Our Reading Lives

To Read or Not To Read: Book Recommendations

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It’s no secret that when one book lover enjoys a dear book, they also want to pass that onto another book lover. After all, it gives us a chance to gush about the books we like! From a delicious romance to the latest thriller, it’s fun to talk about what we’re excited about. We really do have a need to share what we read. This can come in the form of great conversations, blog posts, or book recommendations given to a friend, but have you considered the opposite position? You know, hearing these conversations and reading those blog posts! How do you feel about receiving book recommendations and hearing others chat about their latest read? We may be the first to dish out a recommendation, but are we also the first to take one?

For me, pairing a good book with someone I know well is a fun puzzle. I like trying to find the right pieces that fit together. Of course, it’s a different experience being on the receiving end, when a book is recommended to you. As much as I like book recommendations, I don’t simply pick up every book I am recommended. I go through a set of criteria when deciding whether to read the book. Let’s take a look at some of that criteria below.

What Criteria Must a Book Recommendation Meet?

First, depending on the genre, I’ll check content warnings and see if there is anything I can’t handle. For thrillers this is a must, but for other genres, like middle grade, I go straight to number two, which is whether the book has something that I usually like. It could be the setting, characters, plot, or just overall genre. I often ask, “does it have something that I am familiar with and like already?” This is important, because many parts of a new book can be unpredictable. When you’re trying something new, be it an author or genre, it’s comforting to have something you already know.

Third, I consider what elements it has that I may not be familiar with and whether I want to explore them. I did this a few months ago when a friend of mine recommended Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell. It’s a sci-fi podcast that focuses on identity amidst a cast of quirky characters. It maintains a relaxed pace and includes topics that can seem mundane. I love watching shows with space and could always use a story with a found family, but I haven’t listened to many podcasts in this genre. The familiarity I had with the tropes made it easy to try this new story. I wasn’t sure how I’d like the characters or the format, but I’ve enjoyed it thus far. It had a mix of familiar and unfamiliar things. Ideally, any book recommendation would have a combination of these, but that’s not the only factor under consideration.

Examining the Qualities of the Recommender

The other aspect I consider for a book recommendation has to do with the recommender themselves. How close am I to the recommender? Do we have similar tastes in books? Are they an avid reader? What genres do they enjoy? These are just a few questions I entertain when deciding whether I’ll read a recommended book. Overall, I think about my proximity to the recommender and what we have in common. Do they read a lot? And if they do, what do they read?

My criteria for this isn’t super strict, but I think someone who reads a book every 1-2 months would be exposed to a decent amount of books. If they read more than me or know more about a particular genre then I am very very likely to read the book. Personally, I’ve been trying to read more YA fantasy and one of my friends DELIVERED on those recommendations. She had a whole slew of options as well as certain books that I would particularly be interested in. That’s how I read and enjoyed Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness series. I mean, a coming-of-age story with magic and a girl who becomes a knight? How can I not be into it? If they’re well read in a genre, you bet I’m going to read at least one of their recommendations.

Along with their own knowledge, perhaps the most important thing I consider is whether our taste in books and interests intersect at some point. Do they read books that I’ve read or do we have some sort of common ground? If it isn’t a shared genre, do they like similar tropes as I do? One of my favorite books that I read last year came about this way. A friend I met while working in South Korea told me that I had to read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I don’t really read historical fiction, but the fact that it was set in Korea and centered around the life of one family and their descendants made me curious. It made me want to know what that would look like and what I would learn. I still cry thinking about this book. Needless to say, it was a good recommendation. I was able to read something I had an interest in while also exploring a new genre and author.

A Note for Those Who Aren’t Avid Readers

It’s important to note that I may look at the recommendations of avid readers, but that doesn’t mean that I disregard the book recommendations of those that are not. I’ve read several books recommended to me by people who enjoy a good book, but don’t read on the regular. These recommendations can be some of the most interesting and random books that I’ve enjoyed! When I think about it, I like reading books recommended by friends who don’t read often. Reading may not be their thing. They like doing it occasionally, but it’s not part of their main hobbies, so when they recommend something to me, I know it’s something that has left an impression on them.

Recommendations from these recommenders can really be unique and unexpected. These books may not be the most recent release or this year’s bestseller. One book could be an older one that the recommender loved when they were younger or a current popular book outside the genre that I read. I read one such book a couple months ago. My friend who loves talking about reading (but doesn’t read much as they’d like) recommended Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It was a book he read when he was younger and remembered distinctly. I hadn’t even heard of it, but because he mentioned it, I gave it a chance and it gave me a new perspective.

Does this mean I may have well-known books recommended to me? Sometimes, but when a friend recommends it, I’m more likely to read it. We all know the classics, but do we all take the time to read them? Since I finished high school and college, I rarely look into those texts, so when it’s recommended by a friend, I revisit it and decide whether it would fit in my current interests. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Furthermore, if it left an impression on them, someone who doesn’t read often, it makes me curious. Let’s be honest, there are books that only avid readers will ever read (and that’s okay). Some books aren’t made for the casual reader. I enjoy seeing what my friends pick out and what strikes their fancy.

Reading What You Like vs. Expanding Your Horizons

A book recommendation can push us out of our comfort zone and expand our horizons. Sometimes we want a read-alike and other times we want something brand new. When that’s the case, it can be easier when you have a helping hand to guide you. Instead of googling or sifting through blog posts, you can go right to a personalized source. Even with a recommendation that is new to you, it doesn’t necessarily feel so new. The fact that someone thought that you might like something ties you together. There are more books each and every year. There are more books than I will ever be able to read in my lifetime. So when someone picks one book out of the ever growing pile and pushes it before me, I think that it may not be so different or brand new. And if it is brand new, I think about what is in this book that I am missing. What can I learn from it? What secrets are hiding, just waiting to be discovered?

Whatever you read and whoever recommends it, we all consider a set of information before deciding to read a recommended book. For some, their decision to read or not read depends on the person that recommends the book. For others, it’s the genre, tropes, and other characteristics that call to the reader. Some of us want read-alikes and others want an introduction to a new genre. Either way, it’s nice to have a little help on this reading journey. Who knows? Your next best read could be from a recommendation.

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