3 November 2012

You really, really should read this

I’ve never been very good at taking recommendations. One book that for most of my life someone, somewhere has suggested that I should read is Lord of the Rings. Consequently, given my obstinate nature, I’ve never read it. In the 70s the sort of person who read and got obsessed with Hobbits had long hair, wished they’d been at Woodstock and wanted to live in a Teepee in North Wales. I’d cut my hair, burnt my flairs, listened to The Lurkers and read Graham Greene. When the Peter Jackson films came out, with all the hype, I still resisted and now, not only I have I not read the books, I’ve fallen asleep during the first of the films.

When I do get a recommendation, I have to weigh up the options. Why am I being offered this particular story? Do I have anything in common with the recommender? Why do they think I’d be interested in Middle Earth? Am I a hippy?

It’s different with an author’s work; read Bleak House and someone will recommend Hard Times, that’s not a huge leap of faith. Once on the bus I was reading Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell, a collection of his essays published by Penguin in their Great Ideas series. The woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked what I was reading as she had read a lot of Orwell but had not heard of this book, she took the details and we went on our way. Not really a recommendation, but as close as I get.

I do, ever so often, suggest that 1984 might a good book, occasionally A Clockwork Orange, but on the whole I generally steer away from recommending books, most people screw up their face if you suggest that Dombey and Son is worth the effort.

This, now hard wired, mindset leaves me ambivalent towards book clubs. I want to join one to share and enjoy books with other people; however, I don’t want to be told what to read. Recently, I bumped into a friend in the street; she was on her way to a book club, I to the pub. The book she was reading was The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, she gave me a brief outline and suggested that I read it. This is where the Kindle comes in handy, I could do a quick search on Amazon, read some reviews, even read a sample. Breaking a habit of a lifetime I bought it. It is a most extraordinary book, I enjoyed it so much that I downloaded Ablutions for the holiday, I found that a more difficult read, not very uplifting, but beautiful writing. From one recommendation, two books, a personal record.

Amazon’s recommendations are always interesting; usually a list of Dickens’ novels with some Shakespeare thrown in. I was offered a sample of Other Paths to Glory by Anthony Price, downloaded, enjoyed, purchased. I’m now on my fourth Anthony Price book with only another 15 to go; maybe my aversion to recommendations has finally been broken by Kindle.


  1. I eventually read The Lord of the Rings when I had a baby and no money to buy new books as often as I wanted them. I had to resort to reading what was on the shelf. My husband had them. I enjoyed them. Ironically I had not liked Melville in university but on the shelf was Moby Dick. Laughed out loud so much I kept following my husband around reading to him too. That whole scene about whether to share a bed with the harpooner made me cry of laughter. Sometimes books turn up when your life is ready to receive them... not when your professor says you should read them.

  2. That's how I came across Nicholas Nickleby, had run out of books and there it was on the shelf. Not having been to university I've discovered books on my way by accident, I read Moby Dick because I found a second-hand copy and had never read it and I was in my 19C phase, didn't make me laugh, but really enjoyed it and is one that will re-read in the future.