On Tuesday, Amanda wrote about the difficulty and stress of recommending books and how sometimes, you just really don’t want to. I thought it was a great post and she made a lot of great points, particularly about how, if you’re working with books all day every day, the last thing you want to do is talk about them when you’re supposed to be “off the clock.” (I can totally relate; my day job is in the news business and usually the last thing I want to do is come home and turn on Brian Williams. Sometimes I watch on mute ’cause he’s still swoon-worthy.)
But personally, I love recommending books. It is one of my rare talents (if I do say so myself) to be able to choose books for people – aside from balancing a spoon on my nose and parallel parking – and it’s a huge reason I started blogging about books in the first place. Like Amanda, I’ve been a bookseller; however, I don’t currently work in a bookstore, so I don’t think I’m as worn out by giving suggestions at the end of the day. In fact, when someone – anyone – says to me, “Soooo I’m looking for my next book…,” I usually clap enthusiastically and go, “OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHH.” (I’m a huge nerd, and I do love that question.)
For me, book recommendations are a bit of an art form, and I’m constantly refining my approach to giving them. I usually ask these three questions to start:
- What’s your favorite book and/or author?
- What’s the last book you read that you LOVED?
- What’s your mood/what are you looking for with this book? An easy read? Something challenging?
My goal is pretty simple – I want to give someone a book they’re going to enjoy. And I take a lot of ownership in whether the books I suggest become successes for the reader.
But beyond just giving someone a book they’ll like, I’m also trying to introduce them to something they might not have heard of from the bestsellers list or from those people who are always reading the Next Big Book. (I’m looking at you, The Help and Eat, Pray, Love!) I also think that because I’m more plugged in to what’s new and good but not necessarily mainstream in books right now as a blogger, I have a bit more responsibility to widen a reader’s scope and also to help out authors that might not have as big of a readership.
There is nothing that makes me prouder than when I recommend a book that’s a stretch for a reader – something that’s outside their comfort zone or something they wouldn’t normally have picked up – and they LOVE it. Or even if they don’t love it, if it gets them talking about why they didn’t love it, or if they want to know why I recommended it, and then we can fine-tune my suggestions and I can give them another one. And then we’ve created a relationship and they trust that I care about what I’m giving them.
As an example, a former colleague said once that I’ve never steered her wrong when it comes to book recommendations, even though we often disagreed about whether a book was good or not. There were many times she didn’t like books I recommended, but the fact that she still believes I didn’t steer her wrong is just evidence of that relationship we built. I was constantly looking for the book that she would love, but just because she didn’t, didn’t mean the suggestions weren’t successful.
That’s not to say I still won’t recommend the Next Big Book to people, but I’ll recommend it to people that normally wouldn’t pick it up. I practically forced The Help on Greg, along with the Game of Thrones series. Both well beyond his comfort zone, but they turned out to be good recommendations for him. I’ve gotten a couple guys in my office totally fangurled out about The Hunger Games. And one of my roommate’s best friends always makes a stop by my room to peruse my library and return the previous books I’ve loaned him whenever he comes by.
Book recommendations are certainly something that requires practice. And there are some people I just cannot recommend books to, either because their tastes are so specific or I’m not familiar enough with their genre of choice to give a confident endorsement. It doesn’t mean I don’t still try all the time, though.
Strangely enough, I love when I give book recommendation to someone who basically loves everything I’ve ever suggested and they hate it. It gives me something to work with like, Oh-kay…now we’re getting somewhere, now I know what you DON’T like, I can really do something with that.
And this might just be the nerdiest part of all: it’s like a great game to recommend books for me. Did you like that book I just knew you would adore? I totally win.
Do you have any great strategies for recommendations? Do you get a secret thrill from opening a book window to readers who wouldn’t have even know it was there?