Why Most Book Recommendations are Not

Often, when people recommend books or movies, they are actually just telling you they liked the book. They don’t particularly make an effort to figure out what you like about books, and whether the book will meet those needs.

This is especially true, but more forgivable, in something like a website that just anyone might stumble across. After all, it’s hard for me to ask you questions about what you care about and like. But the truth is, even in person most book recommendations pay very little attention to the actual interests of the recommendee.

That’s fine so long as we all know the rules of the game; we’re just mispronouncing “I loved Pride and Prejudice.” as “You should read Pride and Prejudice.”. Sometimes, of course, what is actually meant is “I would like you to think I’m the sort of person who loved Pride and Prejudice.”.

Sadly, if you don’t know the rules of the game you can waste an awful lot of time reading boring books. You might even end up deciding you don’t like books, because people keep recommending you things that you can’t imagine anyone enjoying. This might even have happened to you!

How much nicer the world would be if we were more explicit about what our recommendations are supposed to be? So here’s a challenge! Explicitly distinguish “I loved X.” from “I think you will love X.”. Your friends will thank you, and they’ll still delight in hearing what you love even if there’s no reason they’d love it too.1

I try very hard to help make this possible in my book recommendations even though this is especially tricky in non-interactive formats. Happy hunting!

  1. If you really mean “I would like you to think I’m the sort of person who loves X.” just pretend you love it! There’s no need to waste others’ time by pretending they should love it too.