On Book Recommendations

One of the best things about the bookish community—whether we’re on Twitter, Goodreads (Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction did a wonderful post just a couple of weeks ago), blogs, or other social media—is that we can recommend books to one another. But there are some pitfalls, too, so I thought it might be fun to discuss!

Imagine the following two scenarios.

Friend A: So I absolutely loved this book. You should read it.
You: Why?
Friend A: Because it’s soooo incredibly. I love it so much because -reasons here-

Friend B: This book you like makes me thing of this other book. Have you heard of it?
You: No. What’s it about?
Friend B: -describes book-

Which do you prefer?

Both of these have happened to me (the first more often than the second) and, personally, I like the second situation better. This is because the first situation isn’t relevant to me. Friend A doesn’t tell me much about the book, or why I would like it. Friend A tells me why Friend A likes the book—and it’s great that Friend A does love the book so much.

It was a Good Book

In a world where reading is subjective, though, and reading tastes differ, Friend A’s recommendation isn’t helpful to me.

Friend B, however, comments on similarities between a book that is has been established I enjoy and xir book. This suggests that I might enjoy the book Friend B is recommending to me, where I might not enjoy Friend A’s recommendation.

Now, you might see this as splitting hairs. That’s very possible. However, I have enough experience with bad recommendations that I’m picky. I take recommendations from most people with a grain of salt and completely ignore some people’s recommendations. There are very, very few people (I can count them on one hand) whose recommendations I trust implicitly.

Little girl to baby: Is that a good book?Recently, I asked for recommendations on goodreads, partially to test whether I would get good recommendations and partially because I genuinely wanted those types of books to read. Three people responded; one recommended a book I was currently reading, one recommended a book I had noted I owned already, and one recommended a book that I’d never heard of and which sounded really interesting. I consider exactly one of these a helpful recommendation.

Now, I can’t say what the thought process was beyond these particular recommendations. I don’t expect people to research my shelves and see what I like and dislike, but I found it frustrating that I received a recommendation for a book I was already reading. To me, recommendations should be for books that one does not already possess (unless you’re trying to convince someone to pick it up ASAP) and which one has not already read.

To me, recommendations should be ways to discover books you haven’t heard of or wouldn’t read otherwise.

I try to employ this when I recommend books to someone, and I’ve been known to refuse to recommend something to someone without parameters. I want to recommend something I think you will like, even if I didn’t enjoy it myself. That’s part of why I would recommend every book I read to the right person. It isn’t about me—it’s about the person receiving the recommendation.

As a sidenote, Epic Reads did a wonderful video on unhelpful recommendations, as well. Check it out here~

 

Thanks for reading!
What do you think?
Are you picky about book recommendations, too?
How do you go about recommending books?

 

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26 thoughts on “On Book Recommendations

  1. I think I’m somewhat picky with book recommendations. Sometimes people on Goodreads recommend me these cheesy romances I’m not even into. I’m like, why are we even friends! I actually think that sometimes I’m Friend A, but I should be more like Friend B. Very nice argument on a very subtle topic!

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  2. I’m so picky with recommendations whether I’m taking them or I’m giving them. I’m one of those people that needs to have these things tailored to me so when people start talking about a book, I start going down a mental check list of “alright I like that” and “no, nooo I do NOT like that”.

    I actually recommended a book to my little sister since she needed a book for a writing assignment and I knew that she read books I typically steered clear away from, but that was her taste and I had mine. I ended up recommending her Emmy and Oliver since she seemed to like YA Contemporary. I think it’s important to take into consideration people’s likes and dislikes because, personally, if you don’t then it looks like you don’t care what /they/ think it’s all about what you think.

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  3. You are so right: the 2nd type of recommendation is so much better. I get really nervous about recommending books and spend ages thinking and making lists if someone asks me for a suggestion. Recently, two people have told me I am good at recommending books and it was my favourite ever compliment! But I am really picky about taking recommendations; my school librarian forced two books on me recently and I know I won’t read at least one of them because I am a book snob.

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    • I tend to be really careful about hype, personally–usually, I stop reading reviews once I realize everyone is blowing up about a specific book–because I find that the books that are hyped are either not of interest to me or a little disappointing. I don’t even consider hype-recs to be proper recommendations anymore ^^;

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  4. I’m not too picky about recommendations because usually I’m flattered someone is recommending something to me but I enjoy/utilize recommendations from people that know my bookish taste and/or bloggers that have similar tastes to me much more than the former category (A) of recommendation. I did a post over the summer where I was asking for very specific recommendations (based upon what I was looking for, series I liked and didn’t, etc.) and I got the BEST recommendation out of that. But there were a lot fo not as good recommendation so maybe it pays to be picky!

    Great post!!

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  5. I definitely prefer the second scenario too. Someone else liking a book doesn’t mean I will. But if they’re telling me about a book similar to one I did like, I’ll definitely be interested enough to at least check it out.

    I love when people offer recommendations based on things I mention on my blog posts or other books I’ve liked, but I also take every one with a grain of salt. I still read the blurb and reviews and make my decision based on what I think rather than the rec itself, but the rec can be a way for me to find new books, as you said, or maybe get me to more seriously consider a book I was on the fence about. especially if they’re like, “Oh you like XYZ? This book has XYZ!” and I hadn’t known it had that. That made sense, right? Lol.

    But being asked for vague recommendations, especially by less bookish friends, is just stressful because I don’t know their tastes well enough and don’t want to disappoint!

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    • That grain of salt can be really important. Pretty much every recommendation I get receives some salt, though the amount depends on the source of the recommendation and its quality, for me. I have two friends whose recommendations I trust with no salt sometimes, if they make a particularly convincing argument, but this is rare enough for me.

      Vague recommendations are really hard, especially when people just ask for a genre. “Hey, what fantasy books are good?” is one I’ve heard often enough to make me cringe. I need more detail than “fantasy”–even the subtype of fantasy would help me narrow it down immensely.

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  6. I haven’t given this much thought, to be honest. I’m usually the one giving recommendations rather than the one asking for them. I do try to do the second scenario too, though I ask a bunch of questions. I like to recommend three books at once so they can choose, then I also throw in a book that’s a bit different. Like a few days ago, I had this friend who just started reading and all he chooses are those in the Bestsellers’ shelf, which he didn’t enjoy very much, so I told him to try the YA shelf and recommended Patrick Ness, who is probably not like Coehlo but has books just as strong. I guess I wanted to help them discover authors outside the comfort zone too XD haha

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  7. I guess I would prefer Friend B’s recommendation more too? If it’s similar to something I already know I like then there’s a reasonable chance I’ll like it. With Friend A it’s more dependent on whether or not I have the same taste in books as them, as just because they love it doesn’t mean I will.
    With the goodreads recommendations it sounds like the people who recommended you books must have had your reading taste spot on seen as they chose books you had already read and enjoyed or owned, and one you think you’ll like. That’s the only problem with recommending books to a bookworm though – chances are they already have it or have already read it!

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    • That’s the hard time I have with Friend A’s recommendation, too. Most of the people I know who give those recommendations have very different reading tastes from me.

      I hadn’t thought of that–you’re right. My situation is more that I tend to know a book exists rather than having read it. I don’t read nearly as much as I would like xD

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  8. As a reader, scenario 2 is more helpful. As a writer, I’d love to know about scenario 1 – it is great to know you have excited a reader!
    I must admit I’m a ‘scenario 1’ recommender but, thinking about it, I am not usually invited to recommend – I just offer when I’ve read something that I really enjoyed or got me excited. If someone were to ask me what they should read, I’d be much more consisdered – after all, that friend might just take my advice and that’s quite a big responsibility!

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    • If the book they’re talking about is yours, the first is indeed wonderful, but hardly a useful recommendation to you (by that point, most writers have read their book…and reread their book ad nauseum).

      You make a good point there as well. I’m not asked for recommendations nearly as much as I’d like, I think.

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  9. Whenever my friends recommend me a book, I always ask what it’s about so I can check if it’s for me or not. I don’t read every book recommended to me, though it hurts me a bit when I don’t (I wish I could just read any kind of book out there….) Oh, but when my friends – or a person – recommends a book I’ve already read, I end up asking them what they felt about it then we’ll have this either really deep or really fangirl-y discussion over it and if we’ll be reading the sequel (if there is any) and such. Basically the book talk never ends for us. xD

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    • Why does it hurt you not to read a book recommended to you? D: I imagine everyone’s happier if you spend your time reading things you’re more likely to actually enjoy.

      I do enjoy being able to have a good discussion about books recommended to me that I’ve already read, but I think part of my frustration with recommendations such as situation A is that (in my experience, at least) it rarely leads to very good discussion.

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  10. I am very picky about book recommendations. You can’t just throw a novel at my head and screech “READ THIS!” I need reasons. Detailed reasons. Things like, “I think you, SJ, would love this novel because of this SPECIFIC THING RIGHT HERE along with X, Y, & Z”. So, in answer to your questions, no I don’t take recommendations very often, but when I recommend a book to someone else, I try to base the rec on their likes. While reading a story, I’ll typically think, “My friend would like this book because of this scene right here, and that character because she did that thing.”
    In short, you wrote a great post, and I need aaalll the information before accepting book recommendations!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with everything you’ve said here. It’s the best way to get my to take a recommendation seriously when someone says I specifically would like it. It’s also how someone managed to get me to consider reading The Name of the Wind: “you of all people, Blaise, should be able to appreciate the beautiful language.”

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