Discussion: Book Recommendations Gone Wrong

Recently I recommended a book to a ton of people and they’ve all raved about it, which made my bookish heart sing! But it got me thinking about how not all book recommendations go nearly as well. In fact, some of them go horribly wrong. What do you do when you recommend a book to someone and they hate it?

Let’s face it: recommending books is pretty much the gig when it comes to book blogging. But giving a book a positive review and specifically recommending a book to someone are two different things, in my mind. Like every other art form and leisure activity, books are subjective and not everyone’s going to like the same thing, so sometimes you have to tread carefully. If you know that someone doesn’t like swearing or HBO shows, maybe don’t recommend them a book with explicit violence and sex.

Sometimes you recommend a book to someone that you’re certain they’ll enjoy…and then they turn around and tell you they really didn’t like it. Maybe they even loathed it.

Not that this has ever happened to me of course, nor am I going to name names (*cough* Becky *cough*) or anything. Although if it had, it’d be the worst. Well, maybe not the worst, but it’s definitely a bummer. It’s especially unfortunate when you recommend a book that you really loved to someone whose tastes normally align with yours and it turns out to be a dud for them. #bookrecfail

Hey, everyone likes different things and that’s great! But it’s always a bit weird when the person you’ve recommended a book to – be they a friend, sibling, partner, parent, or coworker – expects your recommendations to be good because you read a lot. It’s even worse when they know you have a book blog and think that you know which books are “objectively good.”

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, since it seems like every other blogger who gives me a book rec follows it up by saying something to the effect of “don’t hate me if you don’t like it hahaha.” Fellow anxious book recommenders, join me. How do you deal with the book recommendation jitters? And if you’re that magical person who feels not a twinge of worry when you recommend a book, tell me your secrets!

How do you react when someone doesn’t like your book recommendation? Do you get nervous recommending books to people in case they hate your suggestion? Let me know in the comments!

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  • I do not like recommending books in away. Cos even if I loved it, and that other person has the same exact taste, well that does not mean they will love it too. It’s scary

    • I hear you on that! Sometimes I feel the same way, especially if it’s a book that has the kind of content that some people find objectionable (like swearing, violence, and/or sex).

  • Oh you got me with ‘objectively good’ because there just is no such thing! I, sadly, don’t know that many readers in real life, so it doesn’t happen to me all that often to recommend books in person. But when I do, there is always a lot to take into consideration.
    When I write my reviews, I just explain what I liked (or didn’t liked) the POV, the setting and the genre with subgenre. Then, people who read my blog make their own decisions. Much easier!
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    • Right?! But so many people don’t seem to understand that. Once when I was at work a library patron asked me to recommend some good books, and when I asked them what they liked (so I could give them a suggestion tailored to their tastes) they said, “what, you don’t have a few good books at the top of your mind?” As if there are some books that everyone considers good! Sigh.

      That’s my favourite thing about your reviews, Lexxie – you totally own the fact that everyone feels differently about their reading material and explain why you felt a certain way about a book. 🙂

      • Thank you! I think it’s really important to understand that we all bring our own experiences into our reading, and therefore, we might read the same story, but think of it completely differently.
        I keep telling my students this, too. That there is no wrong in how they analyse books, as long as they can prove what they are saying with quotes 🙂

  • I went through something similar a few years ago. I felt so bad when someone didn’t enjoy a book I had recommended. On the other hand I was never angry when a book, that was recommended by another blogger, didn’t work for me. So I worked on accepting that we all enjoy books for different reasons, that it’s ok when someone doesn’t enjoy a book I loved.

    • I feel the same way, Sabrina! Sometimes book recommendations don’t work for me, and that’s a bummer, but I don’t get mad about it. And logically I know that most people aren’t upset when I recommend a book that they didn’t enjoy, but I still live in fear that they will be! Haha.

  • I feel the same awkwardness with movies and TV shows if they don’t turn out liked

    • Good point! Sometimes those recommendations are even worse, because it can take a really long time to decide a TV show isn’t for you – imagine reading a book for 12 hours before deciding it wasn’t your cup of tea!

  • Greg Hill

    I do have this problem! Even though I know they won’t hate me forever lol if the book rec doesn’t work, you still hate to hear that it sucked for them. 🙂 Still I’ve had some book recs sent to me on Goodreads, and I’ve even *gasp* done it myself once or twice- it is nice to see what other people think you’d like, and sometimes they’re spot on! But yeah it’s tricky…

    • LOL yeah, if only every single one of my recommendations could work out for people! But sadly that’s not real life, haha. I’ve had tons of books recommended to me via Goodreads but they’re usually just spammy rec’s from authors. It’s a cool feature of the site though, so I should try using it more to *gasp* recommend a few books myself. 😉

  • Sam Kozbial

    I try to be straightforward about my philosophy. 1. I don’t rate books that I don’t finish. 2. I don’t think I have ever finished a book that got below a 3 star rating. I have a billion books on my TBR, and I will not continue reading a book I am not enjoying. 4. I assert the fact that I am primarily a contemporary reader, who leans towards lighter fare, and I am all about the characters in a book. I also hope they are like me, and they read multiple reviews before making their selection. But, yeah, it’s a risk on both sides. Your reputation as a “discriminating reader” and the other person’s trust in your taste.
    Sam @ WLABB

    • Wow, you’ve never finished a book that was less than 3 stars! That’s awesome. I need to get better at putting books down when I’m not feeling them, because my TBR is getting out of control too.

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head Sam, which is that recommending books can impact someone’s trust in your taste. It sucks when someone whose taste you normally agree with doesn’t like a title you recommended, and I wouldn’t want them to stop trusting my recommendations!

  • arrrrggghhh. i get so anxious when i get asked for book recs. i can only recommend a book to someone i know, otherwise, i try not to.

    • YES! I feel the same way. It’s much easier to give a quality recommendation when you know the person, but a big part of my job is recommending books so I’ve gotta suck it up haha.

  • You’re right, this can be awkward at first. But honestly, I’m used to it, especially in my offline book life. I’ve struggled my whole life to find people who understand my reading preferences, and I finally managed to find them when I started blogging. So even though I am surprised when a rec doesn’t go well, I usually shake it off.

    • Despite being a librarian, I rarely discuss my own personal reading with my colleagues! Or maybe because of it? I usually like to keep it to myself, but when I do recommend a book to one of them I’m always a bit anxious that they’ll think I’m nuts (or have poor taste). Finding someone who shares your tastes is definitely key!

  • I remind them repeatedly that they are WRONG and should reread the book until they admit I am right. =)

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    Nervous? No – after all I’m “just” recommending a book, not a life choice that will doom that person forever! 😀 After all I’m aware that many books that were recommended to me did not work out, so I guess it’s a matter of the Universe seeking some sort of balance…
    Yes, I’m in a philosophical mood today, but don’t worry: it will pass soon!
    *eg*

  • Giving a book a good review and recommending them to a specific person — definitely a good point. Just because I like a book doesn’t mean I recommend it at all, let alone to X person. I haven’t had too many experiences in which I recommended a book to someone *specifically* and they disliked it. But it has happened to me several times (I read a book that was highly recommended to me), and it sucked, because I had such expectations and then I hated the book. But that’s okay, because I still take recommendations from those people. 😀

    Great post, Danya! Have a wonderful weekend. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

  • These are all really good points. For me, as a newbie on the book blogging scene, I am mostly taking recommendations. I do get nervous sharing my favorite books, but I also recognize that we have different preferences and tastes. So, that helps me a lot. But, like you said, sometimes some recommendations are just duds, and that doesn’t mean the person who recommended them to me isn’t reading some gems. This happened to me with Lies of Locke Lamora (I disliked it), and now I am reading Mistborn, which the same friend recommended, and I am adoring that series.

  • I like to look at it the other way around — my book recommendations are never wrong; if people don’t like them it’s because they’re wrong. 😀

  • This is SO TRUE! You feel terrible because like- maybe they bought the book, and at the very least, they spent time reading it! And then you worry because oh my goodness, what if no one EVER trusts your recommendations again!? AND you feel stressed the next time you DO try to recommend something because now maybe you just like weird stuff! This happens to me allll the time. And it IS nerve-wracking! But then luckily, for every dud, there is usually one people DO like, so it kind of ends up working out hahah. Love this post!

  • Well, until now I didn’t feel guilty about where someone hates a book recommendation I made lol! I don’t feel guilty per say — I try very hard to remember that everyone’s tastes are different, and while I may die a little inside when someone says they don’t like a recommendation, I smile and nod and console myself with the thought they make like my next one. Sometimes though… I get kind of glad if they don’t ask for another recommendation, because then I won’t stress about giving them the right kind.

  • OMG this. I haaate when it does happen, but I also learn to deal with it. Believe it or not, there are a bunch of books that Nereyda read thanks to my recommendations that she didn’t love – some she outright hated. *cries* I cringe when I think of them, but good thing is that there are far more books that she did love. I do admit that I prefer when people don’t rub it in my face that they hated a book that I loved and recommended or worse bought for them. Mentioning is fine, but tearing the book apart in front of me just annoys me and I have to pretend to nod and smile. Now, important question, did you hate Walk of Shame?? Is this what inspired the post? I’m kidding! 😉

  • I’m SO HEARTBROKEN when someone doesn’t like the book I recommended. Like you said, it especially sucks when my tastes usually align with theirs, because then I strongly believe they’ll love the book, and when they don’t… well, that is awkward. Or, rather, the next time I REALLY want to rec something is going to be awkward, because I won’t be sure if they will like it or no.
    Great post!
    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

  • I totally agree with your
    statement that “giving a book a positive review and specifically recommending a
    book to someone are two different things”. I used to give book recommendations
    more freely. Nowadays I do so cautiously, only when I’m 100 % sure that the
    person would enjoy this particular book. And I feel the pressure. And I’m anxious
    until this person read recommended book and tell me it was great. It’s such an
    awful feeling when my recs fail. Though I’ve been on the other side too, I
    haven’t enjoyed a book that was highly praised to me. The funny thing is that I
    didn’t mind it at all; I had no bad feelings about a person who recommended me
    that book. I guess it’s just our own brand of guilt and bad feelings.

  • Oh my gosh – this is probably the most relatable discussion post I’ve read in a long time! It’s so stressful giving book recommendations, especially to people who aren’t avid readers, because they know we’re book bloggers, so if we recommend them a book they expect it to be amazing – and that makes it even more embarrassing if they don’t end up liking what we recommend. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous post! <3

    ~ Zoe @ Stories on Stage

  • AMAZING discussion post and definitely a HUGE thing.

    Books recs are super stressful – and I think it’s worse for us book bloggers because of the reasons you mentioned above but ALSO because of the fact that we just love books so darned much that we don’t want someone not to like something we’ve told them to read! Let’s face it, choosing your next book and devoting yourself to the read can be a big thing and when you’ve steered someone in the wrong direction… OOPS.

    I also feel guilty when someone recommends a book to me and then I don’t like it… That’s also bad!!

    I won’t ever STOP giving recommendations though because I feel like the more people read the books that I love the better it is for those books – whether they are buying them, borrowing them from a library or a friend – it’s good for the books to get more notice out there and reading is good for everyone!

  • Lynn Williams

    I am always worried when somebody picks up a book that I recommended and loved. Mainly I really want them to love the book but at the same time I’m really scared that they’ll just so dislike it that it will make me fail really bad/like a massive failure. At the end of the day I do recognise though that we’re all just different. I usually love your reviews for books with a little romance, diversity, a bit of spice and maybe some sort of historical feel. The Biblioscanctum I tend to think of in terms of staunch SFF and very well rounded in that respect – but with also a love of grimdark, Beauty in Ruins has some great, unknown (to me) quirky type books, – well, I could go on, basically, I read all these blogs for different reasons and different books which is why it’s so great.
    Lynn 😀

  • Other than book reviews, I only personally recommend books to two people. Nick being one of them cause I know what she likes and hates. I’ve also realized that how you feel on a book is about 35% how the book was and 65% how it made you FEEL so it may not have the same effect on someone else. I do get sad when people don’t love a book I loved though 🙂

  • How did I know this post was going to mention me? It’s like I’m psychic. You don’t know how bad I feel, though. I totally wanted to like Labyrinth Lost. I expected to like it. Everything was there for me to like it but I just couldn’t get along with the MC. Now, I think that was partly to do with my mood at the time. I just couldn’t put up with a character who couldn’t grow a pair and own their mistakes because all I had put up with was people doing that at work and so yeah, it was a mood thing. I think I could have persevered with it otherwise and really enjoyed it. I will try again (in like a year, it has to be when things at work are going well because otherwise the same thing will happen again) and it may be a rec that works out!

    I know what you mean, though. Book recs are scary, any rec is scary because I don’t like it when people don’t like the book afterwards. I am always a little hesitant to be too forceful with recommendations in case they go wrong. At the same, though, when it goes right it’s amazing. I think I try and think of the positives because it’s so good when a book rec goes right and you can flail over it together. It’s the best feeling, especially when someone says that they read because of your rec and you get the warm and fuzzies. So really, remember that next time you tell me to read something. More often than not I love it!