Please Don’t Ask Me To Recommend A Book To You. It Will Only Hurt Us Both

Please Don’t Ask Me To Recommend You A Book: Why Book Reviewers Are An Endangered Species

When we think of book bloggers, we usually think of those hard-working bookworms, constantly eating books and digesting them (ew) into reviews, eager to fertilise common folks looking for their next read*. Most of these bloggers get through books at a rate which would strike the fear of Blog into any student of literature. I am in awe of these people, and not just because of how hard they work at their reviews, even though that is a very awesome thing.

I’m truly in awe of them because of what they’re constantly putting on the line: themselves. Because the bigger they get, the more they’re in the line of fire.

I’m technically a book blogger, but I’m not technically in dangerous waters**. Even though I use books as examples for arguments, I tend not to say anything about specific authors, unless they are either massive prizewinners (in which case they don’t care), or bestselling millionaires (in which case they really, really, really don’t care).

There are always a few readers who don’t get my sense of humour, but I don’t mind that. I just file them in the same place I file my ‘List Of People To Be Fed Entirely On A Diet Of Kale Yoghurt When I Am President Of The World’, and pour myself a pint of Vengeful Vodka (or Rancorous Rum, if I’m on my holidays).

The Numbery Bit: Wait! Don’t Run Away! Come Back!!

Books are a niche sort of thing. For starters, despite all the news stories about millionaire best-selling authors, or book deals worth seven figures, a surprisingly small number of the general public actually buy or read fiction.

When you consider that over 64 million people live in the United Kingdom, for instance, but that in order to reach the Sunday Times adult fiction bestseller list, you may only have to sell less than 10,000 copies of your book in a week, it’s shocking how few books are actually sold per head of population.

Please Don’t Ask Me To Recommend You A Book: Why Book Reviewers Are An Endangered Species

A Pre-Factual Graph For A Post-Factual World

Please Don't Ask Me To Recommend A Book To You. It Will Only Hurt Us Both

What I mean by all this numbery stuff is that people who regularly read fiction are actually a very small percentage of the general population. Furthermore, people who read enough fiction to become recognised reviewers are an even smaller percentage of that population. And finally, Irish book reviewers exist in a gene pool so minuscule that they’ve almost certainly had a drink with the person whose book they’re trying not to say anything overtly negative about.

These grassroots book bloggers generally become well-known. They are courted by publishers, feared by authors, and trusted by readers. But with that power comes another by-product. Judgement.

I See You, Therefore I Judge You

And oh, my, do book bloggers get judged. They are good or bad, depending on which side of the fence you’re on. And when they say something negative, they can get savaged.

There are very few trusted reviewers whose opinions I will pretty much take without question, because from reading their reviews over the years, I believe that their opinions surf very close to my own. If they like a book, I’ll probably like it too. If they don’t, I’ll probably end up hopping it off the wall at some point involving ridiculous plot potholes, or some sort of cliché or grammatical abuse which makes me want to claw my eyes out.

Please Don’t Ask Me To Recommend You A Book: Why Book Reviewers Are An Endangered Species

But while my feelings about these reviewers are overwhelmingly positive, this means that two other interested parties are often unhappy: namely, authors who get a negative review, or their publishers.

Ah, Come On, Tara. What’s This Got To Do With The Title Of This Post?

So there I am, standing on the sidelines, reading loads of books, and watching reviewers get derided by overly interested parties for having their own opinion. And in the meantime, I’m flinging opinions about all over the shop, and rarely if ever getting any flak for it.

But occasionally, someone will smile innocently at me, and utter the dreaded phrase…

“So, can you recommend a good book I can read on my holidays?”

…and my heart (yes, I do have one) sinks. Because I’m generally speaking to someone who has little spare time; one holiday a year, if that; crippling exhaustion, and a doctor’s prescription for escapism. They want me to recommend something to fill that precious time. And I’m bound to foul it up.

Please Don’t Ask Me To Recommend You A Book: Why Book Reviewers Are An Endangered Species

This Is Why You Shouldn’t Ask Me To Recommend Anything

I’ve recommended books I fell deeply in love with, only to see a shifty look in someone’s eyes when I see them again, as they wonder why they ever spoke to me at all, and make a mental note to never, ever, ever read anything I write.

I’ve seen pity.

I’ve seen fear, as someone who took a book recommendation from me wonders if there’s a constitutional obligation to report delusional people from the West of Ireland.

I’ve seen disappointment. Deep, aching disappointment in me, a book blogger who doesn’t even blog about specific books, and yet holds herself up as an Opinionator, a denizen of Lit-Land, who can’t even recommend a suitable read to some poor soul trying to relax in what might reasonably be described as a chair.

And on one notable occasion, I even saw rage. That recommendation ended up in an ugly altercation involving paper cuts and a mud-wrestling pit in Slovenia. Ermintrude, if you’re reading, it was a beautiful friendship before that, and I’m sorry.

The Obligatory End-Of-Blog-Post Call To Action

So can we hear it, please, for the real book bloggers? The tried and trusted bookworms who aren’t afraid to say what they think, come what may?

And can we all agree that asking me for a book recommendation is like asking a pot plant what they like best about lawnmowers?

******************************

*   Editor’s note: get new metaphor. Worms will never catch on

**  Editor’s note: when I said get a new metaphor, I didn’t mean following a gardening metaphor with sport, military, and marine metaphors in quick succession. Learn how to write, woman

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  71 comments for “Please Don’t Ask Me To Recommend A Book To You. It Will Only Hurt Us Both

  1. August 19, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Great post Tara. As a book blogger/reviewer it can be very difficult to please both readers and authors. (OK, more than difficult sometimes). However, I review for readers first and foremost, as they are the ones handing over the cold, hard cash (or dodgy Visa card I’m my case).
    Loving your alliteration, btw. I love bit of alliteration 😉
    Big (not really) book blogging babe,
    Magz.

    Liked by 2 people

    • August 19, 2016 at 10:33 am

      I always wonder if I overdo the alliteration, Magz. But then I consider the splendid sensuality of prose peppered with complementary consonants (and then I slap myself for being precocious and annoying).
      Glad you liked the post. I shake my head in admiration at what you guys do. In fact I owe you doubly, because I’ve ended up referring people to you for recommendations now any time they ask me. I am the great deflector!

      Liked by 1 person

    • carolannwrites
      August 19, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      I think this post was weally, weally wonderful too, Magz. Partly because I felt she was talking about people like you. Keep up the great work both of you! You are much loved by readers and writers alike.

      Liked by 1 person

      • August 19, 2016 at 2:32 pm

        Yes indeed. The more abuse I hurl, the more love I get. T’would make you wonder…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. August 19, 2016 at 9:18 am

    If you think Irish book bloggers are a select group, spare a thought for your Celtic cousins across the other side of the Irish sea. We’d be hard pressed to field even a 7-a-side welsh bloggers team…..

    Liked by 2 people

    • August 19, 2016 at 10:35 am

      Perhaps you could play 5-a-side, BookerTalk. It’s what I play with my People Who Like Numbers As Much As They Like Books group. Oh, the fun we have…

      Like

  3. weebluebirdie
    August 19, 2016 at 9:26 am

    The books we like are a deeply personal thing. It’s why I refuse to recommend any of my faves to my book group – because they savage everything. At least they’ve adopted my method of reading the first line – if it’s not unique, it’s unlikely that the rest of the book will have enough to satisfy. Having said that, we did that on the last book, and I quickly grew to hate it the shallow convenience of plot – you know that’s a Thing I have!

    So lovely to know that I’m in an elite niche of someone who buys real books 😉 Perhaps I should be more forgiving of those who only have ornaments on their bookshelves (see one of my rants in Missus’ comments).

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 10:38 am

      There’s another side to it, Birdie. Having someone really dislike a book which pierced your soul. It’s gutting! Almost like a personal slight.

      Don’t mind being forgiving of non-Booky people. No good will come from it, I tell you. None whatsoever.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. August 19, 2016 at 9:59 am

    As a matter of interest, what book/s are you reading at the mo? Is that a beyond the bounds question?

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 10:42 am

      No, that question isn’t out of bounds at all, Jean! Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my answer. I know I had it earlier. I must have put it down somewhere. Hmmm. I’ll get back to you 😉

      To give you a vague answer, I’ve been gorging on a lot of crime in the last 2 months, something I haven’t done for years. Some of it excellent. Some of which I had to wade through to start with, before it took off like a rocket. It’s a pattern I’m seeing at the moment, actually. Books which start lethargically with characters who aren’t terribly engaging and then – BOOM! Grabs me by the throat and hauls me off to the end. I’m still not keen on the initial wading but I have been rewarded.

      Liked by 1 person

      • August 19, 2016 at 4:14 pm

        Weirdly, I hate reading crime but love listening to crime audio books. I guess there’s a little ‘want’ somewhere.

        Liked by 1 person

        • August 19, 2016 at 4:36 pm

          I don’t think that’s weird. For instance, for years, I would only eat raw carrots, never cooked 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  5. August 19, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Humour, nothing like a smidgen of humour to kick off the day – I’m still searching though. Just to say my non arthritic arm has been twisted so I’m off to check this vote for me thing you seem so hung up on Tara – hope you see the dry humour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      Hmmm. I need to work on my delivery. The fact that you even thought it might have been vaguely humorous is of concern. Just wondering, did you notice the subliminal jam jar manifesto? No? How about the monkey wrench compulsion? Just need to make sure I’m not slipping.
      On another note, I thought you knew I had no sense of humour. Still hope you voted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • August 19, 2016 at 12:29 pm

        Yes I voted Tara does that mean I have a sense of humour? I come from the era of black and white BBC radio comedy if you are not familiar with this check out Around the Horne.

        Liked by 1 person

        • August 19, 2016 at 1:20 pm

          The fact that you even asked, C.J., means that you most definitely have a sense of humour. Only people who have absolutely no sense of humour are convinced that they have one. I will check out Around the Horne… we used to have some old BBC comedy records about the house when I was growing up and I was a fan of the era myself.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. August 19, 2016 at 11:12 am

    I’d recommend the Book o’ d’ Blog. From the back blurb…

    “A searing tour de force. The essential companion to Monday mornings and misery”

    Dept of Tenderspeculation

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      When I was in primary school the teacher asked us what we all wanted to be when we grew up. I got a punishment essay for saying I wanted to be the essential companion to misery. I never got over it. But we’ll show her, Depterness. As soon as I untie her, we’ll show her gooooood.

      Liked by 1 person

      • August 19, 2016 at 1:02 pm

        She’ll not be so quick to underestimate your achievements next time. (I await the sequel with anticipation).

        I, too, am impressed with the speed of reviewers reading. And Eileen Batters-by is the most appropriately named reviewer.

        Like

        • August 19, 2016 at 1:22 pm

          I never thought of that! The funny thing is, depending on which side of the fence you’re on, people differ on who is doing the Battering, did you notice that?

          Liked by 1 person

          • August 19, 2016 at 1:34 pm

            Indeed. Paul Murray fans had her on the ropes. I was wondering if there was enough for a short story in that. But I got side-tracked by including a type-writer with an ‘e’ that gets jammed, so it always types three e’s. As in…er… *too much info already* As you were..

            Liked by 1 person

            • August 19, 2016 at 2:29 pm

              Not at all. One of the most famous science fiction stories of the ’60s involved a faulty typewriter. Go to it.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. August 19, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    OK – I get it. I’ll never ask you to recommend anything. Hally? 😀
    I’m not voting for you again though – that’s all water under the bridge for this year. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. August 19, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    That should have been ‘Happy?’ I’ve been doing too many reviews and the typo rate’s risen accordingly… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      But I am hally, Jan. I’m velly, velly hally. You can’t tell me I’m not.

      Ta for the non-fraudulent voting technique… 😉

      Like

  9. August 19, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Gotta love the book bloggers, Tara. But I wouldn’t want to be one. That’s for sure. I always want to be nice and love a book and then…oh dear. I end up “trying not to say anything overtly negative” in the Amazon review and feel guilty about not giving 5 stars. Oh well. On a much brighter note: I VOTED 🙂

    Like

    • August 19, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      See? Voting is the purest form of online opinion, Diana. A binary system nobody can take offence at whereby you vote, or you don’t vote, or you say you’ll vote and you don’t. Now that’s democracy at its finest!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. August 19, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Yah, so I was wonderin’, since I’m headed out on a short road trip soon, got any good reads to suggest?

    Wait, what? Yes, i DID read the blog, sheesh…

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      Did you really, Lorraine? Seems you missed the subliminal manifesto too. Or maybe just the headline. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  11. August 19, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Okay, I vote for you Tara. Does that mean I get to share in the fabulous cash prize you’ll no doubt receive when you win?

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Oh, you can definitely have a share in whatever I win, Bun. Which will be nothing. But I believe in the generosity of the human spirit. I hope that’s enough for you. Thanks for the vote!

      Liked by 1 person

      • August 19, 2016 at 4:40 pm

        Thank you, Tara. I’ll look forward to my half of the generosity of human spirit in the mail.

        (Voting for you was my pleasure, by the way.)

        (But I still want half of anything you win.)

        Liked by 1 person

  12. August 19, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    It’s like using a major prize to judge a book. If it was a winner of a book prize I have heard of then I might at one time have considered that a definite recommendation. But (and here I have to admit I never learn) having struggled through another major prize-winning book I’m left wondering what the hell it was about and whether I really care anyway. I’ve recently decided title and cover are a clue to whether I might enjoy the book or not, they certainly activate my fingers to prize the book from the shelf. Next read the blurb. If it sounds interesting I might be moved to dip inside and sample a few sentences, see if the writing snags my interest. Reviews I rarely read. It seems more like people pontificating about their likes and dislikes rather than about the merits or otherwise of the book. Such a pity Amazon and the rest of the world seem to revolve around reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      I know what you mean, Dorothy. That’s why I think we get so attached to certain reviewers, though. There are so may worthless reviews on sites like Amazon and GoodReads – and I mean worthless to a person seeking a new book – when we find someone who reviews intelligently and eruditely, we’re delighted to have someone to trust. I get fooled by clever blurbs all the time whose books can’t deliver on the promise, but a trusted book reviewer rarely lets me down.

      Like

  13. August 19, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    Recomendations are tough if you don’t know the person’s reading habits, if it’s crime do they want more forensics, more psychological, can they take gore? If it’s romance do they want heaving bosoms and breathless kisses or more light romantic comedy? It is so hard, especially when everyone’s ideas of what is acceptable/ unacceptable is different-my sister is bang on the mark with her book choices, but then will tell me to watch out as there’s part that are tough or that stayed with her afterwards. With every one of her caveats I failed to be any way disturbed, and yet there’s been other books where I found it tough going and she wouldn’t blink an eyelid. The author/ publisher wrath is a littel hard, I’ve never had to go below three out of five since I started blogging, but the threes or the three point fives have been accepted rather frostily, and on two occasions they’ve resulted in a definite awkwardness when interacting in facebook groups. (yeeks!) Still adore it though, nothing relaxes me like getting a blog post out:) Note to self and rest of Tara’s blog: Must go vote when internet allows me (rural internet doesn’t like me opening anything that has images, text, content … ;))Everything crossed for you, Tara:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      I often wonder how long it takes a new book review blogger to become disillusioned with the reaction to their reviews, Bernadette… getting shorter all the time too, I imagine. A negative reaction to a 3.5 star review is just bonkers to me, but I’m also someone who disregards each and every 5 star review on Amazon as being complete tosh. Thanks for the vote – you’re a real 5 star in my book 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  14. August 19, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    Oh! I spelt ‘little’ as ‘littel’ there! Quite cute looking, but wrong. Sorry about that!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. August 19, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Greece is much the same. That’s why I never post in Greek. They know where I live. And they have pitchforks.

    Loved the data, by the way. I wonder what would happen if you also included e-book sales. Shame no one seems to care about those.

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      I can’t get those stats, Nick, and it drives me mad. There’s so little data out there you’d swear there was a conspiracy. I can completely understand Nielsen charging for their data because it’s their business model, but I can’t understand why industry publications or newspapers aren’t doing anything with it when they have it. It’s not rocket science, and knowing how many e-books are selling can’t hurt anyone. Except maybe some publishers. Who knows?

      Liked by 1 person

      • August 20, 2016 at 9:37 am

        My take? Publishers are hiding behind their finger, reluctant to admit the rules of the game have changed. I call it the “pay no attention and it’ll go away” principle.

        Liked by 1 person

        • August 20, 2016 at 11:36 am

          Couldn’t agree more. And it’s not as though sitting on the data is going to make it go away either.

          Liked by 1 person

  16. August 19, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    I could never be a book blogger. I don’t read enough books and I dislike way more books than i like. When I like a book I’m demented about it, like a teenager newly in love who thinks the whole world feels the same way about it. When they don’t I am beyond slighted.
    The other thing about my serious infatuation with a book is that once I’ve finished it I hate other books because they are not that one.
    Yikes maybe I’m alone in all this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 19, 2016 at 11:43 pm

      Indeed and you’re not, Tric! I saw a great graphic on a booky group on Facebook today where they had a page of a text, passionately hugging a woman. That woman has been me on occasion. It’s a rare but special thing. I did a post last year on a book I fell head over heels in love with and I flat refused to name it in case anyone spoiled it for me by being flummoxed with my choice. I think people still thought I was mad for refusing to name it, you can’t win! I don’t know how book bloggers do it. Congrats on the blog award shortlisting by the way! Your category is really tough, it’s all over the place. You have my vote though, easy decision for me.

      Like

      • August 19, 2016 at 11:49 pm

        Oh I can’t keep it in. I am like a bible thumper, I must convert them. They have to listen to me!
        Ah the old blog awards. If they had a personal blog category I’d understand, as that is where I belong, but can anyone explain to me what ‘lifestyle’ is? I went with it because I was nominated but will not be holding my breath or cry from disappointment.

        Liked by 1 person

        • August 19, 2016 at 11:53 pm

          It’s a messy category, like Arts & Culture, and that’s why some of us are so fortunate to see a Books & Literature category this year. Some categories are dreadfully vague and wide. Bring back Personal, and Newcomer, I say, but they won’t, because it doesn’t fit in with the new corporate side, sadly.

          Liked by 1 person

  17. August 20, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Awesome. But, could you recommend a good spatula? Seems safer.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. August 20, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    I use a system akin to only reading the politics you agree with. I swap book with a few people I trust and really do get to read (and get blown away by) stuff I might not otherwise have come across. It works a treat, but one of my brothers cannot understand why I never get around to his recommendations…

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 21, 2016 at 10:33 am

      Do you want me to tell him why, Hilary? Because I would do it for you. I’m used to that sort of thing. 😉

      Like

  19. August 20, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    You’re right about proper book reviewers, Tara. They’re amazingly strong (or have a leaning towards masochism). I’m currently contemplating writing two book reviews, but hesitating because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings… You know how sensitive I am

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 21, 2016 at 10:36 am

      It’s a difficult thing to do when you’re a book blogger posting several reviews a week. I imagine it’s downright impossible if you’re doing it ad hoc, or for people you know.

      You’ll have to get rid of that sensitive streak though, Graeme. How am I supposed to abuse you thoroughly otherwise?

      Liked by 1 person

  20. August 21, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Don’t worry, I’d never ask you for a recommendation because I only read Martin Amis. (Others may come and go, but how can anyone define a ‘page turner;’ they occasionally grab my attention.)

    I suppose reviewers are the same as critics and I’ve never understood humanity’s reliance on critics. Film: what’s it about, who is in it? That’s really all we need to know. Book: what’s it about, how much does it cost?

    Perhaps I should become a reviewer, one of those with niche appeal: The Bleeding Obvious Reviewer. What’s it about and how much. Tagline – ‘All the rest is flannel.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 22, 2016 at 11:10 am

      I like that idea, Chris. Or perhaps you could become the anti-reviewer, the reviewer who twists the notion of reviewing back on itself so hard that it becomes a meta meme. All the rest is just Buzzfeed. Hope I get in on the ground floor.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. August 22, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Trying to vote but can’t get through. They must have run out of ballot papers…or something.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. August 24, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    Tara, I love this post. Humours whilst still raising a pertinent point. Working previously as a timber agent I know about treading a fine line whilst not alienating either party. I find if I really don’t like a book, I won’t write a public review. However if there are certain aspects of a book I think could be improved I will mention these in a post.

    Like

    • August 24, 2016 at 10:33 pm

      …. and thus risk censure by the truckload! There are far too many sensitive people in this industry for many of us to attempt true honesty, Annika, aren’t there. But there’s so much of that tied up with personal preference and unsolicited advice too, so it’s a fine line for both reviewer and author. Whew. I think I need to lie down now.

      Liked by 1 person

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