When I was twelve, I read Ivanhoe. I remember sitting in the bleachers at my brother’s baseball game with my nose buried in a book (I spent probably 3/4’s of my childhood sitting on bleachers with my nose buried in a book; it’s a wonder I never got brained by a foul ball), and this lady came over and asked what I was reading. I told her, and she promptly said, “Oh, you should read Rebecca. It’s another dark romance. You’d like it.”
I nodded politely, and then went back to my book. I didn’t read Rebecca, because I didn’t like romances. Now, some centuries later, I’ve read Rebecca (and enjoyed it), but I wonder if that lady ever read either book. Yes, Ivanhoe and Rebecca are both written in English and considered classics, but that’s about where the similarity ends. Admittedly, I’ve never reread Ivanhoe, but I don’t remember much romance, especially since Ivanhoe spends the whole story dying (okay, okay, recovering from dying, same difference). Rebecca, on the other hand, is most definitely a romance and has none of the adventure of Ivanhoe (and incidentally, is not the sort of book I’d ever recommend to a twelve-year-old).
Another time, I was reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond at the airport. As this is the sort of book that sparks conversation–and yes, debates–I found myself drawn into discussion with someone, and she insisted that I had to read The Third Chimpanzee. So I attempted to read it last night, but could only last for about two chapters. Perhaps I’m argumentative, or maybe just ignorant about current scientific theory, but I could barely read a sentence without saying, “Huh? How does he know that? Where does he get that from? What’s that based on?” Guns, Germs, and Steel is self-contained: everything you need to know, Diamond tells you, and lays out his reasoning so you can see it. I feel like a need a PhD in The Origin of Species to understand The Third Chimpanzee. Furthermore, Guns, Germs, and Steel is about social evolution, whereas The Third Chimpanzee is about biological evolution, though I suppose if you take macro-evolution as scientific fact you wouldn’t much care.
(And I’m not even going to mention all the times people have seen me reading Arthurian literature and said I absolutely had to read Mists of Avalon. See here for what I thought of that book.)
You know, I wish there was some program into which you could feed a list of all the books you like, and it would spit you out a list of more books you would like. That would be lovely. Of course, in a way, it would take away that element of novelty and excitement of, “Someone recommended this book? Will I like it as much as they think I will?” And I have had some excellent recommendations: Sayers’s Lord Peter books, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, the Sherlock Holmes stories.
I must say, I do love getting book recommendations. I love picking up new books, and knowing I’m about to enter a world into which someone else has gone before and declared that I would be an imminently suitable new pioneer. So. . .any recommendations :)?