Do you like book recommendations? I do, at least most of the time. But not always, and I’ve been thinking about the difference between the ones I like and the ones that are not as welcome.
The book recommendations I appreciate the most are personal. They come out of conversations, sometimes about books,sometimes about other things. For example, a ride back from a conference and a discussion about “skunk works” operations led to a recommendation of Skunk Works, the story of the original “skunk works” operation under Lockheed, that developed the X-15 and the first stealth fighters. A conversation with another friend who was a mystery buff put me on to Michael Innes, and his detective, Sir John Appleby.
I’ve often enjoyed, and sometimes invite, a conversation, about “what have you read recently that you enjoyed.” Almost invariably, I’ll hear of a book I want to read. I finally read, and loved, Walter Wangerin’s Book of the Dun Cow, because of one such recommendation after having known of it for years.
I do learn about books through reviews, ads, publisher catalogues, websites, and emails. Just as I suspect you don’t read all my reviews, and you certainly don’t buy everything I review, neither do I. All these formats give me the space to choose, or move on.
One trend I’ve enjoyed among booksellers are cards placed with books they are recommending. I always find intriguing what fascinated someone about a book, even if I decide not to buy it.
I really don’t like impersonal recommendations–you know, the ones based on recent viewing or purchasing history, For example, for a while, all I would see was cookbooks, because we’d ordered a cookbook for a friend.
The other kind of recommendation is kind of an occupational hazard of reviewers. Just because I’ve read a book on a particular subject or in a particular genre, that does not mean I want to hear what I really “should” read. Sometimes this is a vehicle for authors to promote their book, or another blogger to promote their blog with a link to it. It’s one thing if you have a different take on the book I’ve reviewed and are posting your review to engage with me. But promoting something else is hi-jacking and bad manners.
Sometimes it is more innocent. Someone just likes another book on the subject, often one I’ve not heard of, and messages me on Goodreads or Facebook or on the blog. My challenge comes down to “so many books; so little time.” Often, I have a pile of books I’ve requested for review, and other books I want to read. I thank them for the suggestion (and secretly hope they won’t be offended when they never see me review the book).
Probably, and I think this is true for all of us, we love the space to choose to read books that pique our interest. On the other hand, nothing repulses me more than the statement or insinuation that I “should” read something. Probably, as a Christian, the only book I should read is the Bible, and even in this case, it is not a question of “should,” because I find it life giving. “Should” never has been a good motivator for me.
I think what it comes down to is that there is a certain serendipity about the best recommendations, similar to coming across a long-searched for book at a second hand store or book sale. They are especially fun when personal, and unanticipated, when your own sense of “I think I’d like that” matches up with your friend’s “I really liked this and here’s why.”
I’d be curious, am I just being cranky, or do others think this way?