Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On recommendation

Somewhere in all the vast catacombs of this blog I have written about book recommendations. Said post about recommendations is out in that labyrinthine archive somewhere, and if you merely read carefully through my 400 blog posts of the past 14 months you will surely find it.

I will wait here while you do so.

I will have a cappuccino. I don't mind waiting. It's nice to just sit here and enjoy the air in my blog. It smells sort of like peppermint here today.

I will listen to John Cage's immortal 4'33" (official blog soundtrack at reader request) and wait until you are finished searching.

Ah. You're back. You found it. You reread it. Splendid.

But just on the very, very, extremely and unusually remote chance that you did not read it, I had better briefly and inaccurately recap the referred to post. The post said that book recommendations are difficult for me because I tend to be unprepared when the requester asks me for a request out of nowhere. They also tend to be difficult because the requester's frame of reference can sometimes be so alien to my own. And finally, they are difficult because I tend to be out in the stacks, far removed from my resources and my carefully (well, roughly) assembled lists, and the moment a patron asks me for a request, the clock is ticking. I have about twelve seconds before they lose interest and decide it's not worth it.

We did our best to solve all those problems, and then some, in that blog post, but there is an opposite problem. And that is what we will work on here today.

What if I see the requester all the time? What if they're a sympathetic co-worker? What if their frame of reference, their taste is full of commonalities with me? What if I have all the time in the world to mull over lists and be reminded of favorite books, or music, or movies, and constant opportunities to tell them? What if the request door is hardly ever closed and I don't have just twelve seconds to work with, but twelve years?

I have found it is just as easy to go wrong in this situation as it is in the first one. My inclination has been to flood the person with wildly enthusiastic suggestions, mostly hoping an occasional one will stick. I have only just begun to understand that this is all wrong. Floods sweep away everything. This situation requires care, control, patience, and restraint. This situation must be taken seriously. This situation must be treated respectfully, craftily, and thoughtfully. Above all, this situation requires a plan of action.

If I am talking with someone and it becomes clear that I can think of eleven fantastic books that I know they would love, I should not recommend them. I should put them on a little shelf in my brain, and I should think about them. I should think about what I love best, and I should think about what I think they would be most likely to love best. I should make one choice. And then I should not recommend it. I should hold onto it. While I am holding onto it, for days, or weeks, new things will occur to me, new recommendations. I should measure them against my one choice, always keeping the strongest, curing it, smoking it, holding it with care. And still I should not recommend it.

Then one day, this person will complain about having nothing good to read, or they will wish there was something, or they might even ask, directly for a recommendation.

Yes, now, carefully, I should say, yes, there is one very special book I have thought of, one alone, and I should quietly, seriously, earnestly recommend it and it alone.

They probably won't read it. I should not give up. I should not go to choice two. I should not even have a choice two. I should not ask about it. I should not recommend it again. But I might want to get a copy to have around. Books this good are, surprisingly, even in a big library, often checked out. I should keep my copy. I should say nothing.

Then one day, this person will complain about having nothing good to read, or they will wish there was something, or they might even ask, directly for a recommendation.

In the same way as before, quietly, seriously, I should recommend my book again, with no reference to having recommended it before.

If they say they tried it and didn't like it I should not recommend a new book. I am going to need to do some rethinking. I am going to need to start over. If they make vague positive noises I should continue to wait and I should not press. If they get very interested I should let them look for and request a copy before I give them my own, to keep.

But always, before moving on to a second recommendation, I should get either a negative report or a positive report that they read the book I recommended. If I have to spend twelve years quietly recommending the same book without result, so be it. It wasn't meant to be. Failures and successes though I will take into account, and I will begin the same process, ever so carefully, once again.


  1. A wonderful alternative to GoodReads. And, now, I must go get a cappuccino.

  2. I'm just loving that John Cage soundtrack! ♡

    1. I'm so glad. Here is some more:

      That is sort of nice.


If you were wondering, yes, you should comment. Not only does it remind me that I must write in intelligible English because someone is actually reading what I write, but it is also a pleasure for me since I am interested in anything you have to say.

I respond to pretty much every comment. It's like a free personalized blog post!

One last detail: If you are commenting on a post more than two weeks old I have to go in and approve it. It's sort of a spam protection device. Also, rarely, a comment will go to spam on its own. Give either of those a day or two and your comment will show up on the blog.