The Perilous Art of Book Recommendations

Carole points to a very touchy subject, one that many readers have had to face: to whom do you recommend a book? And to whom do you not?

With Carole, I will recommend anything that has print in it. If I haven't read it, I usually extend my hand clutching the book with these words: "I haven't read this one, but it looks good...." or the summary was intriguing, or the cover caught my eye. I don't always work with my brain when it comes to choosing books — sometimes it's instinct.

With others, though, it might be different. Alicia doesn't read much (perish the thought!) but responds well to very captivating books, or books that have been movies we've watched together. Lynn wants to be an avid reader but fears a bad book, so she gets books I loveloveloveloved (and Carole has loveloveloveloved); for her, there is no "Oops, my bad — how about this one?" Kathy and I find ourselves often reading the same books, unbeknown to each other.

But virtual strangers, or new friends, or casual co-workers, or even friends of friends, get entirely different treatment. The books you recommend to people who know you only slightly are books that define you to those people — not bad, but what message is your first recommendation going to bring?

For Carole, The Ha-Ha had scenes that she wasn't sure would go over well with this group. She knew what they had read recently, but nothing was like The Ha-Ha. Carole chose a different book for her first recommendation (which works to my advantage because now I get The Ha-Ha! Ha ha!). (Oh, like I could resist!) This new group will not be new soon, and at that time she can better judge when to offer The Ha-Ha. (Read her blog on this very thing — I'm sure I do it little justice.)

Parents are an entirely different category altogether. Do you really want your mom to read some of the steamy stuff in Dead and Loving It? And what do you do when you find out she did read it? And loved it? (That's Carole's story to tell.) Mine was a very successful sharing of The Red Tent with my mom, which will be blogged about soon.

One of these days, I'll tell you about The Book of Lost Things and Collin's birthday.

Even with friends, I worry. It was my idea for Carole, Steve, David and I to read The Last Templar, and I will forever apologize aloud for that. (Hey, the synopsis sounded good.) I had read Watership Down and had no problem handing over an unread copy of The Plague Dogs, which Carole found so difficult and sad a story I did something with my (thankfully unread) copy I never thought I'd do: I recycled it.

Sometimes I'm right-on: Lynn carried Angels and Demons with her everywhere while she was reading it and kept eying the book as it sat next to her in the car (and she was driving!). Alicia loved Stardust. Carole loved Jemima J enough to blog about it. After reading the first page of The DaVinci Code when it was first released, I handed Carole a copy in the bookstore and told her we had to read it right away before attending the author's reading a couple of weeks later.

And sometimes it's just not the right moment. I couldn't get into The Rule of Four or The Dante Club, both of which came highly recommended by Carole and Steve, so I will try again later. Carole couldn't bear Life of Pi when she read it, but because I loveloveloved it, she will try again in the future.

In short, there's a strange responsibility when one suggests a book. Each recipient must be judged completely differently and on her/his own merits. New friends get the "good stuff" only after they become more familiar, and old friends (so to speak) get the good stuff before you even read it.

So enjoy that book in your hands — but ask yourself: to whom would you recommend it? And to whom would you not?


Carole said...

I agree with Chris that recommending a book says something about you. If I were to recommend a book, saying I loveloveloved it, and the person reads it and is absolutely appalled that I thought he or she would like it, I would be mortified. So, I agonize over book choices for book clubs--I have a slightly easier time for recommendations for individuals, but it isn't easy for me. Others I know do it with great aplomb and just let the chips fall where they may. Maybe I need to become more like that.

Chris said...

Carole, definitely let the chips fall where they may -- you have a history of good book recommendations and great book taste. Anyway, you couldn't do worse than The Last Templar!