On Personal Book Recommendations

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25 July 2010

I enjoyed Laura Miller‘s piece at Salon, “The Fine Art of Recommending Books.”  Says Miller, “In a review, I can expound at length, giving readers a pretty good sense of what I like so they can judge if my preferences align with their own. One-on-one, however, what really matters to me is what you like to read.”  The personal recommendation is almost always more reliable than the algorithmic one, especially if the recommender asks good questions of the reader.

Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, says:  “I don’t think people read ‘for’ pleasure, exactly… Of course there is pleasure in reading. But mainly we do it out of need. Because we’re lonely, or confused, or need to laugh, or want some kind of protection or quiet — or disturbance, or truth, or whatever.”  Hmm…

I think I read primarily for absorption.  Without the regular practice of losing myself in the dream of a book, my mind grows dim, my spirit grows noisy and restless.  So I suppose I read to get smarter and to develop my literary imagination.

Nancy Pearl, Seattle-librarian and NPR commentator (the “Oprah” of librarians) lists three books she deems likely to please any reader: To Kill a Mockingbird, Larry McMurtry‘s Lonesome Dove, and Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.  I find that fascinating.  I wonder what the common denominator is.  I haven’t read Lonesome Dove, but Angle of Repose, in particular, is an interesting inclusion.

I love recommending books.  In a way, there’s nothing more connective, more intimate.  Delicate, too — if you get it wrong, it’s like you’ve set someone up on a failed blind date.  Also, I’m a terrible recommendee.  It’s got to be the right book at the right time… to know this for me is to know me better than I know myself.

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