Meagan’s Musings/Meagan Stilp

People ask me for book recommendations a lot. I understand it – I majored in English at UW-Madison and since I was a kid I’ve always carried a book with me, regardless of where I’m going. That never went over well on the way to church. I generally go through a book a week, depending on length, complexity and whatever else is going on in my life. I will read selections from any genre, although my knowledge of poetry is pretty much limited to what I was forced to read in college. You might think this would make it easy to find a book for the inquisitive reader.

You would be wrong.

I just had a good friend and almost equally avid reader strongly recommend a book to me. I am about 75 percent finished with it. I am not all that impressed. Which just goes to show that books are fickle friends, and what works for me might not work for everyone.

As the holidays approach, these referral requests are becoming more frequent. I rarely buy books as gifts unless I am absolutely certain that only a cretin would dislike the tome, especially since it seems silly to ask the recipient what book they would like. But sometimes I try.

There are multiple factors to consider when recommending a book to someone. Although genre might seem like the most important, it ranks near the bottom of my list.

The first consideration I take into account is reading level – it’s not just for school children. Although I am sure many people are capable of reading higher complexity books, sometimes – now that I am out of school maybe most times – I just want to be entertained. One summer I slogged my way through James Joyce’s “Ulysses” with a figurative machete, finishing only out of spite. I don’t usually want to do that. In college, I had to memorize six Shakespeare plays in one semester. I have since avoided the Bard.

So the first thing I think about when gifting or ask when recommending is how intense of a read is the person looking for? My rough scale moves from the classic beach book – Janet Evanovich anyone? – to grab-that-machete painful.

Reading level is but the first factor of intensity. It also includes how heavy the plot is. I can recommend books that are incredibly suspenseful, books with a lot of action or violence and books that are mostly happy. I would not, for example, recommend a book about children hunting and killing one another to everyone, even though “The Hunger Games” is one of my favorite books. It all depends on what kind of experience the reader is looking for.

Intensity also relates to subject matter. An imaginary war can be much less painful to read about that the effects – even if they are fictional – of a real war.

Once I’ve narrowed down the intensity factors, I turn my focus to genre. I read non-fiction almost exclusively, so personal recommendations or gifts are always under that umbrella genre. Then, of course, there are a myriad of choices ranging from historical fiction to mystery to fantasy and many more in between. I then select a list of five or so recommendations and hope for the best.

For gift giving, I have found that novelty books on a subject of interest are usually a good choice. I also give out my favorite books from the past year or so, which, this year at least, center around fantasy novels. For fans of “The Hunger Games,” the Divergent trilogy by Veronica – which will be adapted for the big screen in 2014 – or the Maze Runner series – also recently picked up for a film – are good choices. “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss or “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch could work for readers looking for longer, more in-depth books.

Sometimes, however, someone on my list refuses to fit into my criteria and I am left as clueless and puzzled as I was before looking at what his or her preferences. In that case, I fall back on my favorite choose-your-own adventure gift.

A gift card.