Eccentric Flower:201107/Suspicion of the Big Rec

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Suspicion of the Big Rec

Tumblr is excellent for posting photos and links and ephemeral things very fast with low overhead, which is 4/5 of what I have these days; but it is unsuitable for long text, and I worry that when Tumblr falls apart and dies I will have no archive copy of those words. Hence this repost of this original. -c


I suspect there are people who, upon learning about my "If ten thousand other people like it, I'm not going anywhere near it" impulses, are inclined to write it off as snobbery or just an extension of my general "won't join any club which would have me as a member" unsociability. But actually (while I cop to that unsociability), it's neither.

Over the years I have become convinced that there's far more value in personal recommendations than trends. For example: best-seller lists for books are pretty useless, because they only tell you what everyone else is buying, and not whether those books are crap. A list of recommendations from a single source is more valuable over the long run - it's not as valuable before you know that person's tastes, but once you do, it has great positive (if he hits with you once or twice he may hit with you the majority of the time) or negative (the converse is that he may act as a reliable indicator of what not to buy) value.

I don't think the taste of the general public is garbage all of the time, or even most of the time. I do think that the taste of the general public has often been proven to not match my own very well. This came up a lot recently when I was fishing randomly for books for my trip. The US bestseller list in general is often full of things which may very well be good and may very well be competent, but which I just don't care to read (most thrillers, most romances, most litfic, most humor). The UK bestseller list occasionally does a little better. A list from my peers among the nerderie, or a list pertinent to a specific genre I know offers good odds for me, would be even more accurate - you'd think.

The problem is that recommendations among certain groups - and here I'm thinking of the F/SF community in particular - tend to build their own momentum; suddenly everyone has to read the book because everyone else has read the book and everybody wants to talk about the book or everyone is scared they will feel left out because they haven't read the book. And fan communities rise up (as they do these days at the drop of a hat), and suddenly the act of being a fan of the material takes on a life, a momentum, in itself, wholly independent of whether the source media is any good. The Twilight fan phenomenon, for example (and yes, yes, I realize many adult F/SF fans wouldn't go near it with an eleven-foot pole, but the books are undeniably in the fantasy genre) exists and thrives without any apparent consideration whatsoever that the books (and the films) are, as far as I can tell, fit only for compost.

Am I picking on the Twilight fans? Absolutely not. More power to them. I don't want to rain on anyone else's fun. I'm just pointing out that I'm only looking for a good book, not a fan community - and that I can't rely on the strength of a fan community as a guarantee that the book is actually good. Or, to put it more tersely: There have been plenty of mighty powerful fandoms built around a core of utter shite.

In fact, I'll go further than that: I think in F/SF in particular, the fans PREFER a core of purest Velveeta. They like the bad stuff more than the good stuff. ("Doctor Who" has a large, sturdy, long-established, vibrant fandom; and yet - and I say this as an on-again-off-again watcher of it all my life - the show is more often than not B-quality cheese, even today in the reboot.) Which, again, is no slight, I like a lot of cheese myself. But it doesn't make it easier for me to find the stuff I like!

So to an extent it is safer policy for me to say, at least w.r.t. that genre, "Well, if a huge number of people are fans, it probably means this is rolling momentum around something that isn't very good," and avoid such things. And wait for personal recs from people whose opinions I trust. The problem is, the latter are not thick on the ground. I have only one friend and correspondent who routinely discusses what she has been reading and what she thought of it. I wish more of them would. (I'd reciprocate, of course, but I barely read except on long voyages these days!)

Anyway, to end this already-long-enough-that-it-won't-get-read screed: If you like something that also happens to be trendy, and you think I should read/see it, tell me; because chances are that I have already shut it out because of the size of its phenomenon, and only a recommendation from someone I actually know will get me to open the door again.

This is what's happened with the Game of Thrones books, which - to my great surprise given the level of buzz - are actually rather good, and which appeal to me in a way other items in that genre (Long-Haul Fantasy Chockablock with Genealogy and Battles and Unpronounceable Names) ordinarily do not. Probably because these books are actually far more down-to-earth than books of that genre usually seem to be.

This goes for all other sorts of media as well; it goes double for weblogs. I resent aggregators of content who have ten thousand followers because 1) I hate being part of a trend and 2) they're not me. I don't follow people because they are Internet Celebrities; I follow them because they have interesting things to say, and I get to choose what I think is interesting. (Hence I follow Stephen Fry on Twitter, like all my peers, but I do not follow Neil Gaiman on Twitter, unlike all my peers. Neil occasionally has interesting things to say, but never on Twitter, as far as I can tell. See how this works?) So if you know a weblog that All The Cool Kids Follow not because it's what the cool kids do, but because it actually provides interesting stuff, do tell me. I like interesting stuff. I hate buzz.


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ProfRobert:

It's funny -- I can spot things you'll like, whether non-fiction books or tchotkes easily, but I'd likely not recommend fiction to you. I know you don't like Jane Austen, and after that, I'm stymied -- I can't figure out what someone who doesn't like Austen would like. (And since I'm only somewhat interested in/aware of SF/F fiction, I wouldn't presume to recommend anything in that genre).

I don't know about anyone else, but I REALLY want to hear about the trip, what you liked, what you didn't -- that is, if you're in the mood to take requests.

-- 22:53, 21 July 2011 (BST)


Bunny42:

What he said! Especially Paris, although I gather NonElvis was ill during part of that. I do hope you'll regale us with your impressions, and descriptions of how the travel was, in general. All this stuff I hear about TSA makes me especially interested in the experiences of people who have actually, ya know, traveled...

I've seen a couple of movies (films, as Sean calls them) lately that I was pretty sure you'd like. But I somehow feel presumptuous recommending them. Should I?

-- 01:20, 22 July 2011 (BST)


Columbina:

I didn't have too many specific observations about the trip but I do have a few and I'll put them somewhere once I get the energy to do so. Meanwhile, the photos are up. My set and hers overlap nicely; she photographed some things I didn't bother with much, and vice versa. You'll probably want to log in on Flickr before you go look, because the photos with people in them are locked.

My set

Her set

Bunny: I'm always interested in film recs, even though I don't see a lot of movies these days. I usually do get around to the things I want to see eventually.

Robert: I wanted to like Jane Austen but I simply couldn't get past the language. You think it takes Dickens a long time to get anywhere ....

-- 02:58, 22 July 2011 (BST)


Bunny42:

Okay, here goes. The first one is called Ink. Low-budget indie film. Very strange, but compelling.

The next is called Strings. Marionettes, is all I gotta say. After a while, it got slow, once you got used to the string concept. But it's fascinating to see all those puppets not getting hopelessly tangled together.

-- 06:31, 22 July 2011 (BST)


Jette:

Strings is one of the most beautiful movies I ever saw. I didn't know it was out on video, or is it? I last saw it at a genre film festival in 2005.

I am lousy at book recs because I have trouble finding stuff I want to read, much less finding it for others. Movie recs I have to be careful with lest I start acting like Juliette Binoche in "Chocolat."

What I like about Austin IS the language. It's delightfully witty. But I was a senior in high school before I could find the wit inside all the words. Now, Tristram Shandy, I lost patience with (but did like the movie).

-- 21:10, 22 July 2011 (BST)


Jette:

And Jesus F. Christ, I get on *everyone's* ass for misspelling Jane Austen's name and just did it. (In my defense, I just spent a couple of hours editing articles about Austin films ... nope, that's no excuse. My apologies to everyone.)

-- 21:11, 22 July 2011 (BST)


Bunny42:

We procured Strings from Netflix. Also Ink.

-- 01:20, 23 July 2011 (BST)

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