Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Recommendations

This is a rant, followed by some (I believe) sound advice. Proceed accordingly.

I am completely shocked by the number of times the following happens on facebook:

Original Poster: Just got a kindle/nook/B&N gift card (or starting a book club)!!! Give me book recommendations people!
Friend #2: Dan Brown's books. OMG, He is such a goooooood writer.
Friend #3: Twilight. It's this book about vampires and it's awesome and you'll love it.

And this happens with practically ZERO variation.

Here are the problems with these suggestions:

1. All three people are recommending old-but-not-too-old best sellers. These books (or authors) have been around long enough that everybody and their grandmother (seriously, I got a twitter follow from somebody called "TwilightGrandma" the other day) has heard of them. Opinions have been formed or the books have already been read. If your friend hasn't heard of or read this book, don't worry, it will be the one suggested on the front display in the store or when they first sign on to Amazon.

2. All three people are recommending pretty BLAH books. Let me tell you how that Nicholas Sparks novel goes: Boy meets girl, societal differences keep them apart, they fall in love anyway, death and disease threatens to tear them apart, they recommit themselves to each other, one of them dies. You'll cry, I'm sure, but COME ON. That's the BEST you have to recommend to somebody???

3. There's no accounting for personal tastes. Not everybody likes the same books as you. Shocking, I know.

4. That all said... if this person is the type of person who was given a Nook/Kindle/B&N Gift Card as a present... they've read those books. They are a "book person" and they either have read or formed opinions about those books already.


I'm not good at a lot of things. I don't know how to make cheesy sauces that aren't gritty, I can't scrapbook to save my life, and I don't even know how to hem my own pants. But I am good at recommending books. Here's my advice on the subject:

1. Find out what other books they've read that they've enjoyed. You don't need to recommend books in the same genre (especially since if they are asking for recommendations, they are probably looking to branch out a bit), but note the tone of what they like to read. The person who loved "The Kite Runner" will likely not enjoy a Sophie Kinsella novel. Pay attention to the tone: Serious? Adult? Fun? Fluffy? YA? Emotional-Heartstring-Tuggers? People will generally enjoy books that feel similar, even if they are in a different genre/category.

Sidenote: YA is a category, not a genre. Middle Grade (MG) is another category. Within each of those, there are genres, the same as in the adult category: fantasy, sci-fi, romance, mystery, suspense, non-fiction, memoir, biography, etc.

2. Get an idea of what their expectations around content are. I've posted before about people having surprising standards around language and sex. Don't recommend Game of Thrones if they thought Twilight was really violent and sexually charged.

3. Try to get off the beaten path a little. Anybody who's ever set foot in a bookstore has heard of the Notebook and the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. If your friend hasn't read them, there are probably reasons. (You can try to win people to your side, of course, but that's not a "recommendation") Recommend an author that maybe doesn't get the front-and-center display at the bookstore, or maybe isn't even sold at Target and Walmart. If you know of some indie-press authors (or really WELL-DONE self-published authors), recommend those.

4. Be careful about mentioning that you are friends with the author. A lot of people take this to mean "I am helping to hock their book because it sucks but I feel obligated to help a friend." Or, alternately, "I want to seem like a big shot." At best you'll get a "I know one of So-and-So's friends. Now I am an expert on So-and-So's books." I've never seen this work out well.

There you have it.

My advice and complaints about book recommendations. What advice do you have and more importantly, do you have a book you'd like to recommend?


  1. Melbourne on my MindDecember 28, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    A big fat +1 to all of this. I made the mistake the other day of telling Twitter that I got a Kindle for Christmas and was looking for things to read. Preferably cheap things, on account of I'm poor. Cue a crapton of self-published authors pimping out their books and spamming me with links, all with "I think you'll like this!" in the tweet. Really?? What makes you think that?!

    Although it's possible that I feel it more than most, considering I've just spent a semester sitting through a class where we were constantly being asked "What's the next read after [insert popular book here]? Why?"...

  2. The same thing happened to me when I got my Kindle last Christmas. I asked if anyone knew any good Dystopians that I could read and all I got where authors telling me I needed to read their true crime novels. I like true crime but that wasn't what I was looking for.

    Great post Gina. I'm not a very good book recommender but, hey, I can scrapbook! ;-)

  3. Oh yeah. I would NEVER ask twitter for book recommendations. That's self-pub-spam central.

    Goodreads has saved me from ever having to ask anybody for a recommendation ever again, and I thank the heavens for it.

  4. +10 this is brilliant. I try to purposely not give out book recommendations like this. I try to find quirky slightly more unknown books that are still really good for people. You'd be surprised how many books make the New York Times bestseller list that people (or maybe just my friends) have never heard of.

  5. BUT TWILIGHT IS AMAZING BEYOND BELIEF. (Except, you know, the part where it isn't.) This is about 90% of why I only ask about three people total for book recommendations and avoid asking for them online. Every single time I ask for one, I get some garbage book that I've already heard of/read/don't want to ever think about again.

  6. Great post. I think people tend to give those generic recommendations because they feel like they're "safe" recommendations. (10 million copies can't be wrong!) Is it possible that Sparks and Patterson and Twilight are ALL that these people are reading? Maybe, actually.

    I'm horrible at recommending books. Mostly because I'm shockingly un-well-read. I have my, like, 10 faves and reread them over and over. Maybe it's a sickness.

  7. I think your suggestions are really helpful. Thank you!

    For me, book (and music) opinions are intensely personal. I wouldn't want to offend people by suggesting something totally wrong for them. Incidentally, this is why I love the library - it's free, I can go as much as I want, and choose books completely at random. Stumbling upon interesting books makes me happy :-)

  8. BWAHAHAHAHA on your Nicholas Sparks comment. I think agent Janet Reid said - no one can write the same story over and over in different setting and expect to be published... Unless you're Nicholas Sparks... I'm sure his agent grins from ear to ear every time someone makes a snide comment - all the way to the bank, lol. I TRY to rec books that are a LITTLE off the beaten path. I just read Virtuosity (OK, came out in hardback, not far off beaten path, lol) but it was awesome. Clean, but INTENSE. Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams, darker, but clean and intense. I just finished a guy POV w/ no love story when I WANTED to read a love story and I still loved it, that one was called Shift. And yeah - I know my friends and who to stalk their GR account for books to read depending on my mood. Christa and Kelley York will lead me to dark, gritty reads, and Nyrae Dawn's shelf will lead me to some fab love stories. Melanie Jacobsen has great taste in books and I've never once been let down by one of her recs ;-D Great post, and funny :-D (and don't waste your time going to my blog IF you were planning on it. Nothing new :-D)

  9. Just a plug--Gina gives great recommendations. Loving the Gail Carriger series she recommended to me.

  10. This is true. Some "bestsellers" are not necessarily household names.

    It's the recommending of household names that bugs me, I guess. Like when you move to a new city and ask for restaurant recommendations, and people tell you "Olive Garden" and "Chilis", like it's possible you've never eaten there in the OTHER American city you lived in.

  11. Some people really love it, and I get that, I really REALLY do.

    But yeah... don't ask for recommendations online. I do use goodreads aggregate ratings to help make decisions. And I rely on a handful of people to recommend good books. The more I'm getting into the book blogging/writing community, the better recommendations I've been getting from online friends.

  12. I randomly pick up stuff at the library, too! Despite the fact that I have, oh... I don't know.. five hundred books on my TBR list. I just keep picking up new ones...

    Books are personal, and that's a big reason why I get annoyed at the generic, one-size-fits-all recommendations.

  13. Also? I feel personally offended when I recommend a book to somebody but they don't like it.

    So I try very hard to not let that happen to me.


    PS, unrelated note: Why have I not seen pics of your baby belly on the blog, lady???

  15. I want to hate the Nicholas Sparks of the world (and there are several of them out there), but I just can't. He's making a living, doing what he loves, and making a ton of money doing it.

    Also? Thank you for the recs! I follow you on goodreads (obvs) but it's nice to know which ones come most highly recommended.

    Also also? I subscribe to your blog, silly, so I know when there's new content and when there's not :)

  16. You know, I was just thinking I needed to take a shot. I'm nearly 32 weeks, so it is quite large. I will do that tomorrow. Also, when I finished Blameless, I wanted to yell out loud I was so angry about his banishing her! Glad that I only had to wait one book for reconciliation.

  17. I know! I was so upset, too! I actually went to the friend who recommended them to me and got mad. She had to convince me to continue :)

  18. You forgot the most.important.thing.ever about ALL Nicholas Sparks books (except for that rarity "Three Weeks with My Brother")... They are ALL set in NC.

    As a North Carolinian, I'm embarrassed by Nick Sparks post-The Notebook.

  19. Wow, you are so right! This is something I haven't really thought about before. I usually recommend newer books, but I always recommend a few older favorites as well. Next time I'll think about what I'm recommending before I do it!

  20. Newer books are great! So many of us who live in the internet forget that not everybody is stalking book release dates the way we are!