Eccentric Flower:201107/Suspicion of the Big Rec
From Eccentric Flower
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.