The Recommendation Dilemma

Have you had this experience? All your friends tell you that you must watch this movie, this TV show. It’s hilarious, it’s so romantic, it’s so gripping. It’s a must. Yet if too many people recommend a movie or a show – or a book – too warmly, there is a point at which I turn utterly reluctant to tackle it. This is the reason why I missed Mamma Mia this summer, and why I never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The friend who recommended the latter sang its praises for what felt three hours, and that did it for me.

I came very late to Mary Balogh for that reason – on all internet forums, people just rave about her, and so I hesitated for several years before buying any of her books – An Unacceptable Offer was my first by her. Equally, it took me a long time to order books by Julia Quinn and Eloisa James. In each case, it was only after about the third or fourth extremely favorable review here at AAR that I took the jump. All three writers have been favorites of mine since then.

My strange reluctance to read books that are praised to the skies everywhere extends to my TBR shelves. There are three Laura Kinsales there, and three Laura Londons. I also have Julia Ross’s The Seduction, Connie Brockway’s As You Desire, and Judith Ivory’s The Proposition. Each book awaits my attention, and when I pick out a new read, I glance at their spines, yet I draw out a book by another, very probably less generally admired, author.

I cannot explain why I’m not grabbing one of these wonders right this moment as I write this. I could be lying down on the sofa and beginning to enjoy. Maybe I’m afraid that I might be disappointed after all the good things I have heard. Maybe I feel I must wait for a good moment to begin such a promising read. Maybe I am waiting of the books to jump at me, taking me by surprise and insisting to be read. Maybe, just maybe, I might get over my apprehension and find myself reading one of them this winter.

Do you feel books can be over-recommended? Are there books that everyone loves so much that you have been reluctant to read them for fear they won’t live up to the praise? Are there ‘classics’ that you have missed out so far because of this reason?

-Rike Horstmann

20 thoughts on “The Recommendation Dilemma

  1. I’ve never really been put off by “hype” but I recognize that not everybody is going to have the same taste. Usually when a LOT of people love something, it’s for good reason though. I try to look for what it is that other people see, even if I decide that something ultimately isn’t for me.

    Case in point: A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux. I read that book against my better judgement because of the “hype” and so many people rating it as one of the best romance novels ever. I read it and hated it (no HEA? how is it a romance novel?).

    But still, there are parts of it that are enjoyable (the knight trying to deal with modern technology is funny), and I can appreciate why others like it. I’m glad I read it, so now I have my own opinion on the book. I just wish someone had told me there was no HEA, so I could have been prepared.)

    FYI: Buffy lives up to the hype . . . Mamma Mia, sadly, does not. I loved the musical, but I found the movie to be a little too silly. Meryl is great, but the men looked so uncomfortable and it just didn’t work for me.

  2. LOL, on avoiding the P.J. Tracy, Cindy Gerard & Allison Brennan books. Now I have read P.J. Tracy, but I just can’t cross the cash register yet to buy Gerard & Brennan books.

    Rike I just have to say one thing. WATCH MAMA MIA. You will love it.
    Kidding. I did love it, and I can see where other people might not. Get the ironing board out, and do your ironing. Then if you hate it, you won’t feel like you wasted your time.

    I not sure what makes me buy a book. I can read a DIK review, or read the posts raving about the book. But I still tend to go to the bookstore, and pick it up and read a chapter to make sure I am going to like it.

    I did read the Spymaster’s Lady and liked it. I didn’t love it, but I could easily understand why some people loved it. Before I became so skeptical, I used to run out and buy DIK or books raved about on the board, and then couldn’t finish them.

    In summary, I still fall prey to the impulse to buy the book that everyone is raving about once in a while, but like most people here, I have learned to have a wait and see policy. And yes, sometimes I think that inertion has cost me some reading pleasure.

  3. Absolutely! I often avoid things that have been over-recommended. Kind of like how movie critics will pan a movie that I love because I *haven’t* seen that movie done every which way and they have, we have different responses to the movie. Similarly, these things can happen when people who don’t read recommend books to readers. Millions loved “The DaVinci Code” but I’m willing to bet that most of them only read a couple books a year and that they force themselves to read to only to keep current. Sure, they may have ultimately enjoyed it honestly, like I enjoyed a formulaic, poorly edited movie that critics hated, but I couldn’t get past unnecessary sentence fragments.

    Partly, I find that when too many vastly different people rave about something, I find myself disappointed more often than not. I’m not sure if it’s because their raves incite greater expectation that then will never be met, or because I just don’t really like a lot of things that have mass appeal. I don’t like depressing books, I don’t watch horror movies. Yet billions of dollars are made selling depressing books and horror movies. I don’t let myself worry about it too much.

    But like you, I do put off trying things that have been over-recommended. One thing that actually exceeded expectations for me was Firefly/Serenity. If you’re still not sold on Buffy (I only watched a few episodes myself), definitely try Firefly. You can get the whole season on DVD for $20 and you’ll know right away if it suits you. It’s witty and clever and sexy and… I also like Mary Balogh and Eloisa James. Although I liked the Simply series though, I prefer her older books (when taking into account spacing, font size, and margins, I think they may be just as long) and the first two EJ’s didn’t sell me on the hero, but the later ones are good.

    I’m going back to avoiding the PJ Tracy (Monkeewrench), Cindy Gerard and Allison Brennan books staring out at me from my TBR shelf…

  4. Elizabeth Elliott’s Warlord was like that for me, surprisingly. I loved Betrothed and Scoundrel. Warlord was the third I read, and it look me a long time to find a copy. I enjoyed it, but it was a bit too Garwoody for me – it lacked the edge the other two had. But I’m eager to read her new book and see what she can do with Dante!

    Casablanca and It’s a wonderful life were two films that didn’t live up to all I’d heard about them beforehand. Casablanca was good but not unforgettable for me, and on the whole I disliked IAWL.

  5. Over time, and over 1,000 romances later, I tend to delve into WHY someone likes the book more than anything else to determine how I’ll react to the rec. Historical romances, at least 95% of the time, bore me silly so I rarely bother. Contemporary is my thing, but if someone doesn’t say how charming and likable the characters are, and that there’s some actual character development, then there’s no point IMO.

    I just finished Lori Foster’s “Treat Her Right,” and in the beginning of the book, the hero’s daughter charmed the dickens out of me. Then the hero is great, so is the heroine, and there are a ton of fun supporting characters. That one is a keeper for sure. Then I contrast that story with the erotic “Swing” by Opal Carew, and I’m wondering why I’m supposed to even like these characters let alone buy their story, and btw, why are they in love? Not a keeper.

    Now if 90% of the reviews are awful, that’s probably a good sign it’s not worth the $$$.

  6. I’m with JulieE–I’ve read All Through the Night, but I didn’t quite get it. Same with Flowers from the Storm. I’m lukewarm about both, but they’re both still on my shelf. Why? Because I didn’t used to get all the hype for Diana Gabaldon until the day I did. I tried three times to read Outlander. The first time I got bored just as Claire was going back in time. The second time I managed to get to the part where she marries Jamie before tuning out. But it worked for me the third time, and before I knew it I was ordering the rest of the series and cursing how long the shipping was taking.

  7. So, this has been rather interesting, in that some of us may be missing out on some good stuff, only because something is so highly recommended and praised that it doesn’t seem to live up to expectations. What is the answer then? Not read those praising threads? Stop after a certain amount of glowing posts? Keep your own personal review posts on the boards toned down even though the book turned you inside-out and your enthusiasm is overflowing?

    It’s a tough call. I guess it’s also a matter of trying to get to know the different readers on the board and the kinds of stories they usually gravitate to so that you can either identify with their suggestions or realize that they’re probably ones that would be polar opposite to what you’d enjoy. But again, sometimes there is common ground even between people of different tastes and we’d be missing something by turning away from that book.

    I use the library consistently, so trying out different books is not a problem at all. If I had to buy everything, there would be issues there. But, still, the question is, how long should we skim posts that glimmer and shine on a particular book before we stop reading those reviews and get the book before our expectation level is raised too high to be met?

  8. Had to laugh! I find myself doing exactly the same thing. If I get bombarded by recommendations I’m more prone to avoid it out of pure stubborness than to rush to follow the recommendation.

  9. Interesting that Rike used “Mamma Mia” as an example of not following up on recommendations for books, movies, etc. I saw it this summer with a friend who was absolutely head over heels in love with the movie. As for me, it was OK, but not one that I felt like I HAD to have it in my DVD collection. For other “recommendations”, it can go either way as far as I’m concerned. Years ago, a friend recommended that I read “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which I did. The problem was that every day, this friend would inquire how far I had gotten, was I enjoying the book, etc., etc. That almost made reading the books a chore rather than a pleasure! On the other hand, one of my cousins recommended a “film noir” movie to me eleven years ago. Now “film noir” is not normally my cup of tea, but I went to see the movie which happened to be “L.A. Confidential”. I was enthralled by the story, the acting, etc., and it has since become one of my all-time favorite movies. So, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, recommendations are like chocolates in a candy box–you never know how you’ll react to them!

  10. Thank you – I thought I was the only person that felt this way! My recommended by everyone – but I’ve never read – are the Diane Gabaldon Outlander books. I have them all, but I can’t make myself pick up and start reading them. I somethings think the hesitation we have is because we come to know the authors only after they have a sizeable backlist and trying to read that backlist is just too daunting.

  11. I’ve noticed that the older the book, the more skeptical I have to be about a great review. Some just don’t age well or maybe it’s me that’s aging! For instance, I’m talking about Kathleen Woodwiss books (although Flame and the Flower was the first romance I loved and couldn’t put down back in the 80′s) and Laura London (Sunshine and Shadows). My ultimate “can’t read bc of all the hype” though has to be Nora Roberts. I don’t know what it is. I have a trilogy (Born in Ice etc) that i haven’t even cracked open yet. They may be great but they are in my TBR pile. I tried one of her trilogies before and it just didn’t do it for me.
    A tv show that everyone seemed to rave about but I never watched was Ally McBeal. I know I should have loved that show but I never watched it bc of the hype.

  12. I feel that way about Brockway’s All Through The Night. I’ve read it, reread it and I keep it on my shelf for further rereadings. All in the hope that one day I’ll finally get it. Don’t misunderstand, there are parts of it that I absolutely adore: the burglary sequences at the beginning, the walk through the garden between Jack and Anne, but that whole espionage arc w/Ann and the letter,etc.? Well, that really seemed contrived, convoluted and totally unbelievable to me and just left me w/a “huh?” feeling.

    I’m always wary of recommending my favorites to others as I’ve found that my tastes tend to be off the beaten path a little. I did love my Buffster, though. And I started watching LOST when it was in its third season. Sometimes hype works out, other times not. :wink:

  13. Funny, I’m almost the opposite. I’ll read a book/see a movie/find a hot guy in a magazine, be totally enchanted, tell my friends… and find out everybody already knows about it, and then I’m furious nobody told me!

    One of my goals in 2009 is to come out from under my rock :)

  14. RfP – if one or two early reviews based on ARCs appear on some sites I’m fine with that and it helps me to channel my advance ordering, but if seemingly everyone on the blog has read the book and raves about it two months before it’s due, I usually retreat and wait with buying until I have read more opinions by “ordinary” buyers.
    Tee – it is this fear of overrecommending that makes it very hard for me to finish DIK reviews. Instinctively, I want to order the readers to grab a copy, but know how I would respond to such overwhelming enthusiasm, and thus force myself to pull myself together and recommend the book in more cautious terms, more respectful of the readers’ tastes, which may very well differ from mine.
    LeeB. – I act the very same with highly recommended books I want to read anyway! Await my copy, read it, then read the reviews. Regarding book gifts: By far the WORST are books that people give to you because they want to educate you. A colleague who exclusively reads books that improve her and broaden her mind recently gave me The Zahir by Paulo Coelho. It may possibly even be a good book, even if it doesn’t interest me. But knowing where it comes from, and with what intentions, it will go to the USB next opportunity.
    Lynn B – sometimes it helps me to buy a book when the hype is at its highest, but to keep it on my TBR shelf for several months at least, and then read it when the hype has cooled down. And you’ve convinced me: I have just ordered a Buffy DVD box. (It needed this.)

  15. I feel the same way. I think it’s a matter of it being impossible for books to live up to the hype. I get my expectations up so high based on positive reviews and raves that there is no way the book can actually be that wonderful. Then I wonder what all the talk was about or why it is that my reading tastes are so obviously different from everyone else’s. Or I think that all of those people who were raving must have no clue about what is good and what isn’t.

    Even so, I do tend to add books to my TBR pile if they’ve gotten a lot of favorable press because I like to know what all the fuss is about. And a couple of times it’s worked out for the good – I waited a long time to read Twilight and loved it. Same thing with Ward’s BDB books – the first one sat on on my pile for weeks before I caved, then I hated myself for waiting so long.

    BTW – Buffy is totally worth the hype! And this from someone who didn’t watch a single episode until the show had been off the air for two years. Go for it. You’ll get hooked, I guaranteed.

  16. Rike: I totally understand where you are coming from. If I see A or B+ reviews of books I had planned on reading anyway, I don’t read the reviews until after I’ve finished the book. Same thing for books discussed on the boards.

    A different kind of dilemma, though somewhat similar, is when people give me books to read and say “Oh, you’ll love this.” Ugh! I probably didn’t want to read those books in the first place or they are so unlike books I generally read, but I feel obligated to read them. Not a good feeling. That is why I so prefer bookstore giftcards if people feel they must give me a present.

  17. Oh, most definitely, I agree with you, Rike. And when the book doesn’t measure up with me as it did with everyone else, I think there must be something I’m missing. I have about a 50/50 success rate with over-hyped books. That’s also why I’m so reluctant to ooh-and-aah about one that really excited me. But then I don’t want to keep it a secret either.

    Joanna Bourne “The Spymaster’s Lady” was the latest calamity for me. It didn’t live up to its hype. It was okay, but not spectacular. Another author I’m holding judgment on is Pamela Clare. I read both “Surrender” and “Untamed.” One thing is clear and that is I love her writing. Unfortunately, those particular stories themselves wore out for me as they went on. Can’t put my finger on just what the issue is, but I had difficulty trying to finish both of them. I have one of her contemps to be read next. I think that will be telling for me with her.

    I’m not sure what the answer is to over-hyping on a book. I know when I enjoy something, I’m anxious to share the feelings. I’m sure everyone else has those same thoughts. So I guess we just keep trying books that receive good recommendations. After all, a 50-percent success rate is not bad at all.

  18. “Do you feel books can be over-recommended? Are there books that everyone loves so much that you have been reluctant to read them for fear they won’t live up to the praise? Are there ‘classics’ that you have missed out so far because of this reason?”

    Definitely, but less so with classics than with current releases. Too much online hype often makes me suspect group-think–i.e. the hype and one or two early rave reviews are influencing other reviews. I get particularly tired of hype for books that aren’t out yet; when blogs post early reviews based on ARCs, I’m often fatigued with the book before it’s even out. It’s worse when ARCs seem to get passed around and discussed between different blogs–I sometimes feel that that decreases the diversity of those early opinions.

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