December 4, 2017

Penguin Hotline is back for all of your holiday book rec needs


Ho, ho, ho! Merry book-buying Festivus of Saturnalia?! It’s that special time of year where we show affection with material goods, and the greatest material good of all is, of course, a book. You’re going to buy a lot of them this time of year, you want to get the right one for the right person. You could spend hours scanning book jackets till you find the one that’ll have Aunt Martha calling you a month later in a flow of tears, or get your nephew to put down the iPad and start reading.

Finding the right book for a reader unlike yourself can be tough. In your heart of hearts, you wish that you could make everyone love your favorite books—I’ll be giving out some Book of Formation this year for sure—but we’ve all got someone who just stumps us.

There are two options. You can always go to one of the many wonderful, best-in-world indie bookstores and ask any bookseller for a recommendation. They’re well-studied in the art of matching you with the right book. And beginning last week, you can also always try the Penguin Hotline. Now through just before Christmas, the lovely staff of Penguin Random House (PRH) will be on call, as they are every year, to listen to your book-shopping needs and make helpful suggestions.

I tried this last week and was quite satisfied. My biggest annual struggle is a gift for my mother. She’s fond of books like The Shack and Boys in the Boat. She’s also very religious, preferring books about devotion and spiritual practices. I mentioned on the hotline form that I’ve tried giving her The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with no success — she hated them.

Thankfully, Christine at PRH quickly deduced my mother’s reading habits. Among her varied recommendations were the Dalai Lama’s The Book of Joy and Markus Zusak’s bestseller The Book Thief, which my mother has already read. But Christine was on the right track. Her top rec was The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us from New York Times columnist Bruce Feiller, who traveled the Middle East and Europe to find insights into love that the first biblical couple can teach us. Perfect for my mom, gross for me — exactly what I was looking for.

If you’d like to get your own recommendation, just fill out this short form and someone will contact you soon. All told, Christine gave me eight different books to choose from, so one is bound to work. She also made a rec for me, Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic. It’s about a son who learns to appreciate his father through studying Homer with him. I think Christine was being a bit cheeky with that one, but ’tis the season for burying the hatchet, especially if buying a book can help.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.