Recommending Books

I was a librarian intern for a year for a facility located in a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood. One of the patrons was notoriously persnickety, demanding, not requesting, recommendations for reading material. I quaked in my shoes when one day I was alone at the reference desk and this woman approached. She demanded that I provide her with a good movie star biography, one that would not be “smutty.” As bad luck would have it, I reached for one that I felt would suit her perfectly, but she said gruffly, “I already read that.” After a few minutes of searching, I finally settled on one that I was confident would not be offensive. She accepted it somewhat begrudgingly. I never received any feedback from her, so I assumed that she was okay with the book–or maybe she never gave me feedback because I did my best to avoid her from then forward.

In library school at UCLA, I took a course, “Reading and Reading Interests,” that was famous for its entertainment value. The instructor, Betty Rosenberg, was known for her witty presentations. She taught us about genre fiction: westerns, romances, science fiction, and mysteries. By the end of the course, we had a good basic knowledge to help us answer the question, “Can you suggest a good book to read?” As my career in libraries progressed, I had little opportunity to recommend fiction reads. I mostly worked in low-income communities where fiction was not as high a priority as educational materials. But occasionally someone would ask for a recommendation, and I would find it an interesting challenge to come up with a suitable title.

Whenever I’m asked by a friend or relative to recommend a good novel, I feel a little nervous about it. I fear that they won’t like what I recommend, and I’ll feel guilty about wasting their time. But it also works the other way. Occasionally a friend has recommended a book that I’ve disliked. One example that stands out is The Bridges of Madison County. Someone passionately recommended the book to me, I read it quickly, I disliked it fervently. My negative reaction was not received well.

Of course our reading tastes are unique and we can’t always judge what even a close family member might enjoy. Still, I welcome recommendations but remain cautious. After all, just because a dear friend loved Fifty Shades of Grey, it doesn’t mean that I will. I think I’ll see the movie instead.


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