The strange world of recommendations

I am now at part 22 of my 26-Week Book Challenge. As I have pointed out before, due to various planned interludes I actually have another 15 weeks to go rather than four, but in my head it all made sense at the time.

Today’s post will be a bit odd, since technically I already wrote it a long time ago. This is because today’s topic is an author you wish people would read more often, and that author is Jack Vance.

I have sung the praises of Jack Vance before, so I’m not going to repeat myself. That said, much as I love the man’s writing, whenever people ask me to recommend a book or an author, he isn’t the first author I would pick. I’m not entirely sure why, but it is probably partly because he has such a unique, verbose style and I know that there aren’t many people who get along with that. There’s also the fact that I think you need to be in the right mood to read Jack Vance.

If anyone were to ever study my Goodreads profile in more than passing detail, they might notice that on my ‘currently reading’ list I have The Complete Lyonesse by Jack Vance, and that I am very close to the anniversary of adding it on that list. March 18th, to be precise, which probably means that I started it on the 17th. I’m usually a day or so late in adding them.

I am not, of course, actually reading this book at the moment. The Complete Lyonesse comprises the trilogy of Suldrun’s Garden, The Green Pearl and Madouc, and I am due to start The Green Pearl next, having finished Suldrun’s Garden quite a while ago. The reason I have not done so as of yet is because I am not in the mood to read Vance at the moment.

(Okay, the book is also a massive hardcover edition that weighs about three kilos, which means it’s neither suitable for bedtime reading nor for stuffing into my work bag to read on the bus, but that’s really just another lame excuse.)

And here’s the sticking point: while I genuinely feel that Vance is a fantastic author who needs to be read more, if someone were to ask me right now what they should read, I would probably say either Robin Hobb’s Assassin books or Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series. I rarely recommend Vance to people, or if I do I immediately add ‘but he’s quite difficult, uses a lot of really obscure words’.

Am I automatically assuming that people are not intelligent enough to read Vance? That they probably won’t like his style anyway? It would be very presumptuous of me to do so, but I must admit that if I were to recommend him, I’d almost be expecting people to come back to me and say ‘I didn’t like that book’. And I’d understand.

Compare that with the fact that if I were to recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora and my recommendee came back to me saying ‘I hated it’, I’d be going ‘omg wtf what’s wrong with you? How can you possibly not love that book?’. I read a review of Assassin’s Apprentice a few months ago from someone who found it mindlessly boring and who said it dragged, and I was sat there thinking ‘did we read the same book?’ because I was hooked before I reached page 5.

So do I have double standards? Do I tune my recommendations to whoever I’m speaking to? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t actually recommend books all that often. I’m more than happy to give my opinion if I’m asked for it, but I rarely get asked ‘I’m stuck for something to read, what would you recommend?’

I’m not entirely sure what my point was going to be, going into this post, but let me finish it by actually recommending Jack Vance to you. If you want to read something absolutely unique, unusual and very, very distinctive in style, try Planet of Adventure. If you don’t like that book, you’ll never like anything by Vance, but it remains one of the books I’ll continue to go back to time and again because I love it to bits.

There you go.

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3 thoughts on “The strange world of recommendations

  1. H. Anthe Davis

    I don’t see anything wrong with recommending different things to different people. I wouldn’t recommend a horror novel to a fluffy-romance reader, after all. I actually had to retract my recommendation of my own book to one of my coworkers after she told me a bit more about her reading habits. I went ‘oh nooooo, okay no, I don’t want to traumatize you, put it back’. It’s not bad to play to your audience.

    Reply

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