Why I’m Striking ‘Must Read’ from My Vocabulary {Amanda’s Discussion}

Posted 2 August, 2013 by Amanda / 30 Comments

Why I'm striking must read from my vocabulary

I have a confession: seeing the phrase ‘must read’ attached to a book makes me squishy face at the computer screen.

I don’t believe that any one book must be read.

There are books that are awesome and thought provoking and I’d recommend them to people, but must implies necessity and obligation.

Language is powerful. And how you phrase your thoughts matters.

Here’s why I dislike the phrase ‘must read’:

1. Must overrides personal preferences

A must-read book is like a must-clean room: it doesn’t matter if you want to clean the room or if you like cleaning–you must do it. Using the phrase ‘must read’ sends the same message about a book.

I don’t believe in stuffing books into hands, yelling, “I don’t care you don’t want to read this book, you have to because you will like it! JUST TRUST ME, YOU MUST READ THIS.”

And that’s how the phrase ‘must read’ sounds to me.

2. Must makes it about you, not the person you’re recommending the book to

When you love a book, you want to share it. We’ve all experienced that feeling: the awesome is too much to contain.

But not everyone has the same preferences and likes that you do.

Just because you like a book doesn’t mean everyone else will either. No matter how much you love a book, there will be people who don’t.

But recommendations shouldn’t be about what you liked: recommendations should be about what the person you’re giving the recommendation to likes.

And just because you liked it doesn’t mean everyone should like it too. Life doesn’t work that way.

3. Must forgets that reading books is a highly individual experience

Whenever I see a book is ‘must read’, I instantly discount the recommendation.

Saying a book is ‘must read’ actually says nothing except that you liked the book. And unless I know that our reading preferences align up exactly, that’s not going to be enough to convince me to pick up the book.

I’m much more likely to start off, “If you like this genre and this trope, you might like this book.”

But even then? I don’t use must. I use might, which communicates possibility. I’m asking you to consider my recommendation, not dictating what you need to read.

Because my job is not to tell you what to read. I’m not your teacher.

I read books I want to, talk about what I loved about them, and then I let you make up your own mind.

And that’s why I’m striking ‘must read’ from my vocabulary.

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30 Responses to “Why I’m Striking ‘Must Read’ from My Vocabulary {Amanda’s Discussion}”

  1. YES. All of this. I find that whenever I recommend a book, it’s about the person I’m recommending them to, not my preferences. And the best feeling in the world isn’t recommending my favorite book to someone and them loving it, it’s when I peg the personality just right and pick the book they ultimately end up loving. Obvious I’d love for my friends to love the books I love, but I can’t force that. And when people say: This is a NYTimes Best #1 Seller for the past a million weeks, it means nothing, just that people are buying it – not that people are loving it. ALSO: There’s no one book in the world everyone loves. Not. One. So yeah. YEAH. YOU ARE RIGHT.

    • Yup. Usually if someone asks me for a recommendation, I ask them what they’re looking for. Or at the very least, ask them what they don’t like so I know to avoid it. Otherwise you’re like, “OMG, YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK WITH GIRAFFE SHIFTERS” and they’re like, “I don’t even like giraffes.” And then you pretty much have to not be friends anymore and it gets awkward.

      (Errr…not quite. BUT CLOSE.)

  2. LOL! I hate when that squishy face happens! Just like “Must-Watch TV”, using the phrase “must-read” as advertisement seriously irritates me. I don’t mind it as much when a reader’s excited about a book and they’re proclaiming their love but reading is so subjective that, even if I like every other book a person’s recommended, there’s no guarantee this “must-read” will turn into a winner for me.

    • Yup. Must read is surprisingly subjective. Oft-used marketing tool, too. But I think there are better, more descriptive ways of enticing people to read a book. (And, at the end of the day, people should be able to make up their own minds about what is a must read for them–not have it be dictated to them.)

  3. I think you know my thoughts on Must Read. *frowny face* I must do nothing. Except breathe. And eat occasionally. And dream about #NakedWerewolves. That last one is because my brain is happiest when I think of naked things. *dreamy sigh*

    I was talking about something. Then I thought about #NakedWerewolves. Now I’m in my happy place. I have no urge to leave it.

  4. I stay away from “Must Reads” most of the time. Usually my expectations are set to high and the book is just bound to fail. I have personal must gets but those are more continuation of series that I love. They are always personal to my taste but when someone asks me what book they must read —I always say “it depends on your mood, your taste, and your preference”. I firmly believe that there is not a universal book out there that will work for everyone. Even Mr. Darcy has people that don’t want to hear his love story :)

  5. I totally agree… reading is a very personal thing, and to say there is any book out there that everyone must read is ridiculous. Even when people use “must-read” to mean, even if you don’t enjoy it, it’s still important to read this book because it tackles serious issues or it’s had such an impact on our culture… that’s still rather arrogant. There are many ways to learn about those issues or their importance other than reading one specific book.

    That said, I’m curious what you think about this:

    Thrillers are my go-to genre. Not that I don’t read other things, and not that I love every thriller I come across, but speaking in general terms, they are my favorite books to read.

    One of my personal goals (which I’ve turned into a feature on my blog) is reading through the International Thriller Writers list of 100 “must-read” thrillers. I’m well-aware that I will enjoy some more than others and there may be some on the list I don’t enjoy at all… but again, in general terms, this is a “must-read” list that’s already suited to my taste. (And you could say the same for any genre… I’m sure there are lists of “must-reads” for fantasy fans, for SF fans, etc.)

    So… is it reasonable that I’d want to at least give all these books a chance? Or have I been suckered by advertising?

    • ‘Must read’ is a good marketing phrase, because it implies necessity–that if you haven’t read the books, you’re somehow missing out. It’s the type of phrase with the knee-jerk reaction of “Oh, I gotta read this.” And “Must-Read Thrillers” is a hell of a lot catchier than “Thrillers You Might Enjoy Because Other Thriller Readers Enjoyed Them Too.”

      On a linguistic level, I dislike ‘must read’ because the level of obligation/necessity involved in the word must itself. Must means you HAVE TO. No choice. And I get all squishy face when I don’t have a choice.

  6. Ohhh yes! It’s a small phrase, but a powerful one, and I’ve never really thought about it before (so thank you)! I think for me, a must-read is like a mandatory read for school. Just thinking that you have to read it sucks the fun out of it, because in the end we really all want to have our own choice and power to choose what we read. Plus, it can really make us think this is the book above all books, when really it isn’t. Instead of saying someone must read, say why! That’s all that matters. Then we can look at the individual components of the book to see if it matches the type of books we usually enjoy. Great post!

    • Yes! We want the power of choice! And even though I think a lot of people don’t MEAN must in a mandatory way, it’s the actual definition of the word. So people may be interpreting ‘must read’ differently than what we mean, and that’s… not good.

      I’m a big fan of saying why instead of using ‘must read’. :)

  7. Agree totally. I think of the phrase ‘Must Read’ more as a marketing term than a suggestion for me to read it. I’m probably guilty of telling someone that I read a book that they really have to read, but then it’s because it’s a genre that I know that they will like or an author that they are familiar with. I’d much rather hear from someone why they liked the book in question than have them tell me that I need to read it. There are dozens of books that I have fallen in love with this year alone, yet there is not one on that list that I would recommend to everyone I know. I’d much rather just wax poetic about the books I love and entice readers that way.
    Great discussion topic ;)

  8. Reading and reviewing are both highly subjective activities. I hate confrontation of any kind so I’ve always used qualifiers in my reviews. I try really hard to indicate that even though I’ve loved a book not everyone will. The last thing I want is for someone to pick up a book with ridiculously high expectations that I set and then hate the books.

    I know that I’ve used “must read!” in reviews before but it is one phrase that I’ve started to shy away from.

  9. I use “must-read” for myself. Meaning, there are a few authors for me who ARE must-reads. Anything they put out, I’ll read (Ellen Hopkins, J.K. Rowling, and maybe one or two more). And for the two people in the world who’s reading “tastes” I know backwards and forwards – my sister, and my best friend – just because I know what they read, I know what they like. So every once in a while I’ll text one or the other and say, “This book is a MUST for you!” Not saying they have to read it RIGHT NOW, or even in the immediate future, just meaning that they should read it.

      • I prefer not even using ‘must read’ for myself. It goes back to it being an obligation. If it’s an obligation, then it’s not as fun. It becomes a chore because I *have to* do it.

        This is also why I generally don’t do review requests anymore and never really have. But I think I’m mostly alone in that. >.<

        • Yeah, I guess it’s all about perception. I don’t FORCE myself to read them, but they’re books that I want to at least TRY. If I don’t read them, no big deal. Example, J.K. Rowling’s Casual Vacancy. She’s on my MUST-read list, so I tried it. Read about 20 pages, got bored, put it down. But I think, going back to feeling pressured, if someone else told me that it was a must-read, I would feel that way too.

          • And a big part of my problem is that I’m a bit more sensitive to literal word meanings, so even though many people don’t mean it’s MUST READ when they use it, it still sounds like what I wrote in #1 to me.

  10. I don’t think I even use “must read” for myself. There are book that I really want to read, when I get to them. But I don’t HAVE to read anything.

    When I’m recommending books to people, I always ask them what type of books they like, then will list off any in that genre that I liked, and will tell them that I liked those certain books, if they want to pick from them.

    There are no books that one must read, other than those for school. But that generally ends in people hating reading if they feel forced to read something they don’t like.

    Great topic!

  11. As soon as I read the tag line, I *face palmed*. I’ve probably used “must read” a ton (though not as much as most). But it is very apparent, the thinking is wrong. Nothing is a must read. And when I see that very statement, I think “ya, sure”.

  12. I’ve stopped myself from frantically screaming, “I must add this to my TBR list!” It’s a lie. My TBR list is a lie. It’s so out of control that it’s not even useful. Hence, I’ve tried to stop.

    Anyways, I have the same feelings about both of these. The constant yays about books makes it all a little unbearable. Well #firstworldproblems.

  13. I tend to tell people that I’m a book snob but what I really mean is voiced perfectly in this post. If you tell me it’s a must read, as is the case with a lot of best sellers and the current ‘it’ books I do t want to read it. I’ll get around to it, but I rather decided for myself if the book is worth the hype.

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