Book Recommendations, Given On the Fly

My apologies to those who were lured to this post by its title, because it’s somewhat misleading. This is the post where I talk about why I don’t give book recommendations on the fly.

I went to a blogger party last weekend where most of the attendees aren’t book bloggers–our blogs cover a range of topics, but we all have being LA-area moms as a point in common. I met a few new people and caught up with some old friends, and several of the women I talked with had questions for me:

“What one book should I read right now?”
“What are you reading and loving?”
“What’s the best book you’ve read lately?”
“Have you read The Marriage Plot yet?”

Sadly, the response to that last question is “no,” although I look forward to changing that to a “yes” before too long. However, that was undoubtedly the easiest question to answer.

I think I’m a decent book reviewer. However, I don’t think I’m a good book recommender…and I think that’s related to the fact I tend to choose my own reading based on reviews rather than recommendations, if that makes sense. I’ll try to explain.

Unless I know you pretty well–and sometimes not even then–I’m not terribly comfortable giving advice on anything, and that includes what you “should” read. It’s related to the fact that I’m not terribly comfortable receiving advice, either (even if I ask for it). My preference is to seek out the information on my own, evaluate it, and make my own decisions, based on self-knowledge. I know my own likes and interests and what speaks to me. If I don’t know you and your tastes well, I don’t want to assume that you’ll respond to a book (or a movie, or what-have-you) the way I do, so I’m hesitant to come out and tell you that you need to read it, just because I did. I take personal recommendations quite personally (no pun intended); the list of people I give them to is pretty short, and I try to make those recommendations based at least as much on what I know they like as what I like. It’s usually an “I read this and thought of you” thing, and that really can’t happen unless I know you.

There are a couple of other reasons I hold back on making reading recommendations outright, and one is very specific to book blogging. Book bloggers have access to a lot of books before the general reading public does, and “what I’m reading and loving right now” could be a book you won’t be able to get for another couple of months, and I think it’s just frustrating to get a book recommendation that you can’t act on right away!

Another reason isn’t so much a book-blogging thing as a reading-interests thing. There’s so much I don’t read, particularly in genre fiction, that I wouldn’t know where to begin recommending books to people whose preferences don’t jibe with mine. And due to various factors, I’m often one of the last to read the big “everyone’s-talking-about-it” books–but if everyone’s talking about that book, you really don’t need my recommendation on it anyway, do you?

I feel as if I disappoint people when they ask me for on-the-fly book recommendations and I can’t give them decent answers, and I want to apologize if I’ve done that to you! Maybe I can make up for it by recommending a few of my favorite sources for the reviews and information I use to make my own reading choices? They can come to you in your inbox or feed reader:

As we rush toward the end of 2011, I’m working on my “Books of the Year” selections. It’s going to be tough to make the cuts this year, but I think that’s not a bad problem to have, as it speaks to the generally high quality of what I’ve read. Once I’ve made and posted those choices, I’d be happy to have you take any of those selections as recommended reading.

  • Here’s a question for book bloggers: How do you like being asked for on-the-fly book recommendations? How do you usually respond?
  • And here’s an invitation for those who’d like recommendations: Comment or e-mail me about your interests, your reading preferences, and a few books you’ve liked lately, and I’ll see what recommendations I can come up with for you–just help me get to know you a little better first!

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