Recommending books is an art. To be a good book recommender, one has to read widely to have a stock of go-to books to draw from. I find it also helps to scour book review sources like Booklist, Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly so that I can talk about books I don't plan on reading. This is step one and is easy enough if you're a member of the bookish tribe. Step two is where the art comes in.
- What are your favorite books? Why are they your favorites?
- What book have you hated? Why did you hate it?
- What are your tolerance levels for sex, language, and violence?
Questions one and two are the most important and the most difficult to get good answers for. Aside from the former English majors I talk to, few people know how to talk about books. Question one often needs clarifying questions. Did you like the characters? Did you like the story line? Was it the setting that hooked you?
I usually have better luck with question two. For some reason, it's always easier to talk about books we've hated. There are exceptions to this, of course. The third question Rita Meade and her guest host tackled on Episode 31 of Dear Book Nerd is a great example of how tricky recommending a book can be. (I hope that Ms. Meade forgives me for poaching one of her questions.) This question is a typical starting book for a book talk:
Dear Book Nerd,
I read a wide range of books, but have found that there is one kind of book that I have never been able to finish. Despite many attempts at different writers and genres, I have always found Russian authors impossible to read. I have tried reading: Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, The Master and Margarita (this one I got half-way through) to name a few, but I have never found a Russian author that I have liked. Do you have any suggestions??
The last question of my list is just for calibration.
From these three questions, I sift through my recollections of books I've read (or read about). For someone looking for a good love story, I recommend These is My Words. For someone who wants a ripping yarn, I dig up Robert Louis Stevenson or a thriller writer. For a reader who wants something different, I point them towards Neil Gaiman or China Miéville. I usually end up grabbing a stack of books from various genres and talk them up for the reader and let them pick a few that really appeal to them.
Few things make me as happy as the sight of a reader marching over to the circulation to check out a stack of books I've found for them.