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November 15, 2010 2:14 PM   Subscribe

How can I figure out my boyfriend's favorite books without directly asking him -- or at least letting him know what I'm up to?

So I have a present I may get my boyfriend for Christmas that involves knowing what his favorite books are. I can make a fairly educated guess. But he's also been a pretty voracious reader - especially before we moved in together (it's one of the first things I loved about him; therefore, the present), so while I know books we've talked about, and some books I know were important to him, I'd like to get a more accurate list from his perspective

So, I can ask him, of course. But though we talk about books and reading all the time casually, asking him flat out just seems weird or obvious. So any thoughts on how I could mine this information without spilling the beans?
posted by MCMikeNamara to Grab Bag (20 answers total)
Get a friend who is going on vacation to ask him for book recommendations?
posted by lakeroon at 2:17 PM on November 15, 2010

If he has a large home library, take a couple of books off the shelf saying that you're looking for something to read, and which one did he like better. This will work best if he's the talkative sort and would be prone to saying, "well, I really liked such-and-such by so-and-so, but I think so-and-so's other book [pulls it from shelf] is better."
posted by phunniemee at 2:20 PM on November 15, 2010

Could you make a big deal about both of you signing up for one of those social list-all-your-favorite-books sites, like LibraryThing? Then hack into his account and read through his list when he's not around.
posted by Bardolph at 2:20 PM on November 15, 2010

Does he have an Amazon Wish List? If so, you can search for his name here.
posted by ericb at 2:22 PM on November 15, 2010

Seconding ericb's suggestion. I would even go as far as asking him to fill one out if he doesn't already have one so you can see what he wants and to buy it without him knowing it.
posted by deezil at 2:42 PM on November 15, 2010

As someone who reads a lot and owns a great deal of books, I would caution against relying too heavily on what he recommends to others. Often times, I'll recommend books that I think a person will like based on what I know of their tastes, rather than just a book I loved myself. I don't know if your boyfriend is similar, but it's something to consider.

But though we talk about books and reading all the time casually, asking him flat out just seems weird or obvious.

I think playing a "desert island" game ("If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only have 5 books with you, what would they be?") or a similar game ("Top 10 Favorite _______ Books"), would work well. You're not directly asking him, it's fairly common and casual, and I know that questions of that sort force me to really narrow down my true personal favorites, rather than just books I'm really into at a certain time. You can always play it when you're waiting in line for something, to make it seem that much more impromptu.
posted by fryman at 2:47 PM on November 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Get a friend to tag him in one of those facebook posts where you list your top 15 books?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:48 PM on November 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

FWIW, I have no idea what present you are planning based on what his favorite books are, so I think you can probably just ask, in a low key way, and he won't know what the purpose is. You don't have to interview him about it, just bring it up in casual conversation - like talk about a book you know he likes and extend it into "so is [x] your favorite book ever, do you think?"

How many "favorite books" are you hoping to get, by the way? And of which kind... recent reads, life moments, would recommend to others, classics... favorite books can fall into a lot of categories...
posted by mdn at 2:55 PM on November 15, 2010

Pull out one of YOUR favorite books, tell him it's great, and ask him if he wants to read it. If he says yes, and starts to read it a few days later, you can ask him if that's the kind of book he likes, or what. If he says yes and doesn't pick it up in a few days, you can ask him if he's going to read it, or if it isn't his kind of book -- and if not, what is. If he says no, you can ask him what kind of books he likes to read.
posted by davejay at 3:05 PM on November 15, 2010

Oh, this is easier: "hey, I'm going to go to the library while you're at [whatever] tomorrow, do you have any books you want me to see if they have?"
posted by davejay at 3:06 PM on November 15, 2010

Are these are favorite books that he's already read / may already own? Does he keep them in a separate place that maybe you can secretly peek at? Because I have tons and tons of books, but I keep my very favorites grouped together and actually on shelves, as opposed to in boxes or in stacks in the corner of my room.
posted by alynnk at 3:22 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can always check out his collection, looking for thumb worn books, book that naturally split open to oft read pages etc.
posted by Max Power at 3:44 PM on November 15, 2010

Kind of the same idea as alynnk's comment, but are any of his books more, uh, loved than others? I just went through our shelf, and you can tell our favorite books by spine and cover wear.

Doesn't really work if he favors hardcovers, though.
posted by charmcityblues at 3:45 PM on November 15, 2010

I really don't think asking his favorite books would be a weird or obvious question. It seems like that kind of question comes up pretty naturally when talking about books/movies/music/etc... I certainly wouldn't think someone was planning to get me a present if they asked. Especially in the context of a conversation about books.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:20 PM on November 15, 2010

What are your favorite books of all time seems like a pretty generic dating type of question. It wouldn't be at all obvious to me that you were fishing for gift ideas. I think you're over-thinking this. Just ask him.
posted by willnot at 5:20 PM on November 15, 2010

You could just ask him what his favorite books are.

I know, I know, but bear with me. If my wife asked me what my favorite books are, I'd tell her. I might suspect that she had some ulterior motive or something, but I wouldn't know what it was. Getting a signed first edition of one of them (good luck)? Lunch with the author? A puppy named after the main character? No clue. Obviously there is some sort of surprise coming, but it's not clear what.

Your boyfriend might be in the same place. You ask, he wonders why on earth you need to know, and he tells you.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:45 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sign up for Goodreads, and try to get him to do it too?
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:30 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd probably try some sort of "just curious" conversational thing. "I'm excited; i just started reading XYZ again... that's one of my favorites ever... really looking forward to it. Though maybe it's not my favorite favorite...hmm. What about you, what are your most favorite books?"
posted by salvia at 11:59 PM on November 15, 2010

You need an accomplice. At a dinner party/brunch/barcrawl/anything, have a good friend say, "Hey, MCMikeNamara's Boyfriend, MCMikeNamara said you're quite the reader, and I've been looking for some good books. What do you recommend?"

This worked on me, at least. They even worked, "Who are your top five authors?" into the conversation.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:18 AM on November 16, 2010

Pick the books that looks like they were read most recently.
Go to Amazon.
Type in book's name.
Scroll down to the 'People who bought this already bought...' section.
Examine and brainstorm.
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:14 AM on November 16, 2010

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