I've started constructing my own sort of canon, and I suppose I do lend out a fair amount of these books. But they're good'uns!
I'll start- "Motorman" by David Ohle, and, for non-fiction, "Burn Collector" by Al Burian.
posted by 235w103 at 9:37 PM on March 1, 2009


Funny, I've had the opposite experience of many here. The two examples that come to mind are my high school English teacher (who didn't know me well at all) recommending Breakfast of Champions (which I loved), and a (then) future girlfriend recommending Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. These are two of my favorite books. I still re-read them occasionally.

On the other hand, books I received as gifts were more often problematic. For instance, I received A Confederacy of Dunces from two different people. It didn't look like something I wanted to read, but I read it anyway and mostly hated it.

Anyway, Nick Hornsby's list looks interesting. The few books on there I've read from the list were worth the time (Kavalier and Clay, Sirens of Titan, Huckleberry Finn).
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 9:44 PM on March 1, 2009


I was relieved to find out, weeks later, that my assigner just thought it'd be funny if I had to read it.

I don't understand this comment. But anyway, if you want to see a great movie rent Under The Rainbow, you'll love it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:46 PM on March 1, 2009


I was glad to see that he reads and admires women authors.
posted by serazin at 10:07 PM on March 1, 2009


I usually treat you-might-like-this as a game where, even if I get it wrong, I probably learn something. If the topic of discussion is books, the two questions I tend to ask are "what are you reading now?" (with a follow-up to whether they're enjoying it), and "what was the last book you read that you really liked?" (with a follow-up as to what the book is about, if I'm not familiar with it).

These two questions usually let me get an extremely rough idea of what someone might enjoy. I usually throw in a bunch of questions as to whether they've read such-and-such or so-and-so, and if yes what they thought. These help to narrow it down. At the end I'll either be able to recommend something, or I'll have a bunch of ideas as to what I myself should read next (or avoid reading).
posted by Ritchie at 10:33 PM on March 1, 2009


I guess I'm a minority of one here. Or maybe two. I loan books out, I recommend books to friends, I take recommendations, friends loan me books, and it's all good. Yeah, there are plenty of times where our tastes don't match. Sure, maybe I feel a little let down that my sister-in-law didn't think that Gilead was absolutely amazing, and my Dad is continually surprised that I don't care a whit for Vonnegut. It can be awkward. That's life.

But once in awhile we all connect. Sometimes there is a book that makes the rounds of friends or family & it becomes part of our shared experience. For my family it was Angela's Ashes. At work it was Guns Germs and Steel. My sister-in-law and I put Gilead behind us and re-bonded over Lonesome Dove. I love when this happens, and it's worth the times when it doesn't.

So I will defy you, Nick Hornsby and the MeFi Collective, and I will continue to let anyone I care to know that I have a book that you really ought to read!
posted by kanewai at 11:10 PM on March 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, dahlia, you could take the time to frame exactly why you didn't appreciate the lent item, but you risk coming across as thoughtful, insightful ,and incisive. Especially if you can make the lender understand that the differences come from a dislike of the lent item rather than a dislike of the lender.

Maybe you should rephrase that as:

I think you'll like making the lender understand that you dislike of the lent item rather than the lender.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:45 PM on March 1, 2009


I hate book recommendations. I hate it even more when the recommender gives me a copy of the book with an expectation that I'm going to come back to them having read it. I read a lot, because I enjoy reading; but, I really don't like most books. It's even worse with movies, since I don't wind up actually enjoying more than about 10% of the films I personally select.

I consume media for the sake of escapism. I really don't want to have an intense emotional reaction to it. I do not want to hear the story of a girl who suffered through intense agony and survived--it's just going to make me sad. I hate character farce like Confederacy of Dunces; the character I'm supposed to find hilarious, I generally find sad or contemptible. I love science fiction, but only the kind of science fiction that's logically extrapolated from honest-to-god science and where the characters serve as a vehicle to explore interesting ideas--Niven, for instance; I love Heinlein, since all of his characters are roughly equivalent and preternaturally smart, with it, politically homogeneous, self-conscious. I enjoy humor, but basically only if it's humor based on transgression of social norms, wit, or wordplay--humor based on people being in bad situations just makes me sad, as does humor based on pain (e.g. slapstick).

I have zero interest in the lives of any people but my closest friends. And I'm only interested in their lives because I like them and they're interested in their lives. The lives of fictitious people, revolving around their emotional state and personal growth, doesn't interest me one whit. Yes, I can appreciate it if I need to, and I can relate... but, it doesn't interest me.

And then there's non-fiction. I love non-fiction, when the book is a deep, dense technical tome that's likely to start my path toward expertise in the field or introduce me to a new idea that requires a book to explain. The C Programming Language; The Art of Electronics; Multivariate Calculus and Vector Forms; Being No One; Quantum Psychology. But, popular non-fiction books invariably bore me after the first two chapters: the first chapter lays out the premise, and the second chapter offers an example. I don't need a second example. I sure as fuck don't need 300 pages of example after similar example to "explore" the thesis.

Fuck, most pop nonfic I don't even need to open. Just the title tells me the entire thesis, and I can supply my own examples. I'll take, as example, Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I've never read: Western Europeans were the first to develop practical firearms and advanced metallurgy, not to mention having had intense filthy population density that simultaneously inoculated and protected them from disease. As they met other ethnographic groups, they invariably had superior weaponry or technology, or that group was susceptible to some disease the Europeans had--which, the author is keen to point out, is mere happenstance and does not indicate any inherent Europen racial superiority. I paid attention in history class, I read wikipedia, I can think of about a dozen examples off the top of my head and could come up with a thousand if given a week. I don't want to read a book on it that's simply done my research for me. I sure as shit don't want to have a discussion with you about it. A discussion that will consist mostly of us saying "dude, I didn't know that [obscure conflict] was won by accidental biological warfare" over and over again. And don't get me started on fucking Malcolm Gladwell and his latest book, [Truism: With tedious and tenuous examples]. Each pop sci-fi that actually tempts me winds up in the out pile after I've read, at most, two thirds of it.

Seriously... if you want to to tell me about a cool idea I haven't had or heard, please enlighten me. Give me examples of authors who've explored it. If the idea is intriguing enough, I'll go buy a copy of the author and book that seems the most interesting. But, don't give me a fucking copy of one of those author's books just so that you can have somebody to talk with about it.

</end_rant alt="Sorry for all that, I'm just staring at a copy of Skinny Legs and All that I'll almost certainly never read">
posted by Netzapper at 12:43 AM on March 2, 2009


Wow. We're angry about people recommending things now? This is something of a new low for Metafilter. This is a billion miles away from anything that could be considered a problem.

Here's a quick story that those of you with more eclectic, left-field, I-am-an-unknowable-nexus-of-awesome-unusualatude tastes will probably not understand: I met someone on Thursday. We had a chat about a couple of things and found we had a few tastes in common. She said 'I think you'll like X.' I did. I'll probably recommend it to some of my other friends. Although maybe I won't now, as it seems that a large part of the population takes umbrage at the tinest inferred slight on the astonishing individuality of their character.

Geez Louise.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 1:34 AM on March 2, 2009 [13 favorites]


"I'll take, as example, Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I've never read: Western Europeans were the first to develop practical firearms and advanced metallurgy, not to mention having had intense filthy population density that simultaneously inoculated and protected them from disease. As they met other ethnographic groups, they invariably had superior weaponry or technology, or that group was susceptible to some disease the Europeans had--which, the author is keen to point out, is mere happenstance and does not indicate any inherent Europen racial superiority. "

Then you miss the geography angle, which is basically Montesquieu's climate zone theory from The Spirit of the Laws, but done right. That for me was the biggest payoff: seeing Monty-screw's screwy theory I'd read in high school actually being given a plausible basis.
posted by orthogonality at 2:05 AM on March 2, 2009


At first I was thinking that was a bunch of jerks complaining about their well-meaning friends, but then I remembered the time a friend foisted a stack of Cerebus on me.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 3:10 AM on March 2, 2009


I did. I'll probably recommend it to some of my other friends. Although maybe I won't now, as it seems that a large part of the population takes umbrage at the tinest inferred slight on the astonishing individuality of their character.

You miss at least my point--I don't know about others.

It isn't that I'm taking umbrage to their claiming to know me. I don't especially reckon that people misunderstand me because I'm a beautiful and unique snowflake.

People are actually quite good at determining authors who share philosophies with me. But, there's a difference between what an author expresses (which probably jives just fine) and how an author expresses it, which I very frequently find boring or emotionally painful ("depressing" is too strong a word). I don't tend to read books that reinforce my preexisting beliefs. I read either to learn or to escape.

People rarely feel moved and passionate about, say, Terry Pratchett to buy a copy of it and give it away. Rather, they give me a copy of whatever recent book it is that moved them to tears, and just happened to have a libertarian bent, saying, "The author has some political ideas I think you'd like, and the story is just so powerful." And then, three or four weeks later, they ask me, "Did you read that book I gave you?"

And lord, I've tried. I received books from all of my relations for years and years growing up. Every friend of mine looks at my bookshelf and listens to me talk, and rightly divines a swath of my personal interests and obsessions. And then they buy me a book about The Human Condition that happens to tangentially touch on one of those interests or obsessions. And I try to read it, and I never finish it.

And here is the key point that makes me hate the recommendation (and especially loan/gift) process for books and movies: they get offended when I don't finish it. They never say, "I really liked this, I couldn't care less if you ever experience it, but here's a copy to make it easier if you'd care to." Rather, they seem to get personally offended when I toss the book aside after 100 pages or turn off the movie halfway through. Because this is a thing they love that touched them deeply, and my lack of love appears to somehow be an indictment of their reaction to it. It causes bad blood, and I look ungrateful. Mainly because I am ungrateful for the thing they've given me--about like you would be if I give you a pair of socks that didn't fit. Except you aren't expected to have a deep conversation over coffee about the socks in a month--your gracious lie of "yeah, they're real comfy" is accepted immediately and at your word.

As for non-fiction, it's just that my friends (with few exceptions) read nothing in any of the several fields in which I have a deep interest. So, our interests intersect at the level of pop nonfic. Almost all of which can be condensed to a 2000 word essay with bibliography without loss of clarity and then fact checked by the reader. It makes no difference if I read 300 pages or 300 words expressing the same thesis if I don't check the references and primary sources; I'm still accepting it on authority either way.

I don't even buy nonfic for myself much anymore... in the past 10 years, aside from class assignments, I've never made it through more than about two-thirds of a standard thesis/evidence nonfiction book. If I'm intrigued, I read the first chapter at Barnes and Noble and then if I'm still intrigued, I research it myself.

I am intellectually curious about a wide range of topics. But, I don't express that curiosity by buying the sorts of books that make the recommendation rounds. Nobody ever seems to take my interest in linguistics and then buy me a copy of the collected papers of Alfred Korzybski or a dictionary in a language I've never heard of. They notice that I love linguistics, and then they buy me some sort of goddamn fluff that spends 300 pages explaining that there exists a cognitive effect arising from the words we use and here-are-some-funny-examples-aren't-they-weird.

As I think about it, I do have friends with whom I discuss a couple of these topics. And it frequently comes up that one of us will cite or mention a book that we've read recently and the other will go out and buy it. But, that's a completely different beast than, "Dude, you should totally read this, I bought you a copy, and I'll expect a book report in a month or you're a dick."

Also, this really only applies to books and movies. I happily accept people's recommendations of music and videogames. And I frequently do enjoy the results.

Then you miss the geography angle, which is basically Montesquieu's climate zone theory from The Spirit of the Laws, but done right. That for me was the biggest payoff: seeing Monty-screw's screwy theory I'd read in high school actually being given a plausible basis.

How can you do it right or wrong? Either the thesis is correctly formulated, or not. Either there exists evidence to support that thesis, or not. Or do you mean that Montesquieu fails to provide the latter?

Formulate the thesis properly, and give me your references. We can skip the 300 pages of filler. In either case, unless I go and look up the references and repeat your research, I'm just taking your word on it.

Or, we're talking about enough different theses to fill 300 pages, all on the same general subject (e.g. a calculus textbook). In which case, I may very well buy it, and I'd love to hear a recommendation of it if it's in a field that I have at least a passing interest.

But, that's not what people recommend for the most part. They recommend books with a single thesis and 300 pages of evidence. Having devoted 10-20 hours of my life to reading a book, I'd like to have 10-20 hours' worth of new tools to evaluate reality... not 10 minutes' worth and 15 hours' worth of pubquiz trivia.
posted by Netzapper at 3:10 AM on March 2, 2009


Netzapper:
Just the title tells me the entire thesis, and I can supply my own examples. I'll take, as example, Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I've never read: Western Europeans were the first to develop practical firearms and advanced metallurgy, not to mention having had intense filthy population density that simultaneously inoculated and protected them from disease. As they met other ethnographic groups, they invariably had superior weaponry or technology, or that group was susceptible to some disease the Europeans had--which, the author is keen to point out, is mere happenstance and does not indicate any inherent Europen racial superiority. I paid attention in history class, I read wikipedia, I can think of about a dozen examples off the top of my head and could come up with a thousand if given a week.
A fine example of a shallow, casual understanding of a subject successfully blocking out a deeper, more nuanced understanding of said subject.
posted by Sitegeist at 3:16 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I understand some of your point, Netzapper, but I think you've shuffled a little offtopic, and there definitely is something a little 'snowflakey' about your posts in this thread. The FPP quotation is 'you hear the five words that mean the relationship has no future beyond the time it takes to say them: “I think you'll like it.”' He's saying that if you tell him you think he'll like something, you've dealt your relationship a savage blow.

"But, don't give me a fucking copy of one of those author's books just so that you can have somebody to talk with about it."

P'raps I just think you might like it?

I hear about books, music and movies from reviews in papers and online, through friends, and through random chance browsings and moochings. Each of these avenues offers up different things.

I've really never had a friend get mad at me for not liking (or even getting around to reading) a book they lent. I've read some things I really, really didn't enjoy, enough to make me question how well I kew the recommender, but there's always been something worthwhile from all these new experiences.

Also, I think you'll like Moondust. It's interviews with the surviving moonwalkers, and is good, and I shan't be offended if you don't like or read it.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 3:50 AM on March 2, 2009


Fifty-four comments in and only a handful on bum pinching. Can anyone recommend a good book on it?

I'm not going to actually read it, just skim the first chapter and go do my own research.
posted by ahughey at 3:52 AM on March 2, 2009


I am intellectually curious about a wide range of topics. But, I don't express that curiosity by buying the sorts of books that make the recommendation rounds. Nobody ever seems to take my interest in linguistics and then buy me a copy of the collected papers of Alfred Korzybski or a dictionary in a language I've never heard of. They notice that I love linguistics, and then they buy me some sort of goddamn fluff that spends 300 pages explaining that there exists a cognitive effect arising from the words we use and here-are-some-funny-examples-aren't-they-weird.

= I am upset that my friends and family don't know enough about my beauty and uniqueness (uniquity should so be a word) as a snowflake to give me what I want. I have been unable to explain myself to them for years and years. I am ungrateful that they cannot divine this themselves.
posted by patricio at 4:01 AM on March 2, 2009


Gee....uh, thanks for posting this, cgc373. It was very thoughtful of you.

I actually haven't gotten around to reading the article, though. I've been pretty busy lately.
posted by orme at 4:01 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I generally choose books by asking the bookstore employees to recommend something. As long as they don't recommend any Dan Brown, we're good. I like getting pushed in new directions. If you can't find anything to like in most media, I'm afraid you just aren't very imaginative or intellectually flexible.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:20 AM on March 2, 2009


I would agree that most book recommendations don't work out. I cheerfully take books given to me and let them sit on my desk a bit, and then give them back to the person, saying, "I couldn't get into it, but thanks." Never had anyone take offense. A variant is, "It didn't work for me, but I can see the appeal."

Of course, this year I gave my headmaster Malcolm Gladwell's latest and the head's going to buy it for the whole faculty. I'm also in the middle of reading (and enjoying) a trilogy a casual friend lent me.

But I can't even recommend books to myself, for heaven's sake. My back room is full of piles of books I'm throwing out. I'm starting to go straight to trash without bothering to pile when I give up on a book.

Hey, wait . . . maybe I should just start recommending the bad ones to friends? . . . "Here. I think you'll like it."

No, didn't work. My friends don't seem to have a problem turning down a book.
posted by Peach at 4:29 AM on March 2, 2009


What sad, insecure, bitter and self-involved life does a person have to lead to be so angered by other people recommending books to them? You can say no. And most emotionally stable adults don't get offended when you don't like something they like.

I know people who apply this 'I know what I like and I like what I know' approach to everything in their lives: eat the same food every day, read books by one author, watch movies of a single genre etc. It's a constant feedback-loop that makes them feel comfortable, but also makes them boring to everyone else.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:32 AM on March 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I stand chastised. If for no other reason than my tasteless lack of brevity and concision.

I'll ponder more on it. I think that those of you who criticize me are onto something. Reading back over my posts, it does appear that I'm attempting to rationalize two empirical observations without any more evidence for the rationalization than the initial observations.

I'll restate the empirical observations: 1) I have historically failed to enjoy most (but not all) books recommended or given to me, despite the fact that the recommender or giver has correctly identified a subject in which I have an interest; 2) Many (but not most or all) recommenders or givers have expressed offense when I have revealed that I didn't enjoy their recommendation or gift.

The rest of it does smack of blather, and perhaps I should recant much of it. Certainly, though, I stand by my emotional response: In general, I strongly dislike being given books and movies, due to my extrapolation from the empirical observations above. You should probably regard the rest of it as the bulliest of bullshit.

I'll bloviate no longer, so that perhaps we can get back on the rails.

Also:

Metafilter: I'm not going to actually read it, just skim the first chapter and go do my own research.
posted by Netzapper at 4:33 AM on March 2, 2009


We're cool.

You should read Moondust, though. Have you read it yet? No? How about now? Now?

It's got Space in it. And a man does a wee. On the Moon.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 4:37 AM on March 2, 2009


I'm responding to this only because it feels personal.

I am upset that my friends and family don't know enough about my beauty and uniqueness (uniquity should so be a word) as a snowflake to give me what I want. I have been unable to explain myself to them for years and years. I am ungrateful that they cannot divine this themselves.

No, mostly I just wish they'd stop and let me do what I normally do, which is buy books for myself in all of the scatterbrained and bizarre avenues I pursue on any given day. I buy plenty of books, in plenty of subjects. I don't need people buying me more of them. And I've told most of them as much.

I'd much rather they get me socks. Wool hiking socks. A preference which I have clearly stated for years. Somehow, though, a number of them view books as more "personal" than wool hiking socks.
posted by Netzapper at 4:44 AM on March 2, 2009


sorry, that was not meant personally and I shouldn't have put it like that. It was just that you seemed to protest too much - on the one hand you said it wasn't about your special snowflake status and on the other it was all about your unique, in-depth interests that no one understood. Should have phrased it less aggressively.
posted by patricio at 5:20 AM on March 2, 2009


Memo to self: Never recommend anything to Nick Hornby.
posted by Spatch at 5:38 AM on March 2, 2009


People give gifts (and a recommendation is a gift) as an attempt to get closer to you. It's not about the gift. It's never about the gift. They're trying to make you feel happy. Because they like you. And want to be liked in return. Sure, you can tell people you'd rather have socks or you're too busy to read their books; but that invalidates their impulse to give. I really think the proper thing to do with a gift - even if it's a book - is say "Aw, thank you. Thanks for thinking of me." And leave the book out of it. Donate it, skim it, give it to a friend, return it later on. If they ask, say "I don't know when I'll get around to it - I always have a huge book backlog." But there's a mistake in thinking that when people offer you something, that it's about the item or its content.

I sometimes read even really crappy books that meant something to a family member or that were given to me. It doesn't hurt. I'm still alive and capable of reading books that interest me more. It helps me understand them better. And as far as pop-sci - the content is news to a whole lot of people. It can be helpful to understand what they're taking in, and if you have deeper content to offer, if you know they've read the book and know what's in it you can complexify the conversation.
posted by Miko at 6:22 AM on March 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Nobody ever seems to take my interest in linguistics and then buy me a copy of the collected papers of Alfred Korzybski

I certainly wouldn't. Alfred Korzybski has no more to do with linguistics than that fluff that spends 300 pages explaining that there exists a cognitive effect arising from the words we use.
posted by languagehat at 6:26 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Netzapper, I think what's going on is that you use books for a fundamentally different purpose than most people do, which is why most books displease you. If you thought cooking was a waste of time, but that frying pans were often useful as weapons, and you had a very handsome collection of heavy cast-iron skull-crushing skillets on display in your kitchen, and your relatives, seeing that you owned a lot of cookware, kept buying you 8 inch crepe pans, you'd be all "Why are my relatives buying me these useless crepe pans? If I need a portable weapon I'll just use my handgun."

And the annoyance you felt wouldn't be your fault, or your relatives' fault -- it would just come down to the fact that frying pans are different things for different people, and your view, which you have every right to, is decidedly in the minority.
posted by escabeche at 7:22 AM on March 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Is this one of those threads that you have to read fiction for to "get" them?
posted by NekulturnY at 7:24 AM on March 2, 2009


The problem I have with friends or acquaintances recommending books (or foisting them on me to borrow, yes, even worse) centers on a couple differences.

Usually, the person doing the recommending reads many fewer books a year than I do; this means that the book they are recommending is likely huge in their mind, because it's one of two or three books they will have read in recent memory, perhaps is the only book they have read in recent memory. This freights it with all kinds of significance and expectation (for them) it can't usually live up to (for me).

Second, there's the obligation factor; the sense that this person expects me to derail my other reading priorities (look, I have a *room* full of "to be read" books, not just a couple on the tv shelf in the living room like most middle-class folks) makes it hard for me not to resent this book and perceive it as an obligation rather than a pleasure.

Last but not least there's the specialization factor: I have been reading voraciously for a really long time, 40 years-ish, and I have developed specific interests and tastes, which the recommender almost certainly (unless they are a good friend) understandably doesn't know, or care, about (and which they would probably think make me narrow minded if I tried to explain to them, but which really result from the fact that so much is continually coming out in the areas I love that I don't have time to be sampling all over the map any more); I mean, I like experimental poetry, and pretty-good-to-great science fiction, and contemporary novels of a generally late modern or post-modern bent. The real catch usually is that I have little interest in non-fiction (which is often exactly what smart but low-volume readers of my acquaintance will focus on, because they are pursuing some topic that intrigues them rather than absorbing mass quantities of a genre or particular author or movement).

All that said, I usually find recommendation lists from famous writers to be next to useless, since they either have a literary ax to grind or they are padding it, mutual-promotion-society-style, with books by their friends. Or, worse, but pretty commonly, they're so busy writing their own stuff they don't actually read much.
posted by aught at 7:30 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


But languagehat, what would you recommend to someone with an interest in linguistics?
posted by wobh at 7:50 AM on March 2, 2009


This is a really sad comment:

I have zero interest in the lives of any people but my closest friends.
posted by dydecker at 8:05 AM on March 2, 2009


I don't want to borrow it, but I have to borrow it now because if I don't you'll think I'm either ungrateful or condescending or both.

It's very easy for me to turn down book. I'm a well known to be a bibliophile and people are always offering me books, but I have to tell them I have a mountain of books on my bedside table and won't be able to get to it for months and months. And it is true, if you were an ant, it would look like a mountain. At the moment I am simultaneously reading 8 books-- which is insane even for me. It just happens I am particularly flush with reading material and cannot limit myself. My usual rule is only one fiction book at a time and then 1 or 2 non-fiction, but I'm reading 3 novels and 5 NF.

The one person who knows me best, my beloved husband, who is the god of my being, cannot always predict what I like and vice versa. He is deeply into reading about the Russian revolution right now and must have read at least 20 books-- both fiction and non fiction-- on the subject. I keep pointing to my copy of Ayn Rand's We the Living and he gets that sort of glazed look on his face and says, "Yeah. Yeah. I really should read that," and goes off to order some other book from Amazon.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:12 AM on March 2, 2009



I am soo guilty of this.

Ooh Oooh! I know the answer to this one!

Metafilter: I think you'll like it.


If I have tried to convince one person to try metafilter I have tried to convince ten people.

I wonder if they all tried M and didn't like it or are just glad I haven't followed up that suggestion with some book suggestions.
posted by notreally at 8:14 AM on March 2, 2009


Since when was Nick Hornby in any way a competent enough writer for anybody to give a flying fuck what he recommends?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:22 AM on March 2, 2009


It's very easy for me to turn down book. I'm a well known to be a bibliophile and people are always offering me books, but I have to tell them I have a mountain of books on my bedside table and won't be able to get to it for months and months.

This is what works for me when presented with something I don't want to read - or even something I do, which is lots, but not a high priority. I really do have a 20-book backlog at all times - even a shelving system for to-be-read-books (They're horizontal, read books are vertical). So when people offer a book I often say "I probably won't get to this for a long time." It even works in bookstores. We have a wonderful local indie store where the books are great and the recommendations are great and the people are great. I often feel bad that I don't buy much there except gifts, but I tend to say "I have a moratorium on buying new books for myself until I get through my backlog." Which is somewhat true, though often I leapfrog a new book over the backlog because I want to read it sooner. Some books have been on backlog for years.
posted by Miko at 8:26 AM on March 2, 2009


I use the same backlog reasoning as Miko, with an addition: "you do realise, right, that you will never ever ever get this book back, yeah?" - because in my experience, not one single loaned or borrowed book has ever been returned, even with the best of intentions.

And most people are too tight to buy you your own copy of the book they think so highly of; they offer you their copy but can't bear to contemplate the possibility of not having it on their shelf, gathering dust, for the rest of their lives, so if you make it clear they'll never get it back, you're totally off the hook.

You can always soften the blow with "I'll remember to look out for a second-hand copy for myself though; it sounds interesting; I just refuse to pay full price for books because [insert some silly invented politicised reason around copyright or something]" Then, just claim that a second-hand version never shows up because the thing must be so popular that it's always snapped up the very second it hits the shelves.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:39 AM on March 2, 2009


Categorically, I am ok with bum-pinching or unasked-for recommendations from anyone who recommends my favourite work by Lorrie Moore and Michael Chabon.

(One more vote for "thanks, but I've got 500 others to get through first!" That certainly isn't the reason I've gotten called an asshole.)
posted by carbide at 8:41 AM on March 2, 2009


But what they really say is "Readers like you are a dime a dozen. Your bookshelves are evidence of a solid, but mostly unremarkable middle-class education. This book would fit right in. There's a very good chance you'll like it." And, quite often, they're right.

I agree, but for the love of precious snowflakes don't tell turgid dahlia.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:50 AM on March 2, 2009


Categorically, I am ok with bum-pinching

Just remember not to pinch anybody's fanny in the UK.

Unless you know them really well.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:52 AM on March 2, 2009


Surprisingly few of my friends are real "readers" and of those who are, we share very little overlapping taste. My family reads things I won't touch (self-help, religious propaganda, romance novels, maybe some spy thrillers) if they read at all.

So I'm used to neither giving nor receiving recommendations. My taste probably isn't that eclectic or highbrow, it's not like I read Derrida for fun on weekends, but just the fact that I read so much intimidates most people I know out of recommending anything. We stick to movies and maybe music.
posted by emjaybee at 9:01 AM on March 2, 2009


bardic: Wow, noticed he put Mystic River on his list.

I can now safely ignore the rest of his list.


Oh, for Pete's sake. I love rice pudding. If you don't love rice pudding, can you now "safely assume" that you don't like any other food I like?

There are a lot of reasons to dismiss book recommendations, but that's just silly.
posted by tzikeh at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


KK Downey is one author I KNOW you all would like.
posted by saysthis at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2009


I like it when people recommend stuff to me, even when it's something that I know that I'll despise (or even when . It's nice to see people actually excited about, and invested in, something that they think is good. And like somebody says above, even when the recommendation fails, it can still be a learning experience for both of us. Plus I just like talking about books and records and whatnot.
posted by box at 9:15 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Korzybski was a crank, which doesn't mean he didn't have brilliant insights, and a conman, which does.
posted by jamjam at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2009


Alright, first I'll admit to being whatever sad, sheltered, closed-minded shut-in that people who just LOVE people recommending them books and music because it's some great exploration of all facets of the human condition or whatever want me to be. I'm Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, sure.

That said, the "I think you'll like it" angle is obnoxious for a number of reasons:

First, I'll agree that recommendations when done so thoughtfully can be interesting. I have a friend who's a movie buff who will on occasion bring up a film that he feels I would enjoy. This comes after some thought into what I actually enjoy and what about such films I enjoy. He's not always right, and there's no harm done when he is. If every recommendation came in that form, I wouldn't be posting here at all.

However, for every one of him, there are numerous friends and acquaintances who give recommendations less out of genuine interest in what I may enjoy and more out of some need for validation; they take some base algorithmic approach to things they've seen me enjoy and spam similar products. The constant need to show people something, to impress people smacks of insecurity, this "mommy, lookit!" mindset that was never properly grown out of. On top of that, it has all the appeal of being assigned homework: "Here's this book/cd/movie/etc. In a week, I'm going to harass you every time we talk about whether or not you've read it, and I have a list of prepared questions based on it. If you didn't enjoy it to the same level I did, there will be a lot of hurt feelings and defensive questions and arguments as to why I'm wrong for not enjoying it. Afterward, there will be more homework.

I know the diplomatic thing to do is say "at least they have good intentions / they were just thinking of you, etc" No, they aren't. It's a nakedly self-centered form of communication that is either consciously or unconsciously dressed up as benevolence. It's as disingenuous as an insurance salesman cozying up to you by showing you pictures of his kids and asking about yours to segue into a sales pitch, only here the product is their own validation.

The best example I can give is with music. I enjoy the work of Project Pitchfork. They've been one of my favorite bands since high school. A few years back, a band called Absurd Minds came out, and guess what, they sound EXACTLY like Project Pitchfork. Inevitably this band got recommended to me. "How can you not like them? They sound EXACTLY like Project Pitchfork, who you like!!" I admit, I can't understand this capacity for enjoyment, although it seems to drive much of the market: "If you like this thing, you'll like these 100 other things that sound EXACTLY like it!" Maybe it's me, one Project Pitchfork is plenty.

And the absolute WORST is when they actually get it right. There's a tightrope walk, because if after 999 crap recommendations they finally find one that you actually enjoy by chance, that only encourages them to send another volley of shit your way. It's like responding to junk mail, or donating to a telephone solicitor: it may be a product you really like or a cause you want to further, but at what cost?

The best I can give is "I'll check it out sometime." It may be years before I do, but if they're really interested in finding something I enjoy over substituting validation for personal achievement, then it should work out fine for them. Some guy I hung out with in high school recommended a band called Nation Of Fear to me, and I finally checked them out a year or two ago. I should track him down and email him to tell him "They were ok I guess."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:36 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Try it, you'll like it."

I prefer to use the more indifferent "I liked it" when combined with a shrug which strongly suggests that I couldn't care less if you agree with me or not, and that most likely, you are so far out of the loop as to be completely unaware of whatever it is I'm talking about. (All while secretly, fervently hoping that my interest is enough to get you to ask followup questions so that I can explain in great detail all the things that are wonderful about what it was that I liked).

What I'm saying is that my shrugs are very concise form of communication, and can carry a lot of information.
posted by quin at 9:39 AM on March 2, 2009


*shrugs*?
posted by cgc373 at 10:21 AM on March 2, 2009


Man, I love book recommendations from trusted friends, but my friends accept it when I tell them "Sorry, I'm SO done with high fantasy, plus it had barbarians, and I'm allergic to barbarians, and also I could tell he was going to tell he was going to kill off everyone I liked, so even though he really is a pretty good writer, I didn't even finish the first book, sorry," and they also stick with me when I say "What? A fantasy about thieves? Come on, I quit Thieves' World and Lankhmar in my teens, are you serious?!" and am dead wrong and about to talk about myself out of the best fantasy-caper novel ever. But that's the same thing that Hornby is talking about: "for the most part the people that I listen to I've known for a couple of decades, a good chunk of which has been spent talking about the things we love and hate." (Well, 5-15 years in my case, but yeah. Not five minutes, at any rate.) So I'm with him in that if people start pushing recommendations at me within five minutes of meeting me--particularly if I were a writer or in some other position of power where people were trying to impress me--it's pretty offputting.

Writing a list of 40 books to recommend to strangers is a task I wouldn't relish. Perhaps "40 manga in which most people could find one thing they didn't hate" or ditto for graphic novels or something, but otherwise no. At least by seeking out the recommendations by reading the list, you've put yourself in the position of having asked for the advice.
posted by wintersweet at 10:34 AM on March 2, 2009


Wow. Acres of verbiage spilled for no good reason. Plates of beans extending to the horizon.

Just consider the source, folks! When Leon your HVAC repairman* recommends the new "Left Behind" novel, you might want to just nod and smile and thank him. But when Betty the bookstore clerk who has known you since kindergarten and holds stuff behind the counter for you suggests that you might like Ruth Rendell mysteries, maybe you should give it a shot. As for the edge cases -- how long does it take to read the first few pages of something? Or you could, you know, check it out of the library.

I'm an inveterate and unapologetic recommender of books. I LIKE it when people bring books and music and art to my attention. I tend to live in a bubble, and it's easy for me to overlook good stuff, so I never mind it being foisted upon me. Why would I be upset if someone doesn't like what I've recommended? And if someone suggests something to me that then leaves me cold, well, ok, no biggie -- maybe by articulating why I didn't like it will help my friend more precisely calibrate his next suggestion.

And if your friends get huffy when you don't like exactly the same stuff they like then you need less sycophantic tougher-skinned friends.

*He's a genius at custom-built ductwork, but I don't trust his taste in paperback fiction.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:35 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


So I'm obnoxious because I want to share things I like with people I like? Interesting.

I don't get the hate on for recommendations. I really, really don't. Its not a life sentance. Unless you know very different people from me, nobody is forcing a book into your hands and taping your eyelids open and making you read it. Its a form of sharing. You know, what they teach you in kindergarten? A way of making a connection. So it doesn't always work. No big deal. I have a friend, we have some movie tastes that overlap but usually what I like he hates. And I mean HATES. So what. We're still friends. I can take it if we don't express enjoyment over each other's tastes all the time. There are other things we both like and can enjoy together.

But seriously, how do you figure out if you have tastes in common with other people, in, unless you make and take some recommendations? I have discovered new authors and genres this way, ones I may have dismissed or overlooked in the past. Sometimes its crap, yes, or not to my taste, but life goes on. I have made friends over recommendations. We've gone on to learn more about each other, figure out what else we have in common, or would enjoy doing together. Even if the book (movie, music group, etc.) itself wasn't really up to my tastes. I have never lost a friend over one.

But maybe I need to brush up on my misanthropy. Because the next thing I know, paying someone a compliment is grounds for being labelled a jerk
posted by sandraregina at 10:38 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nick Hornby accurately describes my reaction when anyone recommends something to me by Nick Hornby.
posted by speicus at 10:47 AM on March 2, 2009


People rarely feel moved and passionate about, say, Terry Pratchett to buy a copy of it and give it away.

Clearly you run in a very different circle to mine.

/Pratchett-resistant because of the level of oversell involved
posted by immlass at 10:56 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Netzapper : People rarely feel moved and passionate about, say, Terry Pratchett to buy a copy of it and give it away.

Odd, because one of the few books that I have actually bought several copies of specifically for the purposes of giving away is Good Omens. I don't disagree with your other points, I just thought it kind of funny that your one example is the one that runs most contrary to my personal experience.

posted by quin at 11:54 AM on March 2, 2009


Anyone else read this thread and remember David Foster Wallace's list of top 10 novels?
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:00 PM on March 2, 2009


The first reason to write down a recommendation, to try to remember, to make an earnest effort to see something that you liked and that I don't know is simple: Do I want to fuck you? If so, well, what the hell? The only trouble is that sometimes, by the end of the book, I don't want to fuck you anymore. But the very privacy of reading makes it an intimate act.

Also, my girlfriend has good taste, so that helps support the rule.

I'm willing to extend this further, in that if I can imagine myself fucking you, even if practicalities (marriage, location, body odor) restrain the impulse, I'm willing to sympathetically consider the work. Especially if the book includes some fucking.

Please keep this in mind when recommending me books, and if you're really serious about wanting me to read that novel about female rites of passage in rural Ontario, it wouldn't hurt to show some cleavage.
posted by klangklangston at 12:14 PM on March 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


A "friend" recommended I read this thread. It made me sick.
posted by xod at 1:06 PM on March 2, 2009


I agree, but for the love of precious snowflakes don't tell turgid dahlia.

Whuzzat? Whuzzat?

The problem with a great many of the those who say "I think you'll like it" is they think I'll like it simply because they know I enjoy reading and the thing they think I'll like is a book. It doesn't matter what kind of book it is, or by whom, or in what genre or on which subject: it's a book, one of the very few they have ever read and possibly even the only book they will read this year, and for whatever bizarre reason they want to impress upon me the fact that they are capable of interpreting words on a page and, hey, you like doing that too, don't you? Then check this out! Lately people at work have been recommending I read Twilight because they saw me with a copy of Let The Right One In (which I had to explain to them) and now think I've got this real thing for vampires. I am loath to go back to tackling The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant because I know somebody will see it on my desk and say "OMG HAVE YOU READ HARRY POTTER?"

And the other thing that shits me is this: people think it's okay to foist material on me because they believe, for some reason, that I will enjoy or extract some quantum of value from it, but if I quietly discourage them from reading bullshit, they think I'm some kind of Nazi mind police.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:45 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


As for the edge cases -- how long does it take to read the first few pages of something?

My mother always does that: "Just read the first few pages," or "Go on, it'll only take you five minutes."
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:47 PM on March 2, 2009


and that journey ends in the sort of blissful, allconsuming absorption we all used to feel closer to the beginning of our reading lives

Really? All of us?
posted by LogicalDash at 3:59 PM on March 2, 2009


A few years back, a band called Absurd Minds came out, and guess what, they sound EXACTLY like Project Pitchfork. Inevitably this band got recommended to me. "How can you not like them? They sound EXACTLY like Project Pitchfork, who you like!!" I admit, I can't understand this capacity for enjoyment, although it seems to drive much of the market: "If you like this thing, you'll like these 100 other things that sound EXACTLY like it!" Maybe it's me, one Project Pitchfork is plenty.

The reason people like Absurd Minds isn't because they sound like Project Pitchfork. It's because they can put on Damn the Lie and not only pretend it is Project Pitchfork, but it's Project Pitchfork in some wonderful alternate universe where Inferno never came out.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:06 PM on March 2, 2009


but if I quietly discourage them from reading bullshit, they think I'm some kind of Nazi mind police.

Point(s) well taken and I'm especially with you on the bit I've excerpted, above. I will be sure to recommend your post to my friends, many of whom also enjoy sentences and punctuation. Heh. Sorry for implying you were a snowflake.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:52 PM on March 2, 2009


I forgive you because I think you like Fredric Brown.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:05 PM on March 2, 2009


Hang on a sec, I've got a collection of his stories you should totally check out.
posted by joe lisboa at 7:03 PM on March 2, 2009


The problem with a great many of the those who say "I think you'll like it" is they think I'll like it simply because they know I enjoy reading and the thing they think I'll like is a book.

This is a very true thing. I have friends who read, and friends who don't read. My friends who read are very careful in their recommendations, even though they're happy to chat with me for hours about books they like. Non-readers seem to accidentally read something once in a while, think it's great, and want to share the experience with someone. They ask me, because I'm one of the few people they know who reads regularly.

I usually end up reading the crap book recommended by a non-reader, and find something nice to say about it. This did backfire once, when I mentioned Dan Brown in front of both the recommender and a friend who knows my tastes well. The friend interrupted with "What? There is no way that you enjoyed that piece of shit excuse for a novel", which left me floundering for something to say that was both honest and tactful :)
posted by harriet vane at 2:59 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


The problem with a great many of the those who say "I think you'll like it" is they think I'll like it simply because they know I enjoy reading and the thing they think I'll like is a book.

Exactly. It is the person who only reads one book a year that you have to watch out for. My in-laws keep telling me I should read James Patterson I don't actually say, "OMG your taste in literature sucks donkey dong" but I have mentioned several times that I find his "style" of writing difficult to enjoy. When they press me, I get more specific about his grammar and vocabulary and characterizations and plot and then they look at me blankly, "I thought you like reading."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2009


The one book a year type invariably reads something off the NYTimes best seller list, or a book club pick. I'm not at all snooty or high brow in my reading tastes, but for some reason I almost invariably prefer mid-list authors to NYT best sellers.

Klangklangston, I'm granting you Most Favored Asshole status for that last comment. I'm not sure if that grants you reduced tariffs or anything useful, but at the least I'll be more inclined to whitewash any of your human rights abuses.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:27 PM on March 3, 2009


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