Finding Brilliant Book Recommendations in the Real World

A couple of weeks ago someone asked me where I got my best book recommendations from outside of the internet. Initially I was slightly stumped by this because surprise, surprise online tends to be where I hear most of the chatter, along with some of the shouting which is beginning to grate, about marvellous books be it from publishers, other bloggers (admittedly I don’t read as many blogs as I would like and have a group of five or six I visit regularly, which I might talk about in due course) and other book lovers tweeting from the rooftops about great books. Offline is a trickier beast and after watching my new spending habits (for I am back buying books in a big way thanks to my new job) recently I discovered in the last few weeks it is through three main channels…

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1. Friends, select ones.

You might think that everyone I know is bonkers about books, you would we wrong. In actual fact most of my friends are either lovely ladies in Liverpool or beardy boys who like picking up other beardy boys more than picking up a good book. However within these groups and with a select few in London there are some true book nerds that I trust BUT only a handful. Polly, Eric, Catherine, Kerry, Simon, Gavin, Kim, Kate, Rob, Uli and Nina you all know you are indeed these folk. Yet I don’t buy everything that they recommend, it takes an almost squeal/squee like moment of bookish joy to get me to purchase something. This did happen just two weeks ago when staying with Catherine Hall and she raved and raved about a book I had never heard of, Ben Byrne’s Fire Flowers, to the point where when I fell in Foyles later that day I had to find it and buy it – and lucky me it was a signed copy so felt like fate

2. Bookshops, select ones.

This sounds really obvious but the best place in the world to find books that aren’t libraries are bookshops. When I am less flush a library is the ideal place, though the titles tend to be more obvious (though the same could be said for some lazy bookshops) in these to reach the reading mass market. However when I am better off nothing beats a good mooch around a bookshop. I say mooch because, and here I might sound like a right wally but hey ho, I tend to move away from the charts as I want something a bit different. Staff recommendation sections are brilliant for this, and also a really good way of judging a bookshop. Ha! I had never heard of Anne Garreta’s Sphinx (all about the fluidity of sexuality and sounds brilliantly quirky) or the publisher Deep Vellum Publishing but having been to Foyles a lot of late (because I seem to be in London every week at the mo for a day or two, which is nice if train tiring) I have my sights on getting many more of.

3. Random Chats, select ones.

I always find it fascinating and delightful when you strike up a conversation that leads to someone waxing lyrical about a book or author when you least expect it. This can happen here, there and everywhere. You could be anywhere and the conversation starts on something else and then you are somehow chatting about books. (I remember having a very long and lovely conversation about Toni Morrison on a train journey to Manchester from London.) This happened most recently when I was booking a work trip, to Stylist Live, with my boss and we saw Nina Stibbe was going to be on. My boss loves her and enthused about her so much I wanted to read both Nina’s books right there and then, as it was I forgot them both and bought Love Nina on the day to be signed. I love those random moments. I will judge my boss on the book though, that always happens on these random recommendations – though to be fair I think I am going to love, erm, Love Nina as I love the premise and the author is ruddy lovely too (it shouldn’t matter but it does!)

So those are how I find my best recommendations outside the interweb, selectively. I mean come on, who doesn’t love a book recommendation that is enthused, passionate and a little bit different? It is how I hope I am with books and is lovely when you find something a bit off the tracks. What about all of you, where do you get your best bookish recommendations in the real world?

14 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

14 responses to “Finding Brilliant Book Recommendations in the Real World

  1. I have two main sources of real life recommendations: the wonderful Wallingford Bookshop (in, er, Wallingford) and a clique of SFF readers in the office (John, Kerry, John and Jason) who have put me onto some good things (eg Scarlett Thomas). While it’s fun chasing down something you head about online, it doesn’t come close someone actually pressing a book into your hand…

  2. Real life I like lrb always find translated gems in there great publisher deep vellum

  3. Andrew Cole

    Amongst podcasts yours has given me this year ‘proof of love’ which I loved and ‘Alex’ similarly and I also discovered James Smythe. I also trust _ books on the nightstand, and adventures with words. Also new one the crime vault hosted by Mark Billingham is very good.
    The blogs Mrs Peabody investigates, and A year of reading the world.
    Radio 4 of course with The book programme and A good read.
    Oldham library, local to my workplace is somewhere I easily get lost in at lunchtime.
    My physical book group.
    Finally somewhat oddly other books that reference novels, last year I read a Val Macdermid in which Tony Hill wanders around a victims home and references several crime writers whose books I then read.

  4. I’m the same – a few select friends who have similar reading tastes (and it really is just two or three people in that group…). My local independent bookshop puts out a monthly newspaper filled with reviews from their staff and authors – I look forward to getting it and sit down with pen poised, circling all the books I want to read.

  5. Alex

    Little the same here, very select few friends who read, then its podcasts, Friends on librarything, & visits to Unity books or Timeout Books (Both in Auckland NZ before you ask) though do wish we had physical book store that had a good selection of books in the SF range

  6. I’m lucky (and arguably so are they!) that my local indie bookshop and I are on the same wavelength, but also I still read print reviews and have my book group to inspire me too.

  7. dirtmother

    Libraries. Not just for people who don’t have the money to buy books. But people who do have the money to buy books really need to keep using them for the sake of people who don’t have the money to buy books (especially children)
    My library monthly book café works really well for book recommendations as we have a theme rather than a set book. The library also have a ‘Book of the Day/Month’ on display (which you can take… conveniently right next to the checkout machine), and a ‘new acquisitions’ shelf.
    I agree about Radio 4 piquing the interest too.
    And then there’s Bookcrossing, finding an actual wild book.

  8. Nice article. My book sources are largely the same as yours but I would add Radio4 and BBC4 where there are great book clubs, shows about books and documentaries about authors. Some of my best reads in the past few years have come from these.

  9. bookshops, lrb, publisher’s Facebook and blogs like yours and Kim, and I didn’t like Love.Nina at all.🙂

  10. Great piece Simon! You’re in for a treat with Love, Nina. I adored it! Was very nostalgic for me as it’s where I grew up.

  11. It is very difficult when you are a French girl living in the country. There is the net but almost no “real” discussion, comments,and recommendations. When I was living in Paris, I went browsing the American Library and, of course bookshops. Then, I went abroad frequently and met people. Very different. Today, I read newspapers and magazines and have to rely on the book shelves of the house. Thank God, there is plenty to read in English as well as in French (ad other languages), but they are not recent books. And I foollow your blog…🙂

  12. Kristen M.

    Definitely the staff recommendations at my local independent bookstore — although they tend to be books that I’ve already read!

  13. Tree Hedstrom

    From you.

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