Often I am bombarded with people telling me I have to read this book or that book. “It’s the best thing since Stephen King was writing good stuff!” they say. “It’s the single greatest book you will read this year!” they tell me. They talk to me like they’re the best critics in the world and should be quoted on the books themselves. Which would be pretty cool, but what they tell me is all personal opinion, usually not backed up by specific book references. And whether or not I read the book that is recommended generally depends on the person extolling its virtues.
I’ve learned in my over 30 years of reading books that judging a book based on what one person thinks is folly, but judging a book based on what 60 people have said is just as much folly. You see, the masses can be wrong, and often are when it comes to books. Some of the biggest books in the history of literature are yawn fests, and some of the most ripped apart are treasures. It’s like rooting for the underdog in a sporting event for me. If a lot of critics have panned a book, I just have to read it, and I generally will find something endearing within its pages.
That being said, if my sister says I should read a book I am all over it. It’s simple, too, because she knew me from the start and understands my tastes sometimes better than I myself do. And if my wife tells me I need to read a particular book it goes to the top of my queue most times, simply because she knows my reading tastes now. She has been there when I had to vent about a book or an author who totally pissed me off. So their opinions weight heavily while a celebrated critic might very well not merit even a brief read from me.
It works in reverse, too. I only recommend books to people who I know well, or at least whose reading styles I am familiar enough with to think I could suggest something they would enjoy. Of course just as many people who recommend books to me ask me for my own recommendations. I tell them to read my reviews and make a decision based on whether or not they liked what I had to say there. There are generally only two books that I will recommend regardless of who asks me. They transcend genre and general tastes, in my opinion.
The truth is that most books I do end up reading are not the result of recommendations at all, but are instead based on other random factors that I find can make or break a book for me. It also helps that the books I pick out myself aren’t colored one way or another by another person, so I don’t judge them when the book doesn’t work out. I know, I shouldn’t judge them anyway, but I’m being honest here. Recommendations are well and good, but in the end, what works for me is trusting my gut. It’s done me well for my 30+ years of reading, and I will keep depending on it.