Stubbornness and recommendations

Stop me if you’ve been through this before: A friend raves about a book to you, and you mentally add it to your to-read list. Then another friend mentions it, and instead of making it a higher priority, you push it back a little further. Even when more favorable reviews come in, some perverse impulse makes you more determined not to read it. It’s not that you don’t trust the opinions of those who recommended the book, it’s just that . . . you don’t wanna.

And then, for whatever reason, you pick it up later on and . . . hey, they were right. And not just right; this book was just what you needed! You’ve got to tell someone about this . . . dammit, all the people you’d tell are the ones who recommended it in the first place.

For example, I’ve just recently finished Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, and I had no good reason for waiting so long. It’s a rich and fun story with swashbuckling to spare, and I sank into it completely. It was the first of his books I’d read, despite multiple recommendations, and I’m going to have to concede that yes, I probably should be reading more of his work.

So why is it that recommendations, even well-meant and accurate ones, sometimes have the opposite effect on me? And does this happen to everyone, or is it just a juvenile reaction on my part?

I know my father’s book recommendations were, for a while, the kiss of death as far as I was concerned; anything he liked, I stayed the hell away from. That’s passed as I’ve gotten older, for the most part, and while we’ll never have identical tastes, there’s enough overlap that I no longer treat books he recommends as if they were made out of nettles.

Some of it probably has to do with the initial recommendation — being told that I “have to see/read/hear this” irritates me for some reason, and if I’ve first heard of a work in an unfavorable light, it’ll take a while to shake that first impression, no matter how inaccurate it is. Another factor, for me at least, is reverse snobbery; I have a bad habit of ignoring “mainstream” or “literary” works out of some misplaced genre loyalty. And another part is just plain laziness — after the last few months of planning, I’ve been craving old favorites, comfort reading, over new and winding stories.

Whatever the reason, if it’s keeping me from more swashbuckling, then I really need to get over it.

Any recommendations that pushed you in the opposite direction?  What happened when you finally read the book?  And, uh, how do you go about admitting gracefully that you were wrong?

8 Responses to “Stubbornness and recommendations”

  1. July 15, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Oh my gosh, I do this all the time! Everything in this entry, yes, yes, yes. And no, I don’t really understand why I have this reaction. But you have companionship in perversity.

  2. 2 auntielou
    July 16, 2009 at 6:50 am

    How about “Oops, I was wrong. But just to forewarn you — I’ll probably do it again next time you recommend a book.”

    Not much grace required in my (highly recommended) book.

  3. 3 shaunduke
    July 16, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I have this exact problem. I actually blogged (http://wisb.blogspot.com/) about it some time ago. It’s this weird thing where the more something is recommended, the more you don’t want to read it. For me, I won’t read something that gets that sort of treatment until people start shutting up about it.

    But that’s me, and it seems like you and I are quite similar on that front.

    I’m curious, though: what do you do when people constantly tell you that such and such book is terrible? Does it make you want to read it or do you have the same reaction as to a “good” book?

  4. July 16, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    I just read my first Chabon as well. In my case it was Wonder Boys.

    I’m ALWAYS actively seeking out recommendations … these put books on my radar and eventually result in a purchase or a library hold or a wishlist entry. Once I actually physically have a book it either finds a home on an appropriate shelf or it goes in one of my to-read piles.

    I make well thought out lists of the order in which things should be read. Library books that will incur fines get put near the front. Books I need to read before I read the Library books get put AT the front. Books that I want to read before requesting review copies of other books get on the list. Books I’ve told someone I’ll review go on the list. Numerous other variables are factored in.

    Then the cat knocks a book off of a flat surface, the glint of the cover catches my eye, I drop what I’m reading and start whatever Izzie thinks I should be reading. My actual book selection techniques feel exactly that random, but do not always involve the cat.

  5. 5 mlronald
    July 17, 2009 at 5:38 am

    Currentconductor, that’s good to know — especially since we end up recommending books to each other. Maybe we can both write it off to sloth.

    AuntieLou, okay, that makes sense. I’ve got a bad habit of looking for the complexificated answer.

    Shaunduke, I agree that sometimes I want people to shut up about it already before I’ll start reading. But that sometimes means I miss out on good stuff due to my own stubbornness. So it’s a weird trade-off.

    As for books that are maligned, hm. I hadn’t ever analyzed my approach to them, but going by some recent incidents, I’m less likely to read a book that’s talked down, even for the sheer wtf factor, especially if I know what about it will bother me. I don’t think I’ll ever read The Da Vinci Code, for example, because the scholarship in it would make my head explode.

    Maybe these are all scattered symptoms of an unwillingness to try new things, whether recommended or dissed. I’ll have to think about that.

    Oddly enough, this doesn’t apply to movies. I’ll watch things that other people have told me are terrible wastes of time, and I’ll sometimes enjoy them. Maybe it’s the explosions?

    Mentatjack, this is further evidence toward the existence of a Universal Feline Conspiracy. And yeah, my reading priorities take on that pattern as well — which, I suppose, is what gets me to read the books that were at the bottom of my list in the first place.

  6. 6 Terri-Lynne
    July 17, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Believe it or not–the Harry Potter books. I resisted. I KNEW once I read the books, I’d hate the movies. (I was right–though hate is too strong a word.) I finally broke down and read books 1-6 one summer–then had to wait a YEAR to read the final book! Argh!
    They were so fabulous that I not only admitted I was wrong, I gushed. Yes…gushed. For that, I am ashamed. 😉

  7. 7 mlronald
    July 22, 2009 at 6:01 am

    Ha! Terri-Lynne, I like that — I can’t remember when I started reading them, only that I briefly stole them from my little sister to finish Prisoner of Azkaban. (At least I think I did. I know I gave her a copy…hm. Brain fuzzy today.)

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