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The Curious Case of “If You Like X, Then Read Y” Lists

I always find lists where books are recommended based on a visual work to be a curiosity. I’ve read many of these lists over the years and have gotten a few good suggestions that way, but they often fall flat for me. While I think that’s possible with any sort of recommendation, it seems especially common with lists suggesting books based on liking works from other mediums.

Why is that?

I don’t think it’s the fault of the person making the recommendation, but rather the nature of the list itself.

Sometimes these kinds of lists work very well. I find they can be effective when the work in question is already an adaptation of a book, such as Game of Thrones or even a graphic novel like The Walking Dead. They can even work with something that has heavy influences from written works, such as Stranger Things being said to have been inspired in part by the works of Stephen King.

But I think the difficulty of recommending a book based on a visual work is that you are losing a dimension in the transition between mediums. Sure, there are many phenomenal and well-developed fantasy series you could recommend to someone who might be tearing their hair out over the release date for Winds of Winter, but what about someone who watched the Game of Thrones TV series, especially if they did so for reasons other than plot? If they liked the intrigue or the characters, those are other leads you could use to guide them to a series with similar ideas, but what if their attraction to the series was purely visual? What if they liked the kinetic way the battles play out or even the beauty of the actors?

Or what about lists recommending books based on certain games? Again, recommending based on plot or even books that serve to expand the universe can work, but what about someone who enjoyed a game solely for the gameplay mechanics or visual aesthetic? Remember what happened when the Super Mario Bros. games got adapted and someone seemed to think they were beloved for their political intrigue?

This leads to the biggest misunderstanding I see in these types of lists, and that’s tone. If we were talking about movies alone, and you recommended Netflix’s The Babysitter to me based on my childhood enjoyment of Adventures in Babysitting, that might not work, if my enjoyment of the film was its light and fun tone, rather than just the fact that both feature babysitters.

I think that’s the key difference between a good recommendation and a bad one, especially when crossing mediums. Do you understand why your audience loves the work in question? Can you take the time to recommend based on those reasons or, better yet, try and appeal to multiple facets of the work in question?

While you’ll never please or appeal to everyone, I think if people making these lists can do so, they’ll be making more effective recommendations. And I and my “Want to Read” queue will be eternally grateful for that.

What do you think? What are some of the best – and worst – recommendations you’ve received?

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