A Reading Renaissance?

Does anyone know someone who recommends books and they just sound like the most boring thing ever? Then you don’t know whether the book is boring (maybe you judge too harshly!) or whether the person describing it just sucks at explaining the good stuff. Or perhaps you have nothing in common with this person?

I have this sense, when I read the synopsis of a book, that I will enjoy the book or not. I occasionally grab a book based on knowing one or two words that relate to it: “Prague”, “historical”, “Kazuo Ishiguro”. There are a few trusted recommenders — I get LitHub updates and I check NPR. A lot of it makes me aware of what’s available, though the reviewed books or authors may not necessarily capture my interest.

Recently, I’ve been yearning for something different. Do I know what that means to me? There’s some article floating around the Internet about not reading books by cis white male authors. I didn’t think purposely limiting yourself this way made sense, but many of the most recent books I read had that quality. I’ve read the authors Helene Wecker, Heda Kovály Margolius, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Solomon Northup, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Yes, I also read Garth Nix (I wanted to reminisce; I read Sabriel half a lifetime ago) and I’m looking forward to reading Paul Kingsnorth soon. Perhaps that article spoke truth — making sure to read books that were not written by the usual cis white male — and I have been able to get my dose of “something different”. Or, I’ve just been lucky and chosen some books I really loved. But they did push me out of my “normal” zone.

None of those books have been alike at all — and entirely dissimilar to the usual sci-fi and fantasy stuff I read. The Golem and the Jinni was maybe the closest to being a fantasy novel. But I don’t usually read books about a Communist regime, or a book written from the perspective of an English butler or the philosophical musings of a Levantine man.

So now, that recommender troubles me. Every book she describes sounds frightfully boring — and yet, most of my recent books live outside my usual purview. If I picked up something she’d recommended, would I want to lem it? Should I trust my instinct — the feeling you get when you pick up a book and you just think, “This is AMAZING,” based on the tiny bits of case-based reasoning you have?

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