I think everyone should have three, if you have more, that’s even better, but if you have three book recommendations then you should be set.
Receiving a book recommendation is similar to what happens when you run into an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile, and they say “You have my number, call me, we’ll get something to eat!” And then you smile, maybe legitimately excited about the idea, and respond “Ya, for sure! I’ll text you!” And then you’re done.
It’s not that you don’t want to enjoy a meal with your long-lost friend, it’s just not high on your priorities, you have other friends to share meals with, and because you don’t think you’re going to run into them again, there’s really no pressure to follow through.
The long-lost friend encounter is analogous to the infamous, good-natured book recommendation.
Right now, I have made at least three promises to my friends and family that I’m reading a book that they recommended to me. I am supposed to be reading In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, Pride and Prejudice, and The Help, but I’m not. I’m not because I typically like to pick out books for myself, and I’ve been in a phase for the last year or so where I focus on reading classics. And don’t get me wrong, I love book recommendations, some of my favorite books came to me via a recommendation from someone whom I trust; but everyone wants you to read something, to share a book that shaped them, and it’s just hard to make the time to read those books.
I am not reading those books now, but I plan on it, and just the fact that I remembered them means something– it means that the books are important to me because the people who recommended them are important to me. A book recommendation says a lot about someone. It is a very direct way of telling someone what is important to you, or what is something that interests you more than anything else. When someone recommends a book to me, I judge them on what book they recommend to me. I do. I think that’s pretty normal, though. I hope that people would expect that, but if they don’t, then it doesn’t change anything. If you recommend that I read The Prisoner of Azkaban, and you’re being serious, I’m not judging you for recommending a Harry Potter book to me, I judging you based on the contents of the book.
Perhaps “judging” isn’t the right word, maybe “crafting opinions?” The idea is largely the same. The point I need you to understand is that the “judging” I do is not negative, it’s the same process you would go through if you saw someone praying before a meal, skydiving, going to a strip-club, eating dinner with their family, or watching a tv show. The things you do –your actions–shape who you are. The books you read –their content– gives insight to what is important to you. When you tell me to read something you read, once I do I can know what kind of things you find the most important. If you recommended the most asinine book I have ever read, I wouldn’t wonder ‘why doesn’t he read at a higher level,’ I would think ‘what in that book appeals to him?’
That is why, in a nut-shell, I love book recommendations. I love them. Reading a book that someone specifically endorses to you is a very quick, succinct way of learning a little about how they think. And so, I think that people should put a lot of thought into the books they recommend.Also, you get a book through a filter when someone recommends it to you; if you trust them, you know that the book can’t be garbage, and that is one reason to take a recommendation over a blind purchase, you’ll know it’s at least a little good.
For the most part, I don’t think book recommendations should fluctuate based on the person to whom you are recommending the book. There are exceptions, like if someone needed help and was asking your opinion on a certain issue, then you’re not going to recommend them your favorite book, you’re hopefully going to recommend your favorite book that is enlightening on that topic. However, besides specific situations, I believe that everyone should be able to recommend three books, in order of importance, to anyone who asks. I do not think that you should craft your book recommendations in such a way to impress someone, or come off a certain way. Some books just have a large effect on your life, and those are your recommendations. If you love a silly book– recommend it; if you love a graphic novel–recommend it. Just don’t recommend something that you do not genuinely like, especially not to try and impress somebody. If you can’t think of three, have two; if not two, at least one. And if you can’t recommend a single book to someone, you either have a really, really good reason, or you need to be doing a lot more reading than you are doing now.
My book recommendations:
1. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
My favorite book of all-time, I have reread it at least five times, and every time I enjoy it more. I started off this summer by re-reading it and then recommended it to Hayleigh, who is a good reader herself and is making good progress on it. I have had trouble with it, because Life of Pi does not translate for everyone. The first time I recommended it to my best friend, and he told me sincerely he couldn’t finish it, I felt like the kid who just found out other people don’t put peanut butter on their waffles: are you serious?? Why not???? That’s how I felt. It’s a complex book, broken into two large parts with a critical but short, third part. The first part is about Pi (the boy) and his religious search in India, and how it takes him to the three major religions of India because he “just loves God!” The second part — the much more stomach-able part — is a fascinating story about Pi stuck in a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengali tiger. It is a story of his survival and his adventures, and a Christian undertone floats under the whole story. Aside from the plot, Martel writes beautifully — absolutely beautifully. I cannot recommend a book if I do not like how the author writes, and Martel is the gold-standard. He is so vivid in his satin-rich language, and his discourses about zoo animals and religions are purposeful and brilliant. If you can make it to the second part, you will love it. If you love the whole book (as I do), there is a good chance we will be best friends.
2. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
I read Mere Christianity at the behest of the same friend who recommended In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, and I plan on reading Pit because of how much I loved Mere Christianity. Many people know Lewis because of his famous Narnia books, which anyone will tell you are an allegory for Christianity. Lewis also wrote a book called the Screwtape Letters, which is another brilliant work of literature. All of these books, Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters are all Christian literature. None however, are so merely Christian as Mere Christianity. Lewis writes the book as if someone who had never heard of Jesus Christ was reading it, and so he starts by assuming the reader has no faith, but has an open mind. Lewis writes as a lay-person and frequently says that there are many topics that he will not elaborate on because he is not qualified enough. However, I have never read such an easy to understand Christian how-to guide. It explains basic beliefs, devoid of denominational divide or pedantics. He talks about sins, virtues and vices, grace and sacrifice. The best part about the book, and the reason I have re-read it, is the examples and illustrations he uses. Lewis uses examples like the “human machine” and the “map or standing on the coast” story to explain his points, and they are amazing. I told my friend I reread the book so I could memorize the examples so I could use them in conversation, and my friend laughed and said he did the same thing for the same reason. You will want to memorize every illustration in the book because Lewis uses real-life portrayals of complex doctrine, and he makes them so understandable. He also uses very simple language and writes like a grandfather telling a story to his son; the way his prose is relaxed and confident, his words are calculated and unadorned– it makes for very easy reading. He also shares many perspectives that I have about Christianity, and the book really appeals to anyone who wants to back up his faith with more reason. Although logic and reason will never get you a complete faith, they can help you narrow the gap you must jump on your leap of faith.
3. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The only author of the three who I have seen and heard deliver a speech in person, thank you for asking. Pollan is one of the unofficial grassroots leaders of the local-organic food movement, and I don’t really recommend this book so much as I recommend him. I also recommend Food Rules, In Defense of Food, and The Desire of Botany. However, if you can only read one, or want to know which one you should start with, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is my hearty recommendation. I read it last summer on a cruise with my family, and I can say it has changed my life so much that I almost want to warn you before you read it. I feel like this book has a secret in it, like in The Matrix. Once you read it, you can’t go back; once you take the blue pill, you leave the matrix behind. The book in itself does not encapsulate nor encourage the exact doctrine by which I now eat, but it was the basis. Pollan talks about a lot of the science of the meat-growing industry, the sad failure of the food subsidies, the obesity epidemic, corn and soybeans takeover of the vegetable world, and organic and local food. He touches gently on each topic, but if the book really interests you, it will not be enough. It will enlighten (and hopefully change) you and the way you eat. How you look at processed food, imported food, fast-food, meat, local food, and the food industry. Pollan writes in a manner that can be off-putting– he does not skimp on the details. It is a book you have to concentrate on, but I think that it is mostly enjoyable. My dad said he had to really buckle down to get through it, but was glad he did. Read it with an open mind; you must be open to changing if you read something that earns your action. But like Life of Pi, maybe even more-so, if you like this book, we will probably be best friends.