How to Recommend a Book

Photo: Erin Carson

When a friend from my climbing gym shoved a three-part sci-fi book series in my hands last summer, it occurred to me that we might not know each other so well.

Book recommendations can be a real beast. If you’re an avid reader, you’ve probably had the experience of not only wanting to put a book you love at the top of someone’s reading list, but also desperately wanting them to love it too, and as much as you do. But the risk is real– your enthusiasm for that book could run smack into a wall of mismatched interest.

So, how can you be a helpful friend connecting books and readers? How do you successfully evangelize a book you’re digging pretty hard these days?

Here are three tips to help you do just that.

Know your audience

Before you recommend a book, find out what the person you’re talking to actually likes to read. For example, if my wall-scaling buddy had asked me, I would have told him I was wrapping up a short Southern Gothic novel with a dark streak about a group of people and their repressed emotions. It’s helpful to get an idea for what they’re into because no matter how good you think a particular book may be, if your friend just isn’t into true crime or historical fiction, they’re either going to not take your advice, or they’ll read the book, hate it, and vow to avoid you on the reading front in the future.

Put some thought into your description

Describing a book has its challenges, especially when you’re doing it on the spot in the middle of a conversation. Generally, you want to give some sense of the plot, tone, and theme. Catch yourself before you say too much, but still give some specifics– give your friend something to hang an opinion on. Is The Great Gatsby about some guy hung up on an old girlfriend? Sure. But, other details that might grab someone could include the backdrop of the Jazz Age, the theme of the intoxicating and dangerous nature of living in the past, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s deft command of the English language, and those bangin’ party scenes.

Don’t show off

So you just finished yet another classic Russian novel? How nice for you. Recommending a book is not the time to make yourself look cool or smart. And yes, we’ve all heard of Dave Eggers. Recommend what you and know and what you love, not what gets you cool points. And if you happen to really love those Russian novels– that’s great. Maybe just refer to point no. 1 before proceeding.

And of course, if you’re the one looking for recommendations, you can always read along with the Monstrous Regiment. We’ll never steer you wrong. Probably.







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