‘Tis the Season for Book Recommendations

Every year around this time, it seems all the adults in my life–whether they’re co-workers, relatives or relative strangers who meet me at a holiday party and discover that I’m a librarian–want to know what the best new books are in time for gift giving. Although this isn’t the way I do my shopping–books, to me, are very personal gifts, and I’m not inclined to give one that I haven’t read myself–I’m usually happy to help, if I can.

But sometimes I can’t. I’m completely out of my depth when it comes to readers under the age of, say, 12, and it’s really hard to recommend a book when you don’t know anything about the intended recipient. “It’s for my nephew,” they’ll say. What does he like to read? (Does he like to read?) “Oh, I don’t know. Just… you know, what’s good?”

The most awkward situations, though, are when I admit my dirty secret: I don’t read grown-up books.

Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration. I do, from time to time, stumble upon a book not originally published for young adults (although most of them were reviewed in Booklist as having YA appeal, or perhaps won an Alex Award). But the overwhelming majority of books I read fall under the YA umbrella. I thought that only made sense, since I’m, you know, a high school librarian, but this admission recently shocked some of my co-workers.

I realize that I’m in a bit of a unique situation when it comes to collection development. I’m supporting the reading and research needs of a population that runs from struggling young readers to high schoolers taking classes for college credit to adults who may or may not be trying to find their book club selection for tomorrow night’s meeting. While teens are absolutely my primary audience, I have faculty and staff (and substitutes, who in my building are some of my best customers) and parents to think about, too. So I do try to pay some attention to adult best-sellers and award winners.

But do I have a duty to know these titles the way I know my YA collection?

There’s a sense of disbelief when I’m among adults. Sure, you read YA books for work, but what about in your spare time? I get the feeling that people assume my “real” reading, my default setting, must be “real” books–and why can’t I recommend a “real” book for your manicurist’s son-in-law?

Here’s the truth: the book I have recommended to the most people this year is The Miseducation of Cameron Post, not Gone Girl. (I haven’t read Gone Girl.) I’ve had 1Q84 on my Nook for, what, two years now? I read it maybe ten pages at a time, and only while flying. I’ve never read an adult James Patterson novel, or anything by Joyce Carol Oates, or 50 Shades of Grey.

Does the holiday season fill you with recommendation dread? Do you feel as comfortable recommending “grown-up” books? Is your collection peppered with adult book club titles?

One thought on “‘Tis the Season for Book Recommendations

  1. What a great piece! I am glad to know I’m not the only one who has been put on the spot like that.

    I really believe that while well-meaning, most holiday buyers tend to think of books as objects rather than cultural entities, and their expectation is that you as a librarian can suggest something “nice” for the shelf, rather than something thought-provoking or significant for the recipient.

    When friends or family ask, I usually lame out and say that, since you can’t be sure what any avid reader has read in the past or might own, a gift certificate to a local bookstore might be best.

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