Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Recommendations are Hard. Really Hard.

Three books I'm excited we got into kids these last two weeks:

1. Discovery of Dragons by Graeme Base
This is a preview of next month! Have you seen our awesome new author/illustrator of the month display? You should check it out.

2. Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
None of us have been able to explain this book to each other successfully. But we loved it. It's different and it's lovely. Also, it won the Printz and we finally have it.

3. Locomotive by Brian Floca
Okay, so this one isn't new but we all sighed great sighs of relief when we got this year's Caldecott winner back in stock.

It's not uncommon to walk into the backroom and find a bookseller leaning over a small piece of colored paper with a really frustrated look on their face. We know this look. We are well acquainted with this look.  This bookseller is trying to write a recommendation.

You've seen them, I'm sure. They litter the shelves, sticking joyfully out into the aisle (especially back in kids) trying to get your attention and present you with a book you might normally overlook.

I have a deep love/hate relationship with rec writing. I get so excited when I loved a book enough to want everyone to read it. But then I stand there and stare at the little rec card. It sits there and mocks me with it's blank facade. It's a stare down that I never win.

Usually it comes down to one choice, do I want to summarize the book or talk about how I felt about it? Some books are just too hard to summarize. Have you ever tried to explain a book to someone and realized that it sounds ridiculous or it's too complicated when you start talking about it? It's probably best to talk about how you felt. Or if you are so enamored with the main character, talk about them. It's hard to decide sometimes and when a book might not sell you sit there and wonder what else you could write to make it sound more interesting. You wonder if you should focus on something else.

I can't ask the same sort of questions on the rec cards as I can in person. And it's hard knowing that a book can appeal to different people for different reasons and that you can't cover everyone on a card.

Sometimes I love trying to come up with outlandish ways to recommend books. Maggie Stiefvater writes beautiful books. There's something so wonderfully poetic about every single one of her books. There's so much emotion in them without sacrificing the characters, her delightfully elaborate mythology, or her snark. But when people ask which one they should start with I like to ask something like:

"Homicidal faeries, murderous Celtic water horses, heart-wrenching werewolf love, or dead mythical Welsh king?" (I need to come up with a better one for The Raven Boys. No one ever picks that one).

I usually get blank stares in return and hesitant "Horses?"

If you look unsure I elaborate on the titles and then you're stuck listening to me for the next twenty minutes.

The point is, recommending books is hard. My instinct is to give you every book I love and that might not necessarily be right for you. So we ask if you like realism or fantasy. Dystopian or summer romance. It's not the best solution but imagine how uncomfortable we both would be if I asked you "What was the last book you read and loved? How did it make you feel?"

It's a legitimate but awkward question.

We ask the neutral (hopefully...) questions in person and leave our recommendation cards to suggest anything potentially emotional.

So, take a second to read the recommendations, it's possible a bookseller wept great tears of frustration over one. Or, if you want me to come up with a ridiculous series of questions like my Maggie Stiefvater set come find me (and give me a second to put one together) and I'll happily oblige. We work hard to make ourselves and our opinions available even when we're not in the store in person (the break room couch isn't big enough for everyone to sleep there at one time).

If writing a recommendation is this hard I can't even imagine what trying to write the summary for a book jacket is like.


1 comment:

Robin Brenner said...

I usually can start my book pitch for The Scorpio Races with, "Carnivorous horses!" and my listeners are hooked. Then again, I'm making the pitch live, not writing it on a card, which I agree is incredibly difficult.
-Robin, Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library