When You Just Don’t Want to Recommend Books

Since I’m a book blogger and part-time bookseller, you would think that I’d be a book recommending MACHINE. It would make sense if my book-loving friends and family were always clutching the newest book that made me gush. It would make sense if strangers who talk to me about the book I’m reading at a coffee shop would exit the conversation with a list of books they Just Have To Read Next.

Alas, that is not my reality. In the cyber world of book blogging, where I can enter and exit the conversation at any time, discussing books is a breeze and a half. At work, books surround me. They jog the recommendation portions of my brain when I draw a blank. But out there in the world, where people talk to you all willy nilly and there’s nary a shelf at hand for me to stare at, my powers fail. I can be an awful book recommender.

Part of my sometimes-inability to recommend books to “civilians” (non-blogging, non-bookstore-shopping) folks lies in my own reading habits. Most of what I read either hasn’t come out yet or was written by someone they learned to hate in high school, so I always assume that my personal tastes won’t apply to my Aunt Whomever. It’s not that I’m a book snob, it’s that I don’t want to LOOK like a book snob. And there’s no easier way to do that than to say something like, “Well, I just finished The Portrait of A Lady, how do you feel about Henry James?” Might as well throw a monocle at people.

Of course, there’s also the burnout factor. At the end of the day, I’ve spent several hours talking about books on the internet or at work, and after that I just want to eat cupcakes and watch Mad Men reruns and perhaps talk about Brangelina (so they’re finally getting married, eh?). If it’s a holiday and I’m at a family barbecue and someone starts digging for a rec for their book club, I’m throwing The Tiger’s Wife at them every time. I’m off duty, Cousin of Mine. Pass the potato salad and let’s talk about football.

I’ve developed two strategies for dealing with the I Don’t Want To Plumb The Depths Of Your Taste To Recommend The Next Thing You’ll Love-itis. Firstly, I have a short list of books I feel safe recommending to anyone without any care for how they end up liking it. These are books that were relatively commercially successful, don’t take much work, are generally page-turner-ish, and that I have no investment in as far as other people’s opinions. Examples? The Help. The House at Tyneford. Cutting for Stone. State of Wonder. The aforementioned The Tiger’s Wife.

The second strategy is recommending book blogs as opposed to books. This is especially handy with the relatives who have book taste that has nothing in common with your own. No, I can’t think of a great romance novel off the top of my head, but you should check out this blog (usually Dear Author or Smart Bitches, Trashy Books). I’m busy looking at Tom Brady right now, Person From Church Who Came Over To Watch Football, but if you want a recommendation for great literary fiction, check out Books Are My Boyfriends or (whatever, insert your favorite blog).

So that’s how I handle being in a recommendation slump, or feeling like I want to think about something else but don’t want to turn this person away from reading. Have a pocketful of always-books that are general crowd pleasers, and point people to blogs that would probably be more helpful than you are being at the moment. What are your strategies – or are you always up for a game of Read My Mind And Tell Me What Book I Would Love Next?