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?