I’ve been absent! Apologies to the three people who’ve had the opportunity to notice. This post isn’t actually late, per se, it’s still within a week of my last post if I get this up before midnight, so I’ll allow it. Today I have reached into the jumbled slips of paper in a battered hat that is my subconscious mind, and decided to write about book recommendations1, so prepare to read about that! I am very bad at introductions, it seems!
Before I begin muttering about book recommendations and why I think they are only nominally useful, I thought I’d include a link to the running post of books I would recommend to people, should you have clinked on this post looking for suggested reading. I’ve split the recommendations into genres (you can read about my ambivalence regarding those in a future post, I’m sure), so you can find books most likely to be relevant to you. Enjoy!
I usually tend to recommend books for a couple of reasons.
Number one is a unique, or just vividly realised setting.
Settings in fiction, I feel, are often underrated. I’m not even talking about the time or reality a piece of work is set in (although that can be a deal breaker very quickly), I mean the locales and homes of your character, the places we find them most often. No one wants to read about the stunning detective’s empty apartment (that’s more of a character development clue then a setting, really). And no one wants to read another description of the trees the party of adventurers is tromping2 through.
Possibly unpopular opinion—I could not stand The Hobbit. The book, not the movie. I didn’t watch the movies, because I could not stand the book. It was so boring!
Here are some people, or hobbits, I guess, but the distinction seems insignificant, anyway, there’s a lot of them with very similar names, and they’re all introduced at the same time. Now they shall set off with very little real motivation, and walk very slowly in pursuit of their aims.
It was bad. I also had to read it for class, which may have influenced my decision, but still. Blegh.
But give me a compelling setting3 and I will tell anyone bound by societal constructs of politeness to listen to my half-coherent rambles about this book I read, and how it’s really cool. I always seem to be unnecessarily vague when I describe books to people, I don’t know why, probably an attempt to avoid even the possibility of spoilers. It makes me a pretty terrible book-recommender, but I don’t know all that many people in real life who actually take book recommendations from peers, and fair enough. I barely take recommendations, and reading is my go-to form of procrastination, learning, entertainment, inspiration, and escape. Still though, someone tells me about a book and most of the time this little toddler in my head pouts like I can choose my own books!
Or I start just immediately thinking of the books I want to recommend back, without wanting to be bothered first with whatever they just recommended. I’ve had a to-be-read list (and bookcase) that’s done nothing but grown since I created it! I don’t have time for someone else’s idea of what I might like, that could well be a let-down3 when I’ve been curating a list of preferred media since I got my own laptop. So then my brain’s all like—
I didn’t know we were on book recommending terms! Read these fifteen books I’ve been dying to subtly quote at people for the last eight years and get back to me by Tuesday with an essay on the gender politics in Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels series!
For example, I read Liz Williams’ The Poison Master about twelve years ago, only remember the plot in broad strokes, and still recommend that darling book because the setting was so cool. Dark without being angsty, intriguing without making the characters seem boring by comparison, it is a masterwork. So the advice part of my point is I guess, make your setting memorable. Huh, guess I’m being more long-winded than usual if it took me so long to (sort of) say that.
Right then, let’s move on to my next favourite thing.
Reason number two is a compelling set of characters. Character development is my primary addiction, the reason I prefer fiction to non-fiction (reality is rarely as satisfying as art), and books are simply the vehicle through which I most often get my fix. Character development isn’t what I’m talking about here, though. I guess I mean more the choice of characters?
My favourite books all tend to have characters that were plausibly created by the sharp edges of the world they live in, but still don’t fit perfectly. I think that’s a pretty common theme among readers, too. No one reads about the farmboy-peasant who stays on the farm. We want the chosen one that trades his pitchfork for a sword and falls in a river a couple of times to get all trained up in an improbably short timeframe4.
The key to changing that old chestnut into something readers will enjoy lies in the way your believable misfits complement (or… insult, I guess?) each other. The characters should challenge each other, have different strong and weak points that encourage the others to grow, and—possibly most importantly—be entertaining when they interact. Everyone loves some witty banter.
I was going to have a third reason, but realistically, unless your writing style is unreadable, if you nail setting and cast I’m going to read what you wrote5; so go forth, my friends! Write more books for me to add to the ever growing to-be-read list/bookcase!
1 It was going to be settings, but then I got distracted by a different train of thought, so here we are
2 Why do adventurers always seem to tromp, anyway? No one else tromps. Why are adventurers all such big trompers, eh? Seems suspicious to me
3 My life is woefully short of people who enjoy the same types of media as me, and while sometimes this leads to interesting branching from my own taste and interest (Bukowski’s The People Look Like Flowers At Last wasn’t bad, once I stopped expecting it to be the sort of poetry I would’ve chosen) mostly it just means I shout my recommendations at anyone who seems inclined to listen
4 We’ll just pretend farming and swordfighting use the same muscles, anyone who’s honestly done one is unlikely to have tried the other
5 And probably find your website and read my way through as much of your backlist is available, and tell people face-to-face in an entirely unconvincing, halting style about the book I read, and how cool it is, while they nod their heads, force a smile and internally mutter about how little they want book recommendations…