Are recommendations bad for you?

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

-Haruki Murakami

I was browsing Netflix recently and while looking at their suggestions for me based on my previous ratings, I started wondering whether recommendations like these are really the best way to go?

These recommendations are everywhere. Netflix, Amazon … You buy something or you rate something and immediately, you get more suggestions. So because I like Doctor Who, I also want to watch Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, right? Sorry – nope. Not a chance.

Some of these recommendations of course makes perfect sense. If I’ve bought The Brothers Karamazov, it follows naturally that I might be interested in Crime and Punishment or The Master and Margarita. But what I’m trying to get at here is, that as far as I know, these recommendations are based on the idea of ‘more of the same’. So if you like one British comedy show, you get recommended more British comedies. And you’ll probably like these as well. But maybe it would be better to be challenged a bit. To get a recommendation that takes you far out of your normal comfort zone and your normal go-to entertainment choices. And I don’t think these kinds of recommendations are able to do that. I think that if you just follow the recommendations, you might end up just reading the same thing over and over. And there isn’t anything wrong with reading all the Russian classics – in fact, they are definitely worth reading. But is it okay if that’s all you read? (This is probably a bad example for yeah, I’m pretty sure that it’s more than okay if you just read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and the others… but bear with me.)

I know that there’s frequently – or maybe constantly – a discussion about adults who read young adult (ya) fiction. The thought is that if ya fiction is not complex enough to be satisfying for adults and if you read it, you are under-stimulating yourself. I don’t buy in to this at all. First of, I think that if you’re reading, it’s a good thing, no matter what you read. But secondly, I also believe there’s a lot of really great ya fiction out there. The Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games Trilogy are two examples of this – and I’ve also enjoyed reading about Percy Jackson and all the Greek Gods. But I couldn’t just read this – I want to read … well, everything, really.

And because of this I dislike being told by Amazon or others what I should read or watch. I want to be challenged, I want to find something new that can shake my world and make me look at things in another way. I want my books (not all of them, but enough of them) to create new thoughts in my head. To change things. To bring new knowledge to the table so I can make new connections and get new ideas.

And if all I do is watch the same type of comedy shows over and over or keep reading the same type of fantasy as Amazon and Netflix prefers me to do, then I became locked in a box of repetitiveness. Or at least I’m afraid I will be. So instead, I read about a gazillion book blogs, I get inspired by Goodreads, I listen to literature podcasts – and through that, I get what I hope is a very eclectic reading list.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you prefer reading the same genre constantly or do you spread out as well? Do you enjoy the recommendations from Netflix and Amazon and others? Let me know!

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4 thoughts on “Are recommendations bad for you?

  1. I have found a great way of incorporating recommendations. I ask a lot of people which book they would recommend me and why. In my opinion this works best if you ask a large number of people including people you don’t know well (E.g. I have asked random co-workers and people I have talked to at conferences etc.). I have received a lot of interesting recommendations and keep them on file and return to them from time to time. I especially find the reasons people recommend the book very interesting.

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