Social Graces: Do you tell someone you don’t like the book they gave you?

What? You didn’t like the book I gave you?

I came across an article in the Chicago Tribune recently that dealt with the social etiquette of what to do if you don’t like a book that someone has given you. The question is: “Your father-in-law gives you a novel to read and keeps asking how you liked it. You hated it. Is honesty the best policy? Especially since you know he has a gaggle of other books by the same writer?”

Several answers to this awkward situation were posted, including one I found especially interesting, which was “But if my father-in-law gave me a book I thought was just awful, I would use this as an opportunity to open up a conversation with him. I’d find at least something about the book that I could appreciate — perhaps the sense of place the author captured or a particular character I found interesting. I’d ask my father-in-law what really captivated him in the story.” This is definitely easier than saying, “I wasn’t that thrilled with it,” and instead, creates an opportunity for a conversation where you can focus less on the book and more on the other person. Of course, depending on your relationship with the person who gave you the book, perhaps you’d rather keep it short and sweet — but never forget to say thank you.

Any helpful hints on what to say in this situation?


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2 Responses to Social Graces: Do you tell someone you don’t like the book they gave you?

  1. Rumyana Hristova says:

    I would say giving a positive feedback is not “definitely easier” than giving a negative one in such situation. On the contrary, it takes quite a bit of a self-control and effort to resist the immediate negative reaction, to pause, and come up with something positive while keeping the focus on the person rather than on the book.


    • Thanks for commenting! I agree that giving positive feedback isn’t definitely easier than giving negative feedback. What I was mentioning was that I think it’s easier to say something that opens up a conversation about the book (like one of the comments to the original article mentioned), than to just say “I didn’t like it,” which can close off any discussion. Personally, I sometimes say “It wasn’t my kind of book, but I’m interested to hear why you enjoyed it,” because maybe the other person will point out something I missed about the book, or something I hadn’t thought of.

      I like how you say that it can take some self-control to come up with a way to focus on the person, rather than the book. 🙂


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