Sunday, October 11, 2020



For most of the life of this blog I have had a link to a list of favorite books of mine. It is over there on the right sidebar of this blog, or simply here. And in the seven year life of this list I don't believe the following has ever happened to me before:

I read a book and thought 

"Quick, I have to put it on my recommended books page right away!"

But that happened today.

Before I tell you anything about this new book on my recommended books page (and yes, not only did I add the book to that page, but I spent hours doing some long overdue clean-up on that time-worn, battered, and growing list) I would like to qualify.

Maybe I shouldn't refer to it as a recommended books page at all. Perhaps "Favorite Books of all time" works better.

It's just that I really like recommending things. 

But I have learned there is an art to it. And that art requires miles and miles of restraint.

Maybe it should be called "The pool of books from which I would recommend".

The brilliant, enjoyable, wonderful book I just added to that list is called Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. I loved it to pieces. It is fantastic.

Do I recommend it?

It depends. 

I have found that blanket recommendations are nearly valueless. I need to know what books you loved to even begin a recommendation or if any recommendation is even possible. It would help to know a couple notable books you hated as well. I'd like to get a fix on what you might have loved about the books you loved. I'd like to talk with you about it for a bit. I wonder if you'd recommend something to me? What kind of books do you usually read? How often do you read?

That should do it.

And if I don't like anything that you like I'll be flying blind and can't use my list anyway.

How about this:

Would I, for instance, recommend Naomi Novik's masterwork Deadly Education to myself

With my whole heart. 

I seriously might start rereading it tonight.

But I have a good sense for my taste so it might not be the best example.

Would I recommend it to friend A.? 

Yes, but they're ridiculously easy to recommend to because they read so much and like so much so widely that they seems to respond positively to anything, absolutely anything that's good. 

And this is good. It's just really good in an objective way.

Other people? It depends. I have one co-worker who I would be shocked if they didn't love it. I have one other that's probably a yes, but I wouldn't pursue it with them because they're oppositional. I also have one person I mentioned it to (because I was in the middle of it) who loves recommendations and enthusiasm and so requested the book even though I wasn't really recommending it to them, and I'd be quite surprised (though delighted) if they like it. 

I know a few people who have excellent taste, sometimes more literary like friend B., who maybe wouldn't like the pulpy genre qualities of this book, and too I have people in my life with some very similar tastes to mine who I nevertheless don't think would like this for very particular reasons, like too much fictional worldbuilding, or too much tension and too many monsters.

The most common explanatory mash up for Deadly Education that I've encountered is Hunger Games meets Harry Potter. And that's not a terrible shorthand take. Both of those books have some qualities prominently expressed in Deadly Education. It is a magical school story combined with a somewhat competitively deadly approach to progress and graduation (though like in its sister examples cooperation plays a key role and is in tension, morally and practically, with the ideas of competition). And without specifically being able to talk to a particular person in my recommendation process, I could try that route of testing their affection for similar books, that is using other books that have a family resemblance to Deadly Education, or that have the same job, so to speak, or dress the same, or share a spirit. And because there are a lot of books I love that share telling thematic qualities, character qualities, and plot qualities with Deadly Education such an approach might work. The third, most explicit book, along with Hunger Games and Harry Potter to compare to Deadly Education is Lord of the Rings, which is shrewdly, indeed brilliantly understood and explicitly referenced by Ms. Novik. The main character in Deadly Education is named Galadriel for god's sake. And the amazing off screen character of the mother in the novel, who names Galadriel as she did, knows exactly what she's doing with that name. It is a book about a character resisting an extraordinary aptitude for evil. It's even, at its best, about how evil is resisted. 

So to really like or love Deadly Education you might have done well to like or love 

The Hunger Games

Harry Potter


The Lord of the Rings

But why stop there. The following books will also tell a great deal about your affinity for Deadly Education:

Pride and Prejudice

Hat Full of Sky

The Chosen

The Blue Sword


The Lockwood and Company Series

Peak Dick Francis books

That's a lot of books. Every one of them is on my list of recommended, or favorite books. If you love, or really strongly like, say, three of those books, and don't hate any, Deadly Education could work as thrillingly for you as for me. Four or five of those books would be far more hopeful though as they represent some wide ranging elements.  And if you barely know most of those titles listed above but loved what you do know, you probably have an excellent reading list for yourself. I wish I were so lucky. And if the list above is not particularly interesting to you and you're wondering if there would be any point in looking at my wider list, you never know. There are some strange corners in my list of recommended books, some bearing little connection to this list, and from out of nowhere the oddest things come together.

But what about Deadly Education! Do I recommend Deadly Education to you?

In the end that's neither here nor there. 

I am just hoping that maybe now, after all this, you are in a position to know whether or not you would recommend it to yourself.


  1. Well...I've read and liked Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I haven't read Hunger Games and based on what I've heard of it, I never will. I've put Deadly Education on request, but two are ahead of me and my library generally gets only one paper copy of any given book. So...we'll see. You recommended the books by Fford and I liked those, but when I went back to read one of them, I couldn't.

    1. I'd say your reaction to The Hunger Games is fairly important here and might make this a poor bet for you. On the other hand it could just mean you're missing out on The Hunger Games! But I suspect not. The Jasper Fforde's aren't a significant crossover. You could conceivably like Deadly Education with a bit of patience and effort is my guess, though if you were keen to try a YA sort of fantasy and it were my call I'd probably go with something a little more elegant like The Blue Sword.


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