“You have to read this book!” – words guaranteed to get my back up. There is nothing that guarantees quite the same combination of annoyance, guilt, resentment and the fear that I may be missing something as those six little words. My aunt (much loved by me in a general sense) is a great one for insisting that you read something that she loves (she does the same with movies), and usually my desire to read said book diminishes in proportion with each mention of it. Her latest recommendation is “The Help”, by Kathryn Stockett, a book I probably would have little interest in anyway, but one that goes on my “not if it were the last book on Earth” list simply because of her repeated raves. A few years ago, she nagged Anya into reading “The Secret Life of Bees”, and while Anya said it was a good book (she was much less effusive than my aunt, though), there is little that would convince me to read it at this point.
Is it stubborness on my part or just petty meanness? I’m not sure. I do feel guilty about it, but the guilt makes me even more resentful. Part of it is that I just know from experience that my aunt and I have very different tastes (something I don’t think she realizes); part of it is the hard sell, which tends to make me dig my heels in. I don’t know; I may be missing some great stuff this way, but it’s something I find hard to change.
Other times it’s not a specific person that makes me unwilling to read something, but just the general weight of public opinion. I used to joke that I was the only person on Earth who hadn’t read Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”, and while that’s a slight exaggeration, I do feel that it’s almost a perverse point of pride for me that I haven’t read it (again, this rule applies to movies, too – my mild interest in “Avatar” decreased every time I had to hear about it). I guess it’s a sort of snobbery, to a degree – even many who like the book admit it’s not great literature. But it’s not like I read nothing but great literature 24/7, anyway – right now, I’m reading the 10th Stephanie Plum book, for crying out loud. The fact is, I would probably like “The Da Vinci Code” if I read it – even if it’s dumb and badly-written, it’s supposed to be very entertaining, and sometimes that’s all I require from a book. But I feel weirdly as if I would be ceding some principal if I read “The Da Vinci Code” now. It doesn’t make any sense, I know.
The one I’m on the fence about now is not a single book but a trilogy, by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson: “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played With Fire”, and the finale, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” These books have been described as thrillers or mysteries, not necessarily genres that I habitually read, but they supposedly also have more to offer that standard genre fare. I tend to like series that follow characters over a period of time (assuming that I like the characters, of course), because it allows me, as a reader, to actually develop a connection to the story. These books have been extremely popular internationally; I believe that at least the first book has been made into a film in Sweden and is slated for a U.S. remake.
I’m intrigued but a little wary – I’ve known people who absolutely loved the books and others who couldn’t get into them. I tend to be very suggestible with books; unless you are someone (like my aforementioned aunt) whose tastes I am really clear on, I have a knee-jerk reaction that my impression will be the same as yours. If you hated a book, of course I won’t like it – it’s a terrible book! If you loved it, how can I not like it – it must be great! This reaction occurs in me on a visceral level, making it hard for me to really determine what I’ll like and what I won’t.
I think I’ll ask for the Larsson trilogy for my upcoming birthday, taking away some of the responsibility for it – everyone knows that if you get something as a gift there is less pressure to actually like it. In the best case scenario, I’ll find a new series I truly love.
What about you? How do you handle recommendations? Do you ever, like me, find yourself resenting subtle (or not so subtle) pressure to read something beloved by a friend or relative?