Thursday, March 18, 2010

Literary Identity, The Weight of Recommendations, and More

There are times as a book blogger or recommender of books that I wish I had a more defined sense of taste. The truth is that I enjoy a great variety of books and feel antsy whenever I think of fitting into one niche or genre. At the same time, I often feel without roots or a strong sense of like minded community in the book blogosphere. (and beyond)

I can look at other bloggers and generally guess what they like. Their sense of taste and preference is so highly developed that it's easy to recommend books to them, or to guess what kind of book they will enjoy.

This has been on my mind a lot more since my friend Rebecca mentioned that my taste was hard to pin down. But it's always been on my mind, especially when I work on things like BBAW and read blogs that devote themselves solely to one kind of book. I've been thinking about it because some of the people I admire and respect most in this world have highly developed taste. I generally know what sort of thing they will like and what they won't. Sometimes I think they have what might be considered "better" taste than me, because it is so consistent.

Of course it was Jason of Moored at Sea's post that really made me think about this in more depth, particularly this part:

it is very easy to find bloggers with very precisely similar interests - and in knowing those persons, your opinions become even MORE similar over time, as a group, on the trend. This makes these pockets of culture that at times can clash.

I have to admit, I was I have a group like that? I mean sure we all read The Hunger Games and loved it, but honestly that's about where it ends! After all, I review a good chunk of Christian fiction which quite a few of my closest blogging friends won't touch, same for romance, same for YA, same for any chick lit I still find time to read. Often I want to read the books that are trending, such as Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, but there are so many other books I want to read, I'm not sure I'll find the time. And I wonder if the books I recommend that I think my other friends would like have any impact on them...for example, I wonder if because I like Christian fiction, they don't trust my taste in what is called literary fiction. Or if they do trust my taste in literary fiction, why do they not also trust my taste in Christian fiction. I wonder just how powerful and effective it is to recommend without a niche. While it's probably just out of pride, I wonder, essentially, how weighty my recommendations are.

I guess what I'm asking is how much do you weigh the full measure of one's taste in deciding whether or not to trust them? One of the best examples I can give you springs from my comments yesterday when a commenter suggested I might give a book a try because Andrew Peterson endorsed it. If you've known me for any length of time, you know I'm a huge fan of Mr. Peterson. In fact, I would say he's one of those people, along with all of the people who blog at the Rabbit Room, who have highly developed taste. But, I don't always like what they like and the most unfortunate example I can give is that I'm neither a huge fan of Narnia or Tolkein. This is actually extremely perplexing to me as they are not the only ones I respect who cite them as major influences. I think it pretty much boils down to the fact that I'm not a terribly huge fan of straight fantasy. But it amazes me that the art they produce, so richly influenced by these other works, is of profound importance to me. And so generally,I put great stock in their recommendations, weighing only lightly the Lewis/Tolkien love.

I was thinking about this, as well, at the Beautiful Creatures signing I went to a couple of months ago. Kami and Margie talked about their influences and naturally named all the big fantasy names. I felt a stab of envy listening to them, because they have a literary identity. They have a culture and a heritage they are a part of. I feel like that's something I'm lacking, because I can't commit to one genre. I can't be well read in any one area, because I want to taste from all the different wells of literature. But I envy the fantasy community, the romance community, the YA community, because they have the ability to be wholehearted about one area of books. I envy also bloggers in more general fields like Nymeth and Rebecca who have obvious thematic elements to the books they enjoy.

And so because I'm like this, I feel adrift in the sea of people who love and talk about books. People who open themselves up to be influenced by books and who influence for books. I don't think I have that community that Jason mentions where our taste has become more similar over time.

I'm not suggesting we should all have THE SAME taste, though. I think that's probably impossible. Our different perspectives on books certainly illuminate our different life experiences. Different perspectives allow us to help each other understand books in new and different lights when discussed and help us to understand each other better. So please don't misunderstand.

I'm just reflecting on my lack of literary identity and culture. I'm wondering if because I don't have a clearly identifiable pattern of what I like, if my recommendations are less weighty. I guess I feel sad that sometimes a relationship is one sided in this regard, that while I trust one person's recommendations, they take mine less seriously.

Oh and one other thing! There are times I know someone won't like a book and in those cases I don't want them to take my recommendation, but again, that's an example of that other person having a highly developed and recognizable preference and taste.

Okay I realize this post is rather self-indulgent, but I'm curious if anyone else ever feels the same way. Do you have a sort of literary heritage you identify with? What do you think about the nature of recommendations in this world where word-of-mouth is king? Do you find yourself going to the same people over and over for your book recommendations so that your tastes have grown more similar over time? Or do you primarily make your selections based on your own gut instincts? If someone glowingly recommends a book you end up hating do you trust them less next time?


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