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Sometimes people post questions asking what to read or watch.

  • "Should I read this book?"
  • "In which order should I watch this film series?"
  • "Should I watch the old episodes in this TV series?"
  • "Should I read the book or watch the movie first?"

These are primarily opinion based. Answers will vary because some people will like the book/movies/TV-series and others won't. So there is no right answer, only what different people recommend.

I can point to these examples.

Since we often close questions that are primarily opinion-based, should we close questions that ask for opinions on what to watch or read?

I did not see this particular topic mentioned on the question about "Where do we draw the line on “opinion-based” questions?" I would say that "should I" type questions are a separate category from other types of opinion-based questions.

18

In your question you've missed an important distinction, which is between reading-order questions and recommendation questions. A plain "Should I read this book?" is essentially a recommendation question and completely opinion-based, but all your other example questions, and all the actual examples you link to, are reading-order questions which can be answered relatively objectively.

Why recommendation questions are bad

A question like "Should I read this book?" doesn't really fit the Stack Exchange format, because not only is it entirely subjective, but there's no objective way to back up an opinion either way. Some people will like the book, some people won't, and you'll get advised to read it or not to read it based more on people's personal feelings than any expert knowledge or reasonable explanation.

Why reading-order questions are good

A question of the form "Should I read this book before or after this other book set in the same world?" is a very different kettle of fish. Questions like this can be sensibly answered based on knowledge of the material in both books, which one contains spoilers for the other, how the plots interrelate, their relative in-universe and out-of-universe chronology, and other such facts. Facts being the operative word here - these questions can be answered based on facts rather than opinions, so they don't meet the criteria for "primarily opinion-based".

I've already written about this on another site, and much of my data and arguments from there also apply here. Copying from that answer, with some modifications, follows.

Reading-order questions are possibly the most practically useful questions on this site. Plot points or behind-the-scenes stuff can be very interesting, but learning the best order in which to read/watch a particular series can be vital information for someone who's just getting into it. By providing good answers, we can actually make a difference to people's lives.

This claim is supported by the quantitative fact that questions are nearly always the most viewed questions in each tag:

And yes, many of these questions have some level of subjectivity. But subjective questions aren't always bad! In an old blog post entitled "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective", which is still cited in every site's help centre to this day, SE employee Robert Cartaino discussed what can make subjective questions a great fit for the SE model. To summarise a lot of words, they should attract answers which are detailed, impartial, actually useful, and most importantly of all well explained and supported.

So what does this mean for questions? Well, RichS has already covered this pretty well in his answer, but I'll add a few more thoughts.

Clearly an answer should be more than just "read/watch them in this order" or "here's the order I read/watched them in" - such minimalist answers should be downvoted. A really good answer should not only give a suggested order but also some objective supporting evidence for why that particular order is recommended. Explain that reading book A will give you major spoilers for the ending of book B, or that book C only makes sense when you already know the events of book A, or anything else that makes a good argument for one order rather than another. If the author of the series is on record as recommending a particular order, that can also be good supporting information.

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    I still can't get over how few upvotes my answer to the Star Wars Watching Order question has. It's only the guy who made them's opinion. – Valorum Jun 26 '17 at 9:53
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    @Valorum If anyone needs to moan about not having enough rep/upvotes, it's ... not you :-) – Rand al'Thor Jun 26 '17 at 10:10
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    That's not the point :-) – Valorum Jun 26 '17 at 10:28
  • Good answer! +1. I am surprised somebody downvoted this. – RichS Jun 26 '17 at 14:42
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    This answer is so well written, that there's only one part I disagree with. That's the part on whether recommendation questions are bad. I'll elaborate on that in my own answer. :-) And the first example I listed, "Should I skip the miniseries in the new BSG?" is basically a recommendation question, not a "which order" question. – RichS Jun 26 '17 at 17:17
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    I downvote anything supporting subjective suggested reading/viewing order questions. I am also one of the 6 downvoters on the SW question. – phantom42 Jun 26 '17 at 19:57
  • @RichS I disagree about that question: it doesn't say "should I watch the miniseries", but "should I skip the miniseries", i.e. is it required to watch the miniseries before starting the main show. That's essentially a suggested-order question, at least inasmuch as it's answerable using objective criteria and franchise-specific knowledge. – Rand al'Thor Jun 26 '17 at 22:42
  • @Randal'Thor Isn't that like when people talk about which order to watch Star Wars movies, somebody always suggests not watching The Phantom Menace? Clearly there is some overlap of those two questions when somebody asks "what order?", so it's a topic where we can have well informed and reasonable disagreement. That said, the question as plainly stated is "Should I skip ...?" That makes it equivalent to other questions which are "Should I watch ...?" – RichS Jun 26 '17 at 23:25
  • @Randal'Thor I read the answers to the "Should I skip the miniseries in the new BSG?" question. The answers are mostly opinion based without lots of supporting information from the BSG series. Also, the answers are diametrically opposed - either yes or no - with little explanatory reasoning. This example clearly shows what opinion-based questions are like. :-( scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/4707/… – RichS Jun 26 '17 at 23:30
  • @RichS Yeah, only one of the answers to that question is any good - the others (the top two, until I voted just now) are terrible :-( To be fair, though, the site as a whole had different standards back in 2011. If that question was posted today, it would get much better answers, and those minimalist ones would be downvoted to Hades. – Rand al'Thor Jun 26 '17 at 23:37
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I am going to weigh in with my own answer to this question. :-)

Many of the answers to the above examples fit within the "Guidelines for Great Subjective Questions".

1. Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.

Many of the answers to those questions provide key insights into the book or film series as a whole. Many provide crucial details about what to look for when watching. Or the answer describes important themes and philosophical concepts within the story.

2. Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers.

Some of the answers to those "Should I" questions are long, complex, and thoughtful.

3. Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.

I'd say many of the questions and their answers are constructive and fair. (But that is just my opinion.) :-)

4. Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions.

I like answers to "should I read/watch" questions that describe why a person has a particular opinion. An answer that points out good character development, plot lines, or settings will often make me more interested in seeing a movie rather than less interested. Answers to "Should I" questions that mention bad plots or trivial character motivation are a great warning about what books not to read.

5. Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.

A lot of the answers provided to those questions are rooted in canon information about the movie/TV-series/books.

6. Great subjective questions are more than just mindless social fun.

I am actually okay with the answers being mindless social fun.

Edit to add:

Rand al'Thor wrote a really useful answer to this question. Please go read it and give him a thumbs-up. I like his explanations on why "reading-order" and "viewing-order" questions are good. Where we disagree is on "recommendation questions". I think recommendation questions can be useful.

If I were to answer a question of "Should I read Blindsight by Peter Watts?", I would answer like this.

======

Spoiler Warning!

! Some people like this novel, and some don't. It has good reviews and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It touches on themes of self-awareness, consciousness, and the evolutionary advantages and drawbacks of consciousness. It presents intriguing ideas about a crew with a vampire leader, a person containing multiple consciousnesses, and others with different levels/kinds of consciousness. It is a very intriguing story with a lot going for it. It's also one of the best First Contact stories out there, and to my knowledge, the only character-driven First Contact story.

! On the downside, Blindsight is not an easy read. Sometimes the plot is inscrutable and the characters are hard to relate to. As they say, readers must identify with at least one character in a story so they keep turning the page to see what happens to their character. It's hard to get into the mind of a character whose mindset is very different than a typical reader. For many readers, it is hard to identify with any of the major characters in this story.

! It touches on several complex and subtle themes. A good story can introduce those themes to the reader and make the reader think and rethink many times after they put the story down. It's hard to do that for complex topics, and a good author can pull it off. Mediocre authors barely touch on new themes and often just retread existing ideas and tropes. Blindsight fully engages with an idea that is often ignored in sci-fi; whether consciousness is an evolutionary dead-end. Kudos to Peter Watts for doing it, but it is hard to get at the themes in this book if you struggle to understand the plot and characters.

In all, Blingsight is as rare and austere a story as another great story about First Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. Each is hard to understand with a strange plot, unrelatable characters, and subtle themes that are hard to understand. Viewers walked out of the theaters in mid-movie asking "What was that about?" and many called it a snorefest. Several people I know have put Blindsight down after just a third or halfway through and said it was "too weird". Others praised it as groundbreaking. It's a rare story that can provoke both high praise and low contempt at the same time.

Whether Blindsight is right for you to read is question you have to ask yourself. I can describe what makes the story good (and hard) to read and leave it to the (hypothetical) asker to choose on their own.

======

A question asking for a recommendation of Blindsight may seem as too based on opinion, a good answer can provide insights into the story, and provide fact-based information about the story, so each reader can that answer the question for themselves.

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    You missed the most important part about the so-called "great subjective questions": they should be easily re-worded to not be subjective. – curiousdannii Jun 26 '17 at 11:34
  • also - don't conflate Clarke's book 2001 with the film. The book is quite easy to understand and makes the film, in my opinion, infinitely more watchable and enjoyable from a story perspective (it is still an amazing visual masterpiece) – NKCampbell Jun 27 '17 at 17:51
  • @NKCampbell Is there anything here that implies somebody conflated Clarke's book with Kubrick's film? – RichS Jun 27 '17 at 17:53
  • I think so - the reference to Blindsight as a tough novel, as tough as 2001 the film: "viewers walked out of the theatres" - all I was saying is that the book of 2001, written by Clarke (it was co-created with the film) is much easier to understand (and possibly more enjoyable at a story level) than the film – NKCampbell Jun 27 '17 at 18:36
  • The spoiler formatting in your answer doesn't work because it spans multiple lines. – V2Blast Apr 15 at 23:47

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