There comes a time in every book lover’s life when they’re called upon to give recommendations to friends, family, or random strangers on the internet. Ok, let’s be honest, that time comes more than once in our lives. It’s a pretty regular occurrence.

Sometimes, the request comes directly. A friend messages you in search of something new to read. Other times it comes indirectly, when a friend puts out a general call for book recommendations. And sometimes you weren’t even called, but you insert yourself into the conversation anyway because no one has recommended your favorite books yet and that’s just a crime.
At times, we jump eagerly into the fray, giving carefully thought out recommendations tailored to the reader’s tastes and personality. But some days, you get a request when you’re really busy and it’s all you can do not to say “Uh just look at my Read shelf on Goodreads and see if anything stands out to you?”
Here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time someone has need of your vast knowledge of excellent reading material.
Recommend the books they actually want to read.
I see people failing at this one all the time! It doesn’t matter how great the hard sci-fi novel you just read is if your friend is looking for a summer romance novel. If someone has specific requests, either offer something that lines up with those tastes, or something adjacent (“I know you normally read contemporary romances but if you’re in the mood for a historic, this one has some elements I think you’d enjoy”).
So often I see a friend make a FB post requesting book recommendations, with some specific criteria, and the majority of the posts are just completely off the mark. Also, don’t get me started about all the books being 20-30+ years old, and many of them being by people who are already dead. Don’t get me wrong, the classics deserve some respect, but I kind of feel like people who clearly haven’t read anything that was written since the invention of FB don’t get to offer recommendations (unless the reader is requesting genre defining classics).
Use this chance to champion your lesser-known faves.
Look, literally everyone has heard of Outlander. You don’t need to recommend it. Now’s the time to mention the series you love that it seems like no one else has ever read. Or the brand-new author whose debut novel just knocked you off your feet.
Shamelessly mine FB book recommendation threads for your own benefit.
Once you’ve plugged your favorite books, read the rest of the comments and see if there’s anything that sounds good to you. Consider this payment for the good deed of sharing your knowledge and promoting hard-working authors.
Be aware this may backfire, a friend of a friend couldn’t stop talking about how great a book was, so I went and bought the digital version right away and I think I made it through 2-3 chapters before giving up on it.
You are not an Amazon algorithm.
Don’t let people make you feel pressured to give highly specialized recommendations based on what books they have previously liked and disliked. Taste is so highly subjective and it can be really hard to nail down what caused someone to react a certain way to a book, unless they spell it out, ie “I wanted to like The Fifth Season but I can’t handle the second person narrative voice. Can you recommend a book with a similar feel but a less frustrating POV?” (Side note: Suffer through the POV, the trilogy is worth it)
Feel free to stop giving advice to people with bad taste.
I’m not going to say I’m a book snob, because I can read and enjoy some pretty low-brow stuff. Rather I will say I’m pretty confident in my own good taste. If someone regularly rejects my advice or says they didn’t like the books I love, I’m not going to give them any more suggestions, because obviously our taste is just too different. Similarly, I have friends who I love, and we enjoy one or two of the same things, but in general every time I try something they said was great, I find myself disappointed. Different people look for different things in books, movies, and TV shows.
Share why you love a book.
A lot of times people just toss out book titles and author names, with no further explanation for why someone should read it. But if you really want your recommendations to stand out, you’ve got to really sell the book. What is it that you love? The characters? The plot? The author’s voice? Does just thinking about the book make you want to read it again? (BRB, re-reading The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe)
When you recommend a book, it’s almost like you’re introducing two friends and hoping they’ll really hit it off.
Do you have any advice to add to this list?