Behind The Scenes: A Three-Part Theory On Recommending Books | TBR
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Behind The Scenes: A Three-Part Theory On Recommending Books

Several books with their pages splayed open over a dark background

This post originally appeared on Book Riot Insiders, now called the New Release Index. Find a curated list of the best new books, all in one place with the New Release Index.

Hello, Insiders! As the holiday season spins up and the news cycle continues and the weather is just so weird, we’re wishing you lots of of great reads, good times, and all our fingers and toes are crossed for good travel luck.

This month our CEO, co-founder, and co-host of the Book Riot Podcast Jeff O’Neal is back with some musings on book recommendations.

We are gearing up for our 6th annual Holiday Recommendation Show on the Book Riot Podcast. Each year, we ask listeners to submit recommendation requests for people on their shopping lists or even just themselves. No shame.

And it is one of our favorite episodes to do every year, and judging by the download numbers, I think it is safe to say it is one of the most popular. And it is pretty clear why people like getting recommendations for books to read: there are a lot of books and spending dozens of hours reading a book is a significant time investment, so a bad selection results in not a small amount of unhappiness.

But the part of the equation that has always interested me is this: why is it so pleasurable to recommend a book to someone? What do I get out of realizing I have a GREAT idea for what someone should read? And then if they happen to read it and say they loved it, I get to float along on a second high. What is going on here?

Over time, I have developed a theory with three parts that intermingle somehow to produce this effect:

1. Recommending a good book to someone says something about me. First, I am the kind of person that reads books and the kind of person who reads enough books to have to select from a number of possible books to recommend. This makes me feel smart and accomplished. And I like that. So do you, I imagine.

2. Recommending a book to someone that they turn out to like says something about how well I know you. I know you so well that I can intuit how you will connect with this immeasurably complex work of language (as all books are). It is like I just beat your soul in a game of multi-dimensional chess. I should note that for this element to really kick in, the recommendation should be unprompted and for someone you know well. Randomly recommending a book to a stranger hits point 1, but recommending a book that, say, your aunt will love another.

3. Recommending a good book lets you glow in the aura of the book and author itself. Freud, who was pretty much wrong about everything, I think was right about this: he said that one reason we like to tell jokes, even ones we didn’t come up with ourselves, is that for a moment we get to take the place of the joke-maker. Likewise, in recommending a book to someone, we are, in a very small way, an author of the recommendee’s encounter with the book. Not of the book exactly, but in their experience of it. Which, for most of us anyway, is as close as we are ever going to get to writing a book that someone loves.


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