How to Recommend Books

I was having a conversation with a co-worker recently that turned to books. As we talked, I realized that we had very different tastes, but we were both interested in getting recommendations. I ask for book recommendations a lot, and I’ve noticed that the most persuasive recommendations all follow a similar pattern. I’ve started using that pattern when I suggest books, so I thought I’d share.

Ask what genre they like

I don’t think I can stress enough how important this is. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, so those are the books I tend to recommend. The point of recommending books is to give people new experiences, but you want them to be positive ones. You should be recommending books that you think the person will enjoy, not just books that you enjoy. Knowing the other person’s preferred genre helps you adjust your recommendations to that person.

Don’t get fixated on a single book

This is related to the previous point. When I was talking with my co-worker, I learned that she liked histories and historical fiction. Because of that, I didn’t start out by recommending she read my favorite Asimov novel. There wouldn’t be any appeal there. I suggested she read something by Connie Willis, who writes historical science fiction (if you haven’t read anything by Willis, her protagonists are scholars who time-travel in order to study the past). There’s nothing wrong with having some go-to book recommendations (I consider Ender’s Game to be one of the best introductions to sci-fi, and suggest it frequently), but make sure they span a variety of styles, settings, and moods.

Don’t overhype

This one can be really hard to follow if you’re recommending a book you’re passionate about. So, what I try to do is find something specific to gush about, and make it clear that it’s my opinion, not an objective fact. For example, when I recommend Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, I say that it has the best closing line I’ve ever read. It’s specific, it limits the statement to my own experience, and also emphasizes how impactful it was for me.

No spoilers!

This should be obvious, but if you’re excited about a recommendation, sometimes things can slip out.

Don’t follow up

Once you’ve given a recommendation, let it go. If the person reads the book, then they’ll let you know. I’ve found that most people who want book recommendations have quite a few books on their reading list and they may not get to yours for months. Don’t take it personally if they don’t start reading it right away, if they ever read it at all.


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