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.



One response to “The Personal Business of Recommending Books”

  1. 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.