There’s something intimate about a book recommendation. When a book speaks to your soul somehow, you really want to share it—and to see that it speaks equally to someone else’s. Even for professional book recommenders, there’s something intensely gratifying about a successful connection of book to reader. Readers who take your recommendation are committing time and possibly money because they trust you, and a failed recommendation is at some level a betrayal of that trust.
When I was a librarian, if I found a stack of books left neatly on a table, I knew I had failed to make that connection with a kid. It was really disheartening. It meant I’d read that kid wrong, and it would be twice as hard to make a successful connection the next time. Making a successful recommendation, on the other hand, meant the beginning of a relationship, and just because I was an adult and they were kids and just because the relationship centered on books didn’t mean it was any less real.
Fourteen years ago I gambled on one of those relationships. I had just bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I knew that it would take off if I placed it with just the right reader. I chose an eighth-grade boy who amiably read the books I recommended to him. He took Harry home and read it in one night, returning to declare it was the best book he’d ever read.
Most of those relationships ended pretty naturally when a kid moved away or went off to college. Then I left the library and began this job, removing me from the setting that began them all. Every once in a while, I’ll see one of those kids, all grown up. Usually they recognize me, because all that’s different about me is a few extra gray hairs, but I am clueless about this new, tall adult in my life. Initial confusion over, we chat, smile and move on.
But recently I bumped into my eighth-grade Harry Potter reader when our respective families found ourselves waiting to be seated at the same restaurant over the holidays. Of course I recognized his mother (no extra gray hairs) and not him and his now-taller little brother, but once we got that sorted out, we caught up. He’s living in LA, working in television and editing a comic book; his little brother has just graduated from college and is working on a book. I introduced him to my family as the first Harry Potter reader in my library, and he smiled graciously, being far too polite to roll his eyes as he had every right to.
We were seated at our separate tables and proceeded to enjoy our separate dinners, but as he left, he leaned over to me and said, “Read The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s Harry Potter for adults.”
Now The Name of the Wind is a 661-page long brick and has absolutely nothing to do with any of my professional reading obligations: It’s for grown-ups, and it was published in 2007. But this was a recommendation from this grown-up eighth-grade boy’s soul, reaching across roles and generations to rekindle a relationship that had, appropriately, gone dormant. Did I read it? You bet I did. Did I love it? Yup.
Thanks for the recommendation.
Vicky Smith is the Children's & Teen Editor at Kirkus Reviews.