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How to Respond to "Recommend a Good Book to Me" on a College Interview

"Recommend a Good Book to Me."
The question can come in many different forms: "What's the last book you read?"; "Tell me about a good book you've read recently"; "What's your favorite book? Why?"; "What types of books do you like to read?"; "Tell me about a good book you read for pleasure."

Whatever the form of the question, the interviewer is trying to learn a few things by asking about your reading habits and book preferences:

  • Do you read for pleasure. Active readers are people who are intellectually curious. They are also people who are likely to have better reading comprehension and writing skills than non-readers. Students who read a lot in high school are more likely to succeed in college than students who don't.
  • Do you know how to talk about books. A lot of your college course work will involve discussing and writing about what you have read. This interview question helps figure out if you are up for the challenge.
  • Your interests. You are likely to get asked about your interests and passions in another interview question, but books are one more way to approach the topic. If you have a love of novels about Cold War espionage, that information helps the interviewer get to know you better.
  • A book recommendation. An interview is a two-way conversation, and your interviewer may actually want to learn about some good books he or she isn't familiar with.
Don't try to second guess this question too much by recommending a book simply because it has historical or cultural significance.

You'll sound insincere if you state that Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is your favorite book when in truth your much prefer Stephen King novels. Nearly any work of fiction or nonfiction can work for this question as long as you have things to say about it and it is at an appropriate reading-level for a college-bound student.
There are, however, a few types of works that might be weaker choices than others. In general, avoid works such as these:
  • Works that were obviously assigned in class. Part of this question is to see what you read outside of class. If you name To Kill a Mockingbird or Hamlet, you'll sound as if you've never read anything but assigned books.
  • Juvenile fiction. You don't need to hide your love of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Redwall books, but these works are also loved by kids much younger than you. You'd do better to recommend a book that is more in line with a college-level reader.
  • Works chosen simply to impress. James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake isn't anyone's favorite book, and you'll sound insincere if you recommend a challenging book in an effort to make yourself look smart.
The issue gets a little more fuzzy with works like Harry Potter and Twilight. Certainly plenty of adults (like me) devoured all of the Harry Potter books, and you'll even find college courses on Harry Potter. You certainly don't need to hide the fact that you were addicted to popular series such as these. That said, so many people love these books (including much younger readers) that they make for a rather predictable and uninteresting answer to the interviewer's question.
So what is the ideal book? Try to come up with something that fits these general guidelines:
  • Pick a book that you sincerely love and that you are comfortable talking about.
  • Pick a book with enough substance to it so that you can explain why you like the book.
  • Pick a book that is at an appropriate reading level; something that is a huge hit among fourth-graders is probably not your best choice.
  • Pick a book that gives the interviewer a window into your interests and passions.

This last point is important -- the interviewer wants to get to know you better. This interview question isn't so much about the book you choose as it is about you. Make sure you are able to articulate why you are recommending the book. Why did the book speak to you more than other books? What about the book did you find so compelling? How did the book engage issues that you are passionate about? How did the book open your mind or create new understanding?

Help out other prospective college students: Do you have a book that you enjoyed reading that would lend itself well to discussion during a college interview? If so, share your recommendation with other readers.

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