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Book Recommendations That Get Ignored

September 23, 2013
I sometimes recommend this book, but it's not the best book ever, and it won't change your life, and you might not even like it.

I sometimes recommend this book, but it’s not the best book ever, and it won’t change your life, and you might not even like it.

I don’t know why, but I get annoyed when somebody tells me how great a book is.  It’s probably a character flaw on my part.  The person recommending a book is sharing (I despise the word “share,” so that might be part of it) something personal when he/she makes the recommendation, so my automatic rejection is irrational and rude (even though I don’t mean to be).

Maybe it’s the way the recommendation is phrased.  Maybe it’s just me getting cranky as I get older.  But when a friend makes a wildly enthusiastic book recommendation, I feel the urge to make a snide comment (and I don’t normally make snide comments).  Here are some of the snide comments I don’t make: 

Friend: “You’ll love this book.” 

Me:  “Don’t tell me what I’ll love.” 

Friend:  “This is the best book ever!” 

Me:  “You’ve read every book ever?” 

Friend:  “This book speaks to me!” 

Me:  “Now books are talking to you.  At least the voices in my head belong to me.” 

For whatever reason, I get defensive whenever somebody tells me how much they love a book (or movie, or TV show).  It might be because nobody listens to my recommendations.  I read (or pretend to read, but they don’t know that) a lot of books.  I don’t recommend a book unless I actually finish it.  Finishing a book, that’s the highest compliment I can pay to a book, but it’s only been recently that I’ve begun admitting to my intellectual friends that I don’t finish books.  They’re taking it well.  Most of them are still talking to me. 

Anyway, I don’t think anybody I’ve talked to about books has ever read the books I recommend.  The books that I recommend (but nobody reads) are Bernard Cornwell’s King Arthur Warlord trilogy(The Winter King, The Enemy of God, and Excalibur) .  Yeah, I know, another trilogy.  But this one was written almost twenty years ago, when trilogies were still trilogies but not quite as… trilogy-ish (I hope people know what I mean). I really enjoyed reading these books.  I reread sections of them about once a year.  Whenever I recommend a book (or series) to a friend, this is the one. 

But I don’t think anybody has ever taken me up on my recommendation.  Maybe nobody wants to read another King Arthur book.  There were a bunch of them before I even discovered this trilogy.  There was L’Morte D’Arthur, The Once and Future King, The Crystal Cave series, The Mists of Avalon, and bunch of other stuff that’s usually from Merlin’s point of view. 

Plus, Bernard Cornwell is a hack.  He writes way too much stuff now.  He wrote maybe twenty Sharpe novels about the Napoleonic Wars.  I’ve read a bunch of them (and always enjoyed them), but I couldn’t tell you the names of any of them or what happened.  They were all the same book.  Bernard Cornwell inspired my reading rule where I don’t read more than three books by the same author anymore.  He’s that guy.  He’s that kind of hack.  But his King Arthur trilogy was great.  He is a potentially great author who went bad. 

Despite my glowing reviews, nobody I know will read these books.  Maybe it’s the King Arthur thing.  Maybe it’s my monotone voice.  Even when I’m excited, I still sound bored.  If I sound bored, then no wonder I can’t convince anybody to read the books I like. 

Some books are easy to recommend because they’re already really popular.  The Harry Potter books are safe.  John Green’s The Fault in our Stars seems to be an easy pick.  The Cat who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest books were hot a couple years ago.  By easy picks, I don’t mean bad.  I mean… easy.  You probably won’t get burned if the person you recommend them to doesn’t like them.  After all, how can millions of other positive reviews be wrong?  If somebody doesn’t like a Harry Potter book, it’s that person’s fault, not the fault of the person who recommended it.  But a Bernard Cornwell King Arthur trilogy that nobody I know has ever heard of?  That’s a risky set of books to recommend. 

What books do you love that nobody else seems to read?  I know I’m a hypocrite for asking this question, but I don’t believe hypocrisy is that big a character flaw; it’s almost impossible for a human to be 100% consistent on everything.  Anyway, I’m asking, so I promise not to get annoyed if you tell me it’s the BEST BOOK EVER, or if it speaks to you, or if I really have to read it.  I won’t even get annoyed if you use the word “share” (or “sharing”).  And if I get annoyed, I won’t mention it. 

So… what books do you love but can’t convince anybody else to read?

20 Comments
  1. There’s something about John Greene that I really don’t feel like touching. I don’t know. Maybe he’s good, maybe he really is significant, but what I’ve heard of him just doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities. A bit rash, yes, but maybe once his hype’s died down I’ll give it a chance. That’s usually what I do. I wait for the crowds to go away before I ever touch anything. I hate crowds. Only exception is when I’m on a soapbox and telling them what to think. That’s always satisfying, telling people what to think when they’re asking for it.

    Apart from that though, I don’t make recommends. I tend to like things more than I do not liking them. Instead, I recommend not reading certain things.

    Ironside by Holly Black wasted my time. Didn’t hate it, I just wish it could have been better.

  2. I try not to get defensive when people give me recommendations, I just ignore them. If it sounds like something I might like, and the person who is recommending it has similar tastes to me, I might give it a shot. I like your taste in books though. I read The Mists of Avalon a few years ago and I loved it. Great post

  3. Thank you for sharing.

  4. bdallmann permalink

    I recommend Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles to anyone who asks me for advice, but very few people have ever taken me up on it. I think the books are too dark for most people or they think they’ll be too gory (or some other dumb excuse).

    However, when I enter into a new relationship I always tell my new boyfriend that a requirement for dating me is that he must read at least the first two – Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. Otherwise the relationship won’t last very long 😄

    • Did I date you in college? Haha! The reason I ask (kiddingly) is that I had a girlfriend in college who got me to read Interview with the Vampire, and we got into a really stupid argument over it. I make a reference to that in my serial The Literary Girlfriend (in the installment called The Meaning of Sucks).

      • bdallmann permalink

        Ha, I wish any of my boyfriends read books that are worthwhile. Or read at all.

  5. The Power Of One by Bryce Courtenay is a book which is lodged in my heart. However it doesn’t find its way to any of my friends hearts ! I recommend it to anybody who asks about a good book and I’ve never got feedback from anyone. It’s quite a relief to find that there’re others on the same boat !

  6. jakemcpherson permalink

    I gave many copies of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow to friends over the years and stopped when I realized that absolutely nobody was reading theirs. I have read it innumerable times and enjoy it always. (His new book, Bleeding Edge, is good, by the way. I just finished it today.)

    I was greatly influenced by a few essays of Michel de Montaigne in university, but nobody outside a few rarefied circles seems to know or care who he was. I am setting out on a mission to read his works.

    My passion lies in the oldest things. Homer, Plato, and Sophocles are just a few of the writers I cherish in my heart of hearts. Few people are interested, so I stopped talking about them ages ago.

    I am well into The Swerve:How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt and am enjoying it immensely. I can’t wait to begin Of the Nature of Things by Lucretius, the basis for Greenblatt’s book. I doubt anyone in my circle will ask anything about it.

    Shrug.

    • I’ll send you a copy of Bernard Cornwell’s King Arthur trilogy, and you can send me a copy of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, and then we can see if either of us read each other’s recommendations.

  7. Trilogy-ish, hmmm. I’ll have to think on what you mean by that – but I haven’t read any modern trilogies. (Do you mean stretching the story to get more money?) Oh, I have read Hunger Games, but thought that was mostly well done.

    Loved Mists of Avalon – perhaps I’ll try Bernard Cornwell.

    • You nailed the definition of “trilogy-ish. If you loved Mists of Avalon, you might not like the Bernard Cornwell stuff; they’re two completely different interpretations. The good news is that you’ll probably know if you like it after the few pages.

  8. Just so’s you know, DL, I have read and enjoyed most of Bernard Cornwell’s books – including the King Arthur stuff.

    I particularly liked his hero Uhtred in the Saxon books such as The Last Kingdom because he was a hero against his better judgement and that is really seductive. I have never really bothered with the Sharpe books as the historical period never really appealed and I got all the ‘Sharpe’ I needed from the TV series with Sean Bean so never saw the point in reading the books.

    I tend never recommend anything I have read to anyone else because reading, like art, is so subjective and anyway I can’t be arsed to try and enthuse anyone, not even for a really, really good read. Recommending time takes away from reading time … so many books, so little time.

    • You might be the first person I know (in my personal or blogosphere life) that has read that King Arthur series. Yeah! And I forgot about Uhtred. I thought the second(?) book was by far the best one (the one where they hide the king in the marshes). I actually finished those! I might call Bernard Cornwell a hack, but I always finish his books. I like your attitude (so many books, so little time).

      • At the risk of annoying you by replying again DL, I think what I really like is the fact that most of the main characters really existed … King Alfred etc.
        Cornwell just brings them alive and interprets historical events his way which often brings an unexpected perspective to the facts.

  9. The Fire and Ice Series by George R. R. Martin. I got into it after the first season of Game of Thrones, so I’m not nearly as “cool” as the folks who discovered it early one. I suppose this one really falls into the easy category.

  10. Hmmm recommendations, it is a tricky one. I only really take recommendations from my family because I know all the books they’ve read and they are usually always books I love. With other people I tend to smile politely and then ignore them. Although hello hypocrisy! I just wrote a post on my blog of my top ten books, although I seriously doubt anyone will pay any attention to my list…..but stranger things have happened. Maybe.

    bdallmann – someone did recommend Anne Rice to me once and I read them AND loved them!

  11. I thought this was a really fun post, even though I totally don’t get this sentiment of yours about hating book recommendations.

    I can’t think of any book recommendations that no one has read. Most of my friends actually do come to me for book recommendations and read them. If they don’t read my book recommendations, I’m part of a book club that will read books I’ve chosen at least twice a year. I haven’t been thrown out yet (though I think I came close when I chose Atlas Shrugged).

    I also liked the first book of Interview with a Vampire and Mists of Avalon.

    • Haha! I remember when you wrote about recommending Atlas Shrugged to your book club. When are you going to start writing again? I miss your book reviews.

  12. I actually very rarely recommend books, I have very strange reading tastes so I know whatever I’m reading probably isn’t for everyone (just finished “Death by Black Hole” by Neil Degrasse Tyson). But the last few times a friend specifically asked for a recommendation, they came back and said they loved it.

    But being sarcastic to some one who is excited enough about a book they read to recommend it to someone else seems a bit mean spirited to me. Why not just say ‘Thanks, but I prefer reading X type of books’?

    Hated “The Fault in our Stars” (emo teen lit). I kept reading it hoping it would get better….(It was not to be). It was a recommendation from a girl at work and I can completely see why she loved it (she lives in a complete fantasy land and hasn’t emotionally aged since she was 15). Also wasn’t crazy about “The Hunger Games” which was also a recommendation from everyone, EVER. But I’ve never told someone I hated their recommendation or poked fun at it.

    You said it yourself, there’s stuff that’s ‘easy’ to recommend and doesn’t reflect very much on their personal taste/ego. Being a smart ass when someone is recommending something more personal could discourage them from reading or trying new types of books. Thing is, you never really know which category a book falls into for each person.

    I’m a librarian, I *WANT* people to read, even if it’s stuff I think is awful. At least they’re reading.

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