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Our Reading Lives

I Don’t Know You: Don’t Ask Me for Book Recommendations

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This month, I moved to a new state where I knew a handful of people. And “knew” is a strong word to describe the relationship I had with people I had only ever spent three days with a year ago. I didn’t know last names, hobbies, likes, dislikes, nothing. For all intents and purposes, I was alone in a strange city. Of course, I met a lot of people at my new job and in my neighborhood. New people means new small talk. New small talk, as many readers know, means answering questions about what we do in our free time. Which, obviously, is read.

If you’re doing the math, here, then small talk plus a reading hobby equals the inevitable question, “got any book recommendations for me?” or “read anything good lately?” And it’s meant well. It’s a natural progression of the topic of conversation. But, I can’t be the only one who dreads questions like that, can I?

This stems from a few different things, I think. 

First, I’m one of those “bad” readers who can’t remember books after I finish them. Like, seriously! In my brain and immediately out. I can remember titles, usually, but there are countless books on my Goodreads that I can’t remember a single detail from. On many occasions, I read a book for a second time without realizing I had already read it. I did just that last year when I read Defending Jacob and logged it on my Goodreads only to find I had read it years before without a single recollection.

Second, I don’t know the people asking these questions! I’ll spend five minutes talking about the last true crime book I enjoyed only to be met with a blank stare and a polite smile because they’re not the least interested in reading about murder. Or, I throw out titles in a genre they say they like and they’ve hated every single one. Or they’ve already read them all. 

I do also admit to knowing very little about books outside my interests. I don’t have a recommendation for sci-fi in the chamber because I don’t read in that genre. We haven’t got any common ground beyond the love of books themselves for those of you who read say, nonfiction or fantasy or middle grade. My tastes are specific and strange and my own. So, it’s really awkward when someone asks for a recommendation and all I can muster is a sustained silence and an “I don’t know.”

And when they turn the tables and recommend me something, I can only say “I’ll have to add that to my TBR” so many times before I feel like I’m trapped. They and I both know I’m never going to read those books. Do you know why? Because they don’t know me! And, in my mind, that blank glazed over look means they’re feeling exactly the same way I do.

Because of all of that, I am bad at recommending books. Very few people, if ever, have actually taken my recommendations and read them. Except, my mom, of course. And close friends. Who I know enough to give them something I know they’ll like. It’s an art, recommending books to strangers. Something that takes skill and knowledge well beyond what I have. Books are a hobby for me, but not in a learn-every-single-thing-about-them. Not in a reading-everything-all-the-time. I read for fun. On the bus, after work, on my phone while the shower water warms. 

This is not to say there aren’t many, many people out there qualified to recommend you your new favorite book. There are! So many! Before I ever wrote for Book Riot, I was a Tailored Book Recommendations customer and was recommended one of my favorite books I read in the last few years (Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, if you’re curious.) A bookseller at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle recommended me Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot and that’s a top five book for me and likely always will be. I think about it constantly.

There are booksellers and librarians and people who recommend books for a living out there, waiting to put their skills to the test. But I am not one of them! Save me the awkwardness and don’t ask me for book recommendations. Let’s talk about the weather if we’re ever stuck in an elevator together instead.

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