(How) Do You Customize Book Recs?

If you know anyone who made a New Year’s resolution to read more/get back into reading/develop a habit of reading and they haven’t fallen off the wagon already, chances are you have been and/or will be asked to recommend them some books! Or maybe you’re like me and pass out unsolicited recommendations. (You get a book rec, and you get a book rec, and you …!)

Either way, some of my IRL friends have been updating me on what they read over winter break, and it got me thinking about how I choose which books to recommend to whom.

I’ve come up with three basic scenarios, but I’m sure there’s more — let me know what you make of them!

“Everyone Needs to Read This Book”

This is the approach I probably see the most. (And in fact, I’ve seen a few reviews that literally include the line “Everyone needs to read this book.”) I totally get it: you love this book, you want to support the author, you can’t imagine how anyone could possibly read it and not love it. Whether it’s the spot-on rep, unique worldbuilding, or atmospheric prose that hooked you, you want to spread the joy.  

And it’s not as though you’re actually forcing anyone to read the book. You’re just sharing your opinion; people can make their own decisions. (Unless you’re a professor/teacher creating a syllabus. Required reading is a whole other kettle of fish.

Even those “101 Books to Read Before College” lists are usually just suggestions. Unless you’re a parent/tutor/older sibling forcing them to read it For Their Own Good.)

Generally, it doesn’t bother me much when people don’t engage with my open-to-all recs, or if they try but don’t like them. We all have overflowing TBRs; life is too short to force yourself to finish books if you don’t want to, and I don’t expect you to drop the others to prioritize this book I’m just now shoving onto your radar.

They weren’t personal recommendations, so I find it easier not to take it personally even though I’m naturally a bit disappointed. Not every book is for everyone, so I can chalk it  up to statistics or whatever: someone else will love this book as much as I did.

“You’ll Love This Book If …”

Halfway between the generalized approach (above) and the individualized approach (below), I usually find this one to be hit-or-miss. It’s pretty much the same problems as I have with comp titles — particularly the fact that there are so many aspects to an enjoyable read, it’s rare for them to all align perfectly. [See: my unnecessarily detailed rating system.]

Of course, you could avoid “false advertising” by being more specific: This has similar themes/tropes/sense of humor/fast-paced action as X book. And to be fair, plenty of people do include this level of detail, particularly when they’re writing a review and/or blog post!

But as much as I respect all the work that goes into publicizing books, I just don’t find myself particularly swayed by the latest book marketed “for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale! (Not to disparage anyone who does pick their books based on comp titles; you do you, boo.)

We all have our biases. For example, I’m a sucker for good Asian-American mythology retellings and adaptations; I’ll also read anything by Maggie Stiefvater … and a good number of things that are purported to be like things by Maggie Stiefvater. 

“I Picked This Just For You”

I can’t find the image now, but there’s a meme of someone sharing a book with a friend and saying, “Here’s a piece of my heart; I hope you like it.” That’s how it feels to recommend specific books to specific people. I’m not saying that I broke up with my ex because he didn’t adequately appreciate The Night Circus, but, well.

This is probably the most difficult to do; even when my friends ask me for personal recs, I find myself defaulting to the same few widely-popular titles when I don’t feel like I have a solid grasp on their reading preferences. My own opinion tends to be the strongest and longest-lasting impression I have of a book, and it’s led me astray before.

I have exactly one friend whose taste in books is reliably similar to mine — this is the friend who got me into All for the Game and The Raven Cycle; our latest shared fandom has been Good Omens. Whenever I find a new favorite, she’s the first one I text.

She’s an exception, though; I’m nowhere near as confident personalizing recommendations for most other people. 

That said, when you do understand what someone likes to read, I feel like the I didn’t like this book but I think you will recommendation is underappreciated and underutilized — maybe it feels a little weird, like regifting a present you didn’t want in the first place?

Yet years ago, while I was struggling to get through The Knife of Never Letting Go, I realized that it was exactly one of my friends’ kind of read. (Mainly because we both liked Nancy Farmer and she was going through a bit of a “dark” phase at the time.)

And you know what? She loved the series.

Of course, I’m not trying to say that any single methodology is better or more valid than the others; there is a time and place for each approach to giving out book recs. Each has pros and cons that I haven’t even touched on.

Some people are literally paid to do this kind of thing. (Librarians, booksellers, publishing-industry people —I salute you.) I’m not one of them, so only my personal experiences qualify me to talk about this issue. But I think it’s an interesting social phenomenon, so I was curious whether anyone else thinks about it in this way. Or maybe I’m just overcomplicating … as I do. 😅

  • Do you often find yourself taking one of the three approaches above? A mix? Or something else entirely?
  • How awesome does it feel to have someone tell you they loved the book you recommended?
  • Which books are your go-to recommendations?

23 thoughts on “(How) Do You Customize Book Recs?

  1. I don’t really have any go-to recommendations because I feel like it’s rare that there is a book that everyone likes across the board. I tend to do a little more digging when someone asks for a rec – mostly asking about their favorite book and why it is their favorite, then going from there.

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  2. I don’t really have go-to recommendations but I definitely kind of interrogate my friends when they come to me asking for book recs! Usually I’ll base my rec on whatever show they’re obsessed with at the moment. Awesome post!

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  3. I hate giving personal recommendations, coz what if they hate it and I told them to read it? 😰

    My partner is the only one I feel comfortable doing it for coz I’ve read all the books he’s loved so I’ve got a really good sense of what he likes in books. Especially coz he’s not a big reader!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yup I totally get that! I’m really only confident recommending books to the friend I mention in the post, who has the same taste in books as me – most of my IRL friends don’t read much anymore, if they ever did, so I don’t have nearly as much “data” to work with to make recs 🤔

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  4. Haha this was cute and funny!! I don’t really do recommendations or hauls, but if I did, I would be the “I got this just for you” too. Just because I’m a nice person lol. But I don’t like the “fans of whatever previous book” rec either because it’s setting us up for the next book to be like the other one. And when it’s not, it’s disappointing.

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  5. Depending who it is asking for recs I need them to give me a genre or two to pull books from, if its for someone in my real life then I’ll quiz them on if there’s anything they’re not a fan of in books. Like for myself insta love 9/10 times will make me DNF the book or not enjoy it as much, I have enjoyed some books that use this trope. If its for someone online, I try and pull books I’ve loved that encompass a variety of things…basically I throw 10+ recs at people and go read them all or none I don’t mind but usually there’ll be something there that they hopefully enjoy!

    Like you though one of my close friends has similar taste to me, she reads more thrillers/mysteries than I do because they’re not my cup of tea but our taste is very similar on everything else. So it’s easy for us to rec books to each other haha, I do use the top two scenarios you mentioned a lot though. I’m not great at personal recs though unless I know the person well xD

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  6. I definitely say ‘this book reminded me of x,y,z’ whether it’s another book, movie, show, something that I actually thought of the similarities while reading the book I reviewed. I try not to comp titles but sometimes I do if I think it could be a really good fit, and I definitely am too anxious to personally recommend books lol

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    1. that makes sense! I tend to feel like when friends (rather than whoever writes promo material) make a comparison, it’s more accurate – probably in part because reviewers usually talk about the specifics 🤔

      also honestly same, I very rarely find the confidence to give out personal recs haha

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I almost always try to customize my book recommendations in one way or another but if I’m on my blog I do end up saying that everyone needs to read it. I guess the more personally you ask me for a recommendation the better books I can provide 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. that’s fair, considering blog posts are available to everyone who reads them so it makes sense that those recs would be more general! and I think it’s almost become part of our vocabulary, like when I say “everyone needs to read this book” I don’t literally mean everyone needs to read this book, I mean it was really really good … though maybe that’s just me 🤔

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