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?

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!


    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.


  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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