Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hopeless recommendation

I still sort of love when people ask for recommendations. This happens to me every once in awhile at the library. These requests for recommendations range from the absurdly broad ("I need a book to read") to the hopelessly narrow ("I've read most of the good scuba diving mystery fiction, but can you suggest any of the less obvious ones?"). But the whole recommendation thing is not as easy as it seems. The thing that I imagine might surprise the non library personnel among you, but is hardly likely to surprise any serious working librarian (or anyone who occasionally pretends to be one) is just how often the recommendation process is hopeless at the outset.

Today provided a good example of this. I was helping a man request a couple seasons of Game of Thrones and he asked me for a recommendation. In our short interview what I ascertained was that he wanted something like Game of Thrones in its level of popularity, production values, cultural currency, genre milieu, and critical acclaim. That's a tall order, but I took a shot at it. I offered for starters Walking Dead. But I think he dismissed it as soon it didn't start with a "G" sound.

I had misunderstood what he was asking for. He was asking for Game of Thrones, only totally not the Game of Thrones he had seen, but the same.

"Well, we have some copies on the shelf of Game of Thrones, only different, with all the same characters and writers and scenarios and actors and stuff. But it's not called Game of Thrones, it's called Game of Thrones."

"Yes, that one please. About time! Usually I get such crap recommendations!"

I am no fan of Game of Thrones in any form, but, oddly, I know where this person is coming from. We like something so very much in art and we want more different, new, but desperately, magically, exactly the same. And because things have a lot in common, share sources, styles, tools, history, and genre, because people can never resist comparing everything, we think there is some way to get that. That there is a magical Game of Thrones that is not Game of Thrones.

But here is today's secret for you. Nothing, really, is like anything else. From the lowliest genre pap on our shelves to the most exalted work of the imagination, they are all individuals out there. Each book or movie or CD is idiosyncratic, broken, singular and seeking its entirely unique brand of magic. 

And in the end, they all live or die alone.

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