I’m Not Great At Recommending Books

I read a great essay recently over at The Millions, about the author’s humorous and semi-disastrous experiences trying to recommend books to others.  I can identify with him; I, too, often freeze up with a totally blank mind and an idiotic expression on my face.  It’s not good, people.  I work at a library!  I need to be in the business of recommending things to patrons!

There are a few patrons who I know I can recommend things to and they will like them – about 5 regulars with very similar tastes to mine.  Ditto for my good friends – no problem.  Whenever anyone else asks me for a recommendation though, I initially panic.  I can’t think of a title to save my life!  But I try to relax.  I try to ask them who they like to read, what kinds of books they like.  I recently read that one should ask the person, “What’s the last book you enjoyed?”  to get a sense of their tastes.  I’ll try to remember that one.

I guess I just have a little anxiety about recommending things to people because a lot of our sweet library patrons read things that I don’t usually read.  Like Christian fiction, or James Patterson, or Teen/YA books.  So I have to kind of hedge, and run through my mental list of James Patterson read-a-likes, and say, “Well, this author is very popular,” or “I’ve heard good things about so-and-so.”  I sort of feel like an imposter then, like a better librarian would have an arsenal of recommendations at the ready.

I also often read things that are a bit edgier than a lot of what I see being checked out by our patrons.  I get this question a lot: “Read anything good lately?”  I think, Yes, but you probably wouldn’t like it.  I am a product of my times.  I think Pulp Fiction, which I saw in the theater in high school,  pretty much ruined me for ever being offended at any kind of salty language or much violence.  (Although I don’t really enjoy gory stuff – I tolerate it if it serves the story.)  Many of our patrons are older, and I really do think there is a generational divide about language, violence, and sex, for better or for worse.

I guess the solution is for me to just get over my anxiety.  What’s the worst that could happen?  Someone takes a book home, starts reading, and decides they don’t like it?  They can bring it back.  Someone thinks I’m a weirdo for recommending something?  Oh well.  I’m okay with that.

I’m also reminded that I need to be better about doing some intentional reader’s advisory work.  Looking at author-read-a-likes, skimming books and book jackets, occasionally reading something way out of my own normal zone.  I also need to peruse NoveList more often – it’s a thorough reader’s advisory site that my library subscribes to.  One can access it through our reference databases.  All this is like homework, which is probably why I don’t do it enough.  But it’s part of good customer service, so I need to try harder.

Do any of you have trouble when it comes to recommending books to other people – especially strangers or casual acquaintances?  Any tips?

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5 thoughts on “I’m Not Great At Recommending Books

  1. Since I work at a law library I don’t get to do reader advisory which makes me sad because I love talking to people about books. Thank goodness I have a couple coworkers who are readers! I feel fairly confident in recommending books to people, I even managed to suggest a romance novel for a coworker last week and I do not read romances as a rule. My husband worked at a bookstore for 10 years and he was really good at making recommendations, he even had people seek him out more than once. I think it is a matter of grasping what the other person likes and then knowing what books might fit that. Not always easy!

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    1. You are lucky to have that gift! I’ve already been playing around with NoveList more the past week, and it’s giving me lots of good ideas. I think I need to simply be more confident in my abilities, and then perhaps it will become like second nature.

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  2. I’m pretty good at book recommendations IF I have a chance to think about it for a while. My mind goes blank too — it even goes blank when people ask me what I’m reading currently! It’s a little ridiculous, but true. But if someone asks me in writing for a recommendation? Awesome 🙂

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