Richard was one of my best friends in 6th and 7th grades. We fell out over a retrospectively trivial incident as we began high school and remained on distant, though polite, terms for several years. However, this changed at the beginning of senior year. One day I asked Richard to recommend to me a book (ever since we watched The OC season three finale together, I had respected his taste). He suggested The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It only took me three days to read the book, and during that time our friendship was reignited. We finally had something to talk about again, and we did so constantly.
Our shared experience of reading made me remember that Richard and I loved so many of the same things, and it suddenly felt strange that such tension ever existed. I found it surprising that a book about classics students at a small liberal arts college could do for our friendship what chatting in the school dining-hall and at parties could not. I think this was the first time a book recommendation affected me in a way that went beyond the actual characters and story. The thought that sharing things I loved with others could really have an effect on them was quite invigorating.
From a cynical perspective, part of why I enjoyed this process was because we both loved this book so much that it subconsciously confirmed our ‘good’ tastes. Although now much of my motivation for recommending is to share an enjoyable experience, it is always satisfying if someone is pleasantly surprised by your recommendation. No matter how highly regarded a book is, it always takes me a few chapters to commit to it. So, when something that person associates with me surpasses their initial skepticism, I naturally feel a sense of worth.
As well as helping to re-forge an old friendship, I have also discovered that book recommendations can stimulate a new one. Last January, a girl called Olivia started dating one of my best friends. The first couple of times that I met her I judged her, because she was an incredibly pretty blonde who was drunkenly hooking up with my friend.
Yet one night, as we were on the bus home together, she started lecturing me about Cormac McCarthy. At the time I thought he was a wild-west crime writer because I had seen him on my father’s bookshelf and there was a cowboy on the cover. A few weeks later I decided to read Blood Meridian and absolutely loved it. I suddenly felt rather foolish that I had dismissed Olivia as merely a hard-partying hooker-upper.
Since then, we have regularly exchanged our favorite books. This has allowed me to establish a close friendship with Olivia outside of the context of her relationship with my friend. Usually, after my friends split with their girlfriends, it becomes painfully clear that most of what I had in common with these girls was the fact that they were dating my friend. Olivia’s relationship with my friend is now over, yet we are closer than ever. It would be wrong to argue that books themselves can provide the sole basis for a friendship, but in this case it allowed my friendship with Olivia to reach an unexpected level.
These experiences have made me realize that the significance a recommendation can have is not exclusively linked to how much it is enjoyed. Olivia hated One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of my favorite books, but still appreciated that I wanted to share something I loved with her. Although I initially found it disappointing when Olivia told me that she had not enjoyed the book, this made me more aware of the nature of this kind of interaction as a whole. Through understanding what differentiated our tastes, I was able to identify my own more clearly. When you recommend a book that has really affected you, you are letting someone into your mind. This important part of you is now shared. Sometimes this might be embarrassing, but if you really respect someone, this should not matter.
In spite of the intimacy I was developing with Olivia, I never recommended The Perks of Being a Wallflower to her, even though during high school it was the coming-of-age novel that affected me most. I now realize I am embarrassed to show her how much I related to this book about teen anxiety and platonic friendships. Even though I felt the book-exchanging process could contribute to the intimacy of our friendship, I was still conscious not to give the wrong impression. I was afraid that after reading the book, she might think I had such feelings for her, as she knew it changed my perception on certain aspects of life, particularly romantic ones. This process has taught me multiple things about myself. In this case, I learned that self-consciousness is a part of my character that will not change.
I guess the pleasant repercussions of recommending books should not be astonishing, considering how strongly we feel about our favorite books anyway. The process is an indirect way of telling someone something important about you and sometimes it is easier to do this through the words of a great writer than through your own.