Friday, July 9, 2010

The W's of Reading: How Do You Recommend a Book?

As a teacher, I'm always asked for book recommendations.  In that role, I can usually direct a student towards a good book from our reading list for the class, or I can at least direct them to books that will add to what we've studied. On the other hand, I also get asked by friends, family, or even strangers for help in finding a good book. Here's what I've observed about recommending books:
  • People like to see how much you've actually read, so when you're in a bookstore they'll walk around saying, "Have you read this?  What about this one?  Did you like this one?"  As if you didn't know it already, you find out pretty quickly where your reading interests lie.
  • Giving a book summary can become a careful dance in not giving away the main "twist" of the story.  Nine times out of ten, the person I'm recommending to will say, "Just tell me.  I don't think I'm going to read it anyway."  Why they want me to give away the entire story is beyond me, because inevitably they say, "Huh.  That sounds kind of good."  I then feel guilty that I gave it all away, even though I know, deep down, that they could have read the same summary on a book site, right?
  • If you don't care for a genre, yet you know the gist of what a book is about, they still don't trust you because YOU don't read those books.  For instance, I don't read thrillers (for the most part), so although I know what Jeffrey Deaver writes, I haven't really read his books nor want to.  It's not that they're not good books; it's just that I don't care for them, and I have a million other books I do want to read.
  • It can often take a real interview process to get out of someone what they DO like.  I find myself asking what they have read, or in the case of those who simply don't read (and those are the ones I delight in finding a great read), I inevitably have to ask what is their favorite movie.  Everyone loves a good story, so you just have to find the one that best fits them.
  • Once in awhile, I've noticed that I can match the person's personality and interests to a book that mirrors them in some way.  Several years ago I directed a family member who was reluctant to read, but loves the mountains and wild animals, to the young adult author Will Hobbs.  That did the trick, and he was off and reading!
  • Sometimes you just have to trust that a book you loved, and has received other great reviews, might catch their attention as well.  Here's the thing though.  I just won't do it while standing in front of my own bookshelves, because if I really love it, I can't bear to part with my copy.  In those cases, I keep extra copies that I can handle loaning out and not getting back.  Yes.  I realize I'm a bit neurotic and selfish.  For instance, my UK Adult Hardback version of the Harry Potter novels are NOT lenders, so I have US paperbacks I'm more than happy to share!
Ultimately, it's the love affair with a book we're searching for.  Honestly, I want the person to not just enjoy the book I recommended for them, but to love (or enjoy) it so much that they would like to repeat that experience.  In the end, isn't that what all readers are doing?  Every time I pick up a new book, I wonder to myself if it will be that book that steals my heart and never leaves, that book that makes me want to stay up all night reading, that book that makes me sad to close its cover, THAT book that has me thinking about it for days after.  I think that what we're doing when we recommend a book is really an effort to turn someone else on to reading in a way that makes it one of the five senses, so they now need six:  sight, touch, taste, hear, smell, and READ!

Do you like recommending books to people?  How often do you get asked to recommend a good book to someone, and how do you go about doing that?


  1. I'm a library assistant and have been recommending books to people for years. It's not easy when someone asks you for a recommendation, but you do the best you can and hope they find a new author or genre to pursue. I love our blog.


  2. For the most part, I don't like recommending books. If it's a non-reader and they're casually asking, I really have no clue what to suggest because for one, I've read soooo many books it's hard to recommend 1 that I've personally read. Also, my tastes are so varied. And I tend to think that people who don't typically read, like my co-workers, for instance, would really prefer to read Danielle Steele or someone like that whereas I've never read one of hers and it's not necessarily what I'd recommend. So for me there are so many variables that it becomes really difficult for me to recommend!

  3. I am often asked for advises, ideas... it's easier recommending books if I know the person who asks, then I can try to match his reading's history and personality with a good title.
    It's also satisfying when the same people come back asking new recommendations.

  4. I especially agree with your comments about really wanting the person asking for the recommendation to discover a love affair with reading! Isn't that what all voracious readers hope for?

    I do, however, run into difficulties when it comes to the caveats of recommendations. It can be difficult to recommend a book to someone who you know well but who doesn't necessarily appreciate the same quality or style of writing. I've only had a few people to whom I could unreservedly recommend a book without having warn them about certain things!

  5. I'm often ask to recommend books to friends, and my husband. Other than my kids, I am the only reader in my family, and group of friends, so they always look at me to suggest something when they feel the urge to read. Don't like doing it, feels like a lot of pressure to pick something they will love.

  6. great post. Because of my business, people ask for recommendations often. When ask by someone I don't know very well, I ask them what was their last read and did they like it. Then, go from then.

    love your "six senses: sight, touch, taste, hear, smell, and READ" Thanks for sharing.

  7. I get asked all the time and, honestly, I love it. I love the winding twisty path toward matching up the perfect book with each reader. I don't always hit the nail on the head with the first one but I keep trying till I do. :)

  8. You keep extra books on hand just to loan to people??? I never would have even thought of doing that... :)

  9. I feel like I never get asked for specific recommendations. Humph.

    But I do wonder why people will ask for one without telling you what kind of book they like. As if you are some kind of psychic who can deliver them a book they will love based off of telepathy. Interesting.

    But if you ever want to rec a book to me, I like traveling and world cultures. :)

  10. I often get asked for recommendations and I try to match the book to the person's interests or other books they have read. It is always disappointing, however, if they don't like a book that I have loved!

    Great post!

  11. Page--Thanks for sharing your blog! I know as a librarian you REALLY have to master the art of helping someone pick a good book. You're right though, that it does have to do the best you can.

    Jenny--That is so true! I had to laugh at the Danielle Steel comment, as I often think that, especially after I start quizzing someone and they tell me what they like. If my interests are totally different, it can be tricky!

    Emily--I love it too when they come back to ask again. I guess that means you picked a good one? :)

    Read the Book--I know! That love affair is what keeps us addicted, right? It's the best, so we want to share. And all totally legal and above board! ;)

    Melissa--I definitely understand not liking to recommend when you worry they won't like it. I just don't like going to the trouble, and then they don't read anything you suggested at all. That's the worst!

    Barbara--Thanks so much! I agree that asking about their most recent reads is the best place to start.

    Angiegirl--You're too funny. It sounds like it's almost a quest for you! :) I usually like it, but sometimes I get frustrated if I can't match them up. I suppose I need to look at it more like a journey!

    Heidenkind--Yea, the selfish person in my had to start doing that because people "thought" I was nice and would borrow my books and not return them. Little did they know, I was cringing when they walked out the door with my books. :)

    Rebecca--You would be hard to pick for because you've read so much already!!! You're one that I would think could give totally awesome book recommendations, which you kind of already do on your blog! LOL.

    Booksync--Oh, I know. I am always a bit devastated if I recommended something really good (in my estimation) and they just think it's so, so. Not fun if that's the case!

  12. I have a bachelor's in literature and a master's in writing, so I get asked for book recommendations a lot. Problem is, most people don't really want to read the kinds of books I read. I try to find something in between my literary tastes and their popular fiction tastes. A really good YA book can be enjoyed by most people.

    Worse than being asked to recommend a book, is having some people recommend books to me. I want to read what my friends and family reads to see what they like, but some mass market fiction is just too canned for my taste.

  13. Emilee -- Totally agree about mass market fiction. I have read things for my HS students though, even if I'm not thrilled. I guess it's much like a parent, right?

  14. I find that more often than not my recommendations for books result in a conversation with others about reading in general. I was at a BBQ this weekend and saw a woman relishing in her moment in the shade reading a few quick pages while her kids were otherwise occupied. I asked what she was reading - she shared, mentioned she was in a reading funk, and we just started talking about various books we have each read recently. I gave her a few of my favorite recent reads with general plot description and let her take it from there. I don't ever feel like I have to succeed with my recommendations - I think of it as just a way to share opinions on reading.