Recommending things to other people — movies, books, music, scotch, soap, what have you — must be one of the more underrated pleasures of life. It’s something we all like to do because it makes us feel like an expert in that particular thing we’re recommending, or at least in the know. It is also a hopeful boost to one’s status. One rarely recommends downmarket items; it’s not Bud Lite you push on friends, but that expensive double IPA made in La Jolla.
Perhaps there is a bit of snobbery in recommending things, or at least often there is. It’s like name-dropping, recommending is — sometimes we do it to look better than we are. But more often, I think, recommending things is a purely friendly gesture of sharing an enthusiasm with friends. There’s hardly a day when any of us don’t do it. Note how good you feel the next time you recommend something (my recommendation).
Music critic George Bernard Shaw
Of course, being on the receiving end of a recommendation isn’t always so fun. I’ve never particularly liked having books recommended to me, for instance. It’s probably simply because, after a lifetime of reading, I know my own tastes, they are particular, and few people share them. I know what I don’t like too (popular thrillers, for instance). I don’t mind having someone recommend, say, a wine or a scotch to me, however, because though I already like both of those things, my experience with them is fairly limited. The trouble with wine and scotch recommendations is that they’re usually too expensive.
Critics are in the business of recommending things, you could say. Even a critical slam is in its way a recommendation — the thing being slammed doesn’t live up to some more ideal example that it is either implicitly or explicitly being compared to. One thing that most people don’t understand about critics — the very word “critics” is generally sneered — is that they went into the profession out of a deep, encompassing love for the thing they are criticizing. The deeper the love a critic has for the object of his criticism, the more common the negative review from his or her pen: It’s a proposition worth pondering. Nothing can live up to the best, and only the best will do.