The Personal Business of Recommending Books

For book recom­mend­a­tions, most of us rely on the sug­ges­tions of trus­ted friends and on word of mouth. This, at least, allows us to hold someone account­able for those inev­it­able poor recom­mend­a­tions. But what of ‘pro­fes­sion­al’ book recom­mend­ers (writers in pub­lic­a­tions, not algorithmic ‘recom­mend­ers’)?

Laura Miller–author of the book recom­mend­a­tion Slate column, –looks at what she calls the fine art of recom­mend­ing books.

“You can­’t recom­mend books to strangers without ask­ing per­son­al ques­tions,” [edit­or of the Par­is Review, Lor­in Stein] told me. As he poin­ted out, what we want to read is often pegged to trans­it­ory moods. The same book may not thrill the same per­son at every point in his or her life. “I don’t think people read ‘for’ pleas­ure, exactly,” he went on. “Of course there is pleas­ure in read­ing. But mainly we do it out of need. Because we’re lonely, or con­fused, or need to laugh, or want some kind of pro­tec­tion or quiet — or dis­turb­ance, or truth, or whatever.” The recom­mend­er must take this into account.

Miller also looks at the book recom­mend­ing pro­cesses of The Morn­ing News’ Bib­li­or­acle (John Warner) and “the doy­en of all pro­fes­sion­al book recom­mend­ers”, Nancy Pearl.

Pearl sug­gests that there are four “door­ways” that intrigue read­ers in the books they read: story, char­ac­ters, set­ting and lan­guage. One or more of these door­ways appeal to each type of read­er and the task of the recom­mend­er is in match­ing the read­er­’s door­way pref­er­ence with a book that deliv­ers exactly that.

1 thought on “The Personal Business of Recommending Books

  1. Kimberly

    This is inter­est­ing but I think recom­mend­ing stor­ies is easy, whilst the prin­ciple holds for recom­mend­ing non-fic­tion I won­der how it would dif­fer as I think this is very hard.

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