Let’s talk about: Recommending your favorite books

When it comes to favorite books, people can get a little… passionate.  If you’re in a group of book lovers and mention you haven’t read something like All the Light We Cannot See or The Girl on the Train, you’re bound to offend somebody.  People seem to take your disinterest in reading their favorites as some kind of personal insult.

This happened to me about a year and a half ago.  All of my coworkers know that I’m a big reader.  When Monday morning rolls around, they know that the answer to “What did you do over the weekend?” will be something along the lines of, “Well, I mostly stayed inside and read books.”  Sure, they tease me for it, but I’m also the first person they come to for book recommendations.

We’ll get to what I recommend shortly.  But first, let’s talk about this phenomenon of people actually being upset that you haven’t read their favorite books.  The book in question was The Girl on the Train.  As a rule, I don’t really read best sellers.  Books like The Girl on the Train stress me out.  This particular book has

  • approximately 1,250,000 reviews on Goodreads,
  • approximately 900,000 of which are glowing, and
  • an average rating of 3.88 stars.

I could tell you without even reading it that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea. Why?  Because

  • I’m picky about mysteries,
  • I’m picky about thrillers,
  • and I very rarely enjoy best sellers as much as I feel like I should.

Despite this, and despite saying that no, I didn’t plan to read this book, a copy showed up on my desk the next morning with a note that my coworker’s daughter was planning to read the book over her spring break.  It’s not as though I could say, “Thanks but no thanks.”  It’s not as though I could look up some Cliff Notes to fake my way through conversations about the book.  I had to read it.  And with a ticking clock behind me, no less.

Let me tell you, I struggled through that book.  Talk about an over-the-top ending.  And the comparison to Gone Girl?  Completely unwarranted.  In my review of The Girl on the Train, I lamented this comparison:

The Girl on the Train is often compared to Gone Girl, and I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t like it. Because I, for one, really enjoyed Gone Girl, and I don’t think that it’s on the same level as The Girl on the Train. I could understand the motivations in Gone Girl. Everybody was horrible, but they knew it. In The Girl on the Train, everybody is horrible, but they don’t realize it. They all accuse each other of being awful but think of themselves as victims. I kept feeling like I was supposed to feel bad for Rachel, but I couldn’t. She needed to get herself together.

I could objectively tell you that the writing is competent (although the book relies heavily on a number of tropes, the most annoying of which being that Rachel cannot remember only what is most integral to the plot), but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed it.  Despite not enjoying it, I had to face my coworker who’d lent me the book and discuss the literary merit of a book that I did. not. like.

All of this ramps up to the one thing that I wanted to say: No, I am not going to recommend my favorite book to you.

Everybody likes different genres.  Everybody likes different tropes.  I might really enjoy a friends-to-lovers romance.  You might think they’re overdone.  I might enjoy a step-brother romance.  Maybe you think that’s gross.  It’s not going to offend me, but I don’t want to put you in an awkward position.  Now, ask me for a recommendation in a certain genre and I’ll be happy to help you out.

If you say to me, “Hey, I’m going to the beach for a week.  Can you recommend a couple books that don’t require a lot of thinking?” I will find you a list of books that fit your criteria.

🖤 The Deal by Elle Kennedy
🖤 Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
🖤 My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
🖤 The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
🖤 The Virgin Romance Novelist by Meghan Quinn

Or maybe you’re thinking, “I really love fantasy and want to expand my horizons.  Can you recommend some books where the plot doesn’t rely on romance?”  Sure I can.

🖤 The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton
🖤 A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
🖤 The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
🖤 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
🖤 This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

What about, “I love watching romantic comedies, but I’ve been thinking I should start reading them, too.  Have you read any good ones lately?”  You bet I have.

🖤 Imperfect Chemistry by Mary Frame
🖤 Slightly Stalky by Amy Vansant
🖤 The Foxe & The Hound by R.S. Grey
🖤 Truth or Beard by Penny Reid
🖤 The Wrong Kind of Compatible by Kadie Scott

It’s my opinion that your recommendations should be tailored to the person that’s asking, not to your personal tastes.  There are books that I’ve read and disliked that I know some of my friends would enjoy.  There are books that I’ve absolutely loved that I know my friends would hate. We’re all different people with different life experiences who take in literature in different ways.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m just out here trying to make more people love books.

What’s your opinion?  Do you write out thousand-word essays about why it’s a bad idea to recommend your favorite book to someone?  Or are you the person that beats their friends over the head with their favorite book until they finally relent?  (More power to you if you do, honestly, I might have disliked The Girl on the Train, but my best friend basically forced me to read A Great and Terrible Beauty, which ended up being one of my favorite books of my teenage years.)