Recently JV strongly recommended Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci. I like biographies, so I got a copy of the book from the library, read it, and concluded that JV was absolutely right: it’s a terrific, thought-provoking book about a fascinating, almost unbelievable genius that is well worth reading.
JV’s review, though, got me to thinking about the act of making book recommendation to your friends. When you think about it, it takes a certain amount of trust and courage to do it, because you’re exposing a bit of your inner self in doing so. If you read a book and give it a rave review to your friends, there’s a risk that they will read it and think it’s not exactly the bee’s knees. What you think is a deeply moving tale they might find to be banal and superficial, and what you think is a fascinating bit of history they might conclude is a long, boring slog. And, through the prism of the book and your review of it, they might just revise their perception of you, too.
It’s a chance you take whenever you give a hearty thumbs-up or a crushing thumbs-down to any piece of popular culture, be it a book, a movie, or a TV series. People have different interests and will find different things appealing, or off-putting. The risk that people will disagree, though, probably causes some vulnerable people to shy away from talking about their reactions to books, movies, and the like. If so, that’s a shame. Anything that might discourage people from talking about books is a bad thing.
I like getting book recommendations from friends and family, precisely because they do give you some insight into the personality and preferences of the recommender. And, too, I find that their real-world reviews tend to be a lot more reliable than some lofty, self-consciously intellectual review written by a literature professor in the New York Times book review section.