Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How (not) to make a book recommendation

I have a few other blog posts I've been thinking about, but this whole BitchMedia/100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader snafu has gotten my hackles up, and nothing inspires writing like raised hackles.

I had seen a couple comments about the 100 Books for the Feminist Reader, but hadn't had a chance to check it out yet. I generally enjoy lists like that, however--I use them in deciding what the read or order for myself and my library.

And then Bitch Media got a few complaints about a few books and pulled three books from the list (power of your convictions FTL!) and then everything exploded. There are some really thoughtful and eloquent comments on the article itself (including several by YA authors asking to be removed from the list), which I was reading last night until the mansplainer troll showed up, and I had to stop because I value my health.

I won't get into how aggravating and lame Bitch Media's waffling on this issue has been, as that's already been said much better here and here. If you want a more thorough overview, or if you feel your blood pressure is too low, go read those posts.

I had been assuming that the list had been made by someone who had actually read the books she was recommending, which ended up being a less than accurate assumption. Which, in my book, is a cardinal sin of book recommendation. You can not recommend something you haven't read. It's like saying, "Those shoes are really comfortable, I saw them in a magazine once" or "That restaurant's excellent, I've seen the sign they have."

The only book list I create in any official capacity is my Summer Reading list. And I AGONIZE over it. Seriously, I lose sleep. I'll usually start with an initial pool of a hundred books and eventually winnow it down to twenty, carefully trying to balance the list. And I'm never sure I've gotten it just right. So I tweak and tweak and eventually have to set a final list because having your Summer Reading list come out in September is ridiculous. This is for an audience of about 180 students.

I take book recommendations seriously. I haven't read every book in my library (though some students seem to think either I have or I should), so when it comes to recommending books to students I rely on my catalog and reviews I've read in order to fill in the gaps. If I can recommend something I've read, great. But when I put a book in a student's hands that I haven't read, I say "I haven't read this, but this is what I've heard about it." Because recommendations carry weight, and they are about trust. A student asking me for a book recommendation is trusting me to help them with a decision. And yes, one book choice is a small decision, but relationships--with me, with reading, with libraries and librarians--are built on decisions like that.

That's how seriously I take recommending one book to one student. It's a fairly limited audience. I'm fairly certain Bitch Media has a larger audience than that, yet they don't seem to take that responsibility very seriously.

Bitch Media--and anyone else interested in making a list of recommended books, for that matter--if you don't have the time or interest in taking this responsibility seriously, find someone who will. There are lots of us out here who do this kind of thing professionally, and we'd be happy to help.


  1. Sara, I totally hear you with the summer reading angst! As far as the Bitch Media fiasco, I read all those comments, and almost commented myself, then decided it was futile.

  2. As angst-inducing as it is, creating the summer reading list is one of my favorite things to do.