This is a rant, followed by some (I believe) sound advice. Proceed accordingly.
I am completely shocked by the number of times the following happens on facebook:
Original Poster: Just got a kindle/nook/B&N gift card (or starting a book club)!!! Give me book recommendations people!
Friend #1: NICHOLAS SPARKS!!! ALL THE CRIES!!! ALL THE FEELS!!!
Friend #2: Dan Brown's books. OMG, He is such a goooooood writer.
Friend #3: Twilight. It's this book about vampires and it's awesome and you'll love it.
And this happens with practically ZERO variation.
Here are the problems with these suggestions:
1. All three people are recommending old-but-not-too-old best sellers. These books (or authors) have been around long enough that everybody and their grandmother (seriously, I got a twitter follow from somebody called "TwilightGrandma" the other day) has heard of them. Opinions have been formed or the books have already been read. If your friend hasn't heard of or read this book, don't worry, it will be the one suggested on the front display in the store or when they first sign on to Amazon.
2. All three people are recommending pretty BLAH books. Let me tell you how that Nicholas Sparks novel goes: Boy meets girl, societal differences keep them apart, they fall in love anyway, death and disease threatens to tear them apart, they recommit themselves to each other, one of them dies. You'll cry, I'm sure, but COME ON. That's the BEST you have to recommend to somebody???
3. There's no accounting for personal tastes. Not everybody likes the same books as you. Shocking, I know.
4. That all said... if this person is the type of person who was given a Nook/Kindle/B&N Gift Card as a present... they've read those books. They are a "book person" and they either have read or formed opinions about those books already.
I'm not good at a lot of things. I don't know how to make cheesy sauces that aren't gritty, I can't scrapbook to save my life, and I don't even know how to hem my own pants. But I am good at recommending books. Here's my advice on the subject:
1. Find out what other books they've read that they've enjoyed. You don't need to recommend books in the same genre (especially since if they are asking for recommendations, they are probably looking to branch out a bit), but note the tone of what they like to read. The person who loved "The Kite Runner" will likely not enjoy a Sophie Kinsella novel. Pay attention to the tone: Serious? Adult? Fun? Fluffy? YA? Emotional-Heartstring-Tuggers? People will generally enjoy books that feel similar, even if they are in a different genre/category.
Sidenote: YA is a category, not a genre. Middle Grade (MG) is another category. Within each of those, there are genres, the same as in the adult category: fantasy, sci-fi, romance, mystery, suspense, non-fiction, memoir, biography, etc.
2. Get an idea of what their expectations around content are. I've posted before about people having surprising standards around language and sex. Don't recommend Game of Thrones if they thought Twilight was really violent and sexually charged.
3. Try to get off the beaten path a little. Anybody who's ever set foot in a bookstore has heard of the Notebook and the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. If your friend hasn't read them, there are probably reasons. (You can try to win people to your side, of course, but that's not a "recommendation") Recommend an author that maybe doesn't get the front-and-center display at the bookstore, or maybe isn't even sold at Target and Walmart. If you know of some indie-press authors (or really WELL-DONE self-published authors), recommend those.
4. Be careful about mentioning that you are friends with the author. A lot of people take this to mean "I am helping to hock their book because it sucks but I feel obligated to help a friend." Or, alternately, "I want to seem like a big shot." At best you'll get a "I know one of So-and-So's friends. Now I am an expert on So-and-So's books." I've never seen this work out well.
There you have it.
My advice and complaints about book recommendations. What advice do you have and more importantly, do you have a book you'd like to recommend?