You may object that a friend or family recommendation is pretty similar to books suggested by conversations, which I’ve already mentioned in my list of How I Find What To Read Next. Let me make some distinctions between friend/family recommendations and books suggested by conversations. The conversations that suggest reading don’t have to be about books to begin with, and often the conversation suggests a book only afterwards, when I’m thinking about the discussion. Example from last week’s post, later reflection on the endnotes vs footnotes conversation got me thinking about the Bartimaeus trilogy, fantasy books that feature footnotes. When friends or family recommend books to me they are quite specific about the book they suggest, they often give mini-reviews of the book in question, and may follow up the recommendation by lending me the book.
Friends & Family often begin conversations about a book they are going to recommend with the question “Have you read X?” When I admit to not being familiar with that particular book, responses range from gasps of horror (“How could you not have read ____?? You are a book fiend/math person/geek/other descriptor as appropriate!”) to mild dismay (“Really? But I thought that X is the kind of book you read”) to lack of surprise (“OK, it might be outside your usual reading, but I think that this one is worth your time”). Then comes the pitch. The friend or family member who asks “Have you read X?” expecting a “no” answer may skip the response part and launch directly into their pitch for the book. “Oh you MUST read this.” The pitch then goes on to give reasons for reading the book and may give a synopsis of plot if that seems appropriate. If the book is of a particular genre, that may be mentioned in the pitch, especially if the recommender knows that I read the genre.
I like family and friend reading suggestions. If the book in question is thrust upon me as part of the recommendation it makes it easier for me to read the book. I’ve got a friend who doesn’t like it when people lend her books so she’ll read them. She tends to avoid those books. I don’t do that. I may not get to it immediately, but I will read the book. Friends & family may suggest books to me but I may forget what the book is called, or the author’s name. Those are the suggestions I don’t follow up on, not because I don’t want to read the book, or I mistrust the recommendation, but because I can’t think of the information I need to find the book. If the book is a bestseller or a movie is out based on the book, I’m more likely to remember what friends & family say about it.
Last year I read a lot of books based on recommendations from family and friends: Room, the first few Sookie Stackhouse books, Treason, and I’m sure there are more. Those are the ones that pop immediately to mind. I’ve got a few on my list for this year: Wolf Hall is one. A while ago someone recommended Neil Gaiman’s works in general, so I’ve got one of his in my TBR pile. The Restless Teacher is going to lend me Kate Atkinson’s most recent book because she really liked it.
What about you? Do you trust recommendations by your family and friends? Do you suggest books to them?
Follow up: Last week while writing the A for Author post I made the happy discovery that Atkinson and Atwood both have stories in the collection Crimespotting. I said I was hitting the library, and I did. I’ve just finished the book and quite enjoyed it, and recommend it. I don’t think you’ll find it to buy, you’ll probably have to go to the library. Hunt it down.