It's not often that someone around me raises a bookish topic of discussion, but yesterday a question arose, one that got me thinking quite a bit. I was asked regarding an article that explained that when a bookstore has a list of "recommended reads", the books are not necessarily really recommended by the staff, that often these are simply books that publishers want to push. The well-read questioner was surprised by this and wanted to know if this was something well known.
My answer was, somewhat sadly, yes.
Publishers have their own reasoning behind what books they decide to massively publicize. I'm never going to be able to comment on what decisions are behind this but I can point out what I have noticed myself in this wide world. Look at Amazon's monthly recommended reads. Vine Members will easily be able to identify a large number of the books they were offered last month suddenly pumped and marketed as that month's "recommended reads". Really? Does staff at Amazon.com really think that these books are worth reading, or is it simply worth it for them to sell them?
One also notices rather quickly how sometimes rather well-established titles (by a few months) can make the lists. Why? Because the book has suddenly become popular (or has won an award) and is now worthy of being massively publicized. Recommended? Very possibly. Necessarily really the staff's recommended pick as best book of the month? No.
The original question posed to me was one born of innocence. When one is unaware of such publisher techniques, it's easy to believe that these are truly the "best" books. Imagine - most of us don't know a lot of things about the products we buy. The same can be said of the book industry. It's somewhat disturbing to learn for the first time that the books you buy based on bookstore (online or real, indie or giant) recommendations are mostly fueled by book exposure and publisher pushes.
Does this mean we stop paying attention to recommended reads? I don't think so. Good books make it to these lists. That's a fact. Not always, but sometimes. The lesson to be learned, though, is to take so-called "recommendations" with a grain of salt. Perhaps even several.