Why Do I Recommend Books I Don’t Like?
When my mother-in-law asked for used books for Christmas last year, of course I gifted her a bag full of paperbacks! As she’s read them over the course of this year, she gives me updates and we’ve had some neat discussions. I even read her favorite book (A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson) at her recommendation.
Knowing that she’s enjoyed the books I gave her, I’ve been accumulating a stack to give her for Christmas again this year. On one of my regular thrifting excursions, I spotted a mint condition hardcover copy of Jodi Picoult’s 2016 novel Small Great Things for $3. I grabbed it for my MIL, suspecting she’d like it.
When her birthday came around last month, I decided to gift her that book instead of waiting til Christmas. I wrapped it up and sent it along with a card along with my sister-in-law when she made the 4 hour drive for a birthday visit.
The evening my SIL delivered my gift, I got a joyful email from my MIL. While perusing the internet that morning she’d read a blurb about Small Great Things, thought it sounded interesting, and made a mental note to read it soon. Only a few hours later, my SIL arrived bearing my gift and it was that very same book, how amazing! She was ecstatic (Daughter-in-law of the Year Award, please!)
When I recounted this story to my husband, he snorted with laughter. “Didn’t you hate that book?”
“Yes. Yes, I did. Your mom will like it though.”
“Fair enough,” he shrugged. He’s gotten used to my uncanny knack for recommendations by now.
(And I truly love my MIL, I promise! We get along well.)
It’s important to note I read SGT shortly after its release, and during the week Donald Trump won the Presidency. The central plot involves a male white supremacist whose new born baby is in the care of a black female nurse. The whole thing didn’t sit well with me (plot, characters, everything), and I could barely finish the novel.
So here’s why I gave my mother-in-law a book I thoroughly disliked:
Our life experience affects how we respond to everything we encounter. Generational differences are huge factors here. This especially applies to books and movies, because the writer is trying to sell us on the story as a life experience of the characters’. Based on my life experiences, I don’t buy this plot, and I understand my MIL has had different experiences and might find the story more believable.
Personal tastes vary. Not every person is going to love every book, or movie, or band. I don’t believe SGT is a poorly written book. I have thoroughly enjoyed many of Picoult’s other novels, and find her to be a phenomenal writer.
Timing is everything. If I read SGT now, instead of November 2016, I’d probably still roll my eyes and not love it. BUT I don’t know if it would have had such a visceral reaction and been left with a bitter taste. I understand the novel was started many years ago and completed long before Trump received the Republican nomination. I know that logically, but that doesn’t change how it felt to consume that content at that exact point in time.
There are other times I recommend books I didn’t like, or even ones I’ve chosen not to read. I generally have a feeling for what a person would enjoy, and I try not to let me tastes influence my recommendation. My interests are not going to match everyone else’s. That’s part of the joy of reading. I can recognize when a book is well written, yet not fully understand it or like it (I’m looking at you, American Gods)
A terribly written book is something different all together. Or content I know will be off-putting to a reader. I have friends who don’t want to read about violence involving children, or animals, or prefer novels not have religious undertones. I get that, and I respect it. I don’t care for WWII or slavery era historical fiction, and it’s annoying when someone tries to “force” a book on me in those genres.
I enjoy having discussions with other readers when we have passionate opposing views on a book. I can’t wait to hear what my mother-in-law thinks about Small Great Things, as I’m sure it will spark interesting conversation.
So if I ever recommend a book to you, and you see I’ve given it a low star rating, or mentioned I didn’t care for it, don’t be discouraged!