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.