Help others help you: asking for book suggestions.

You’d think being a librarian would make book suggestions easier. At least for me, though, it makes them more complicated – I am very aware of just how many books there are out there, and how they might be great books for one kind of approach, but not so useful for something else. (You can see some more discussion of this over here.)

I also end up wanting to ask all sorts of questions. On forums or in person, this is easy: I can ask. It’s a little trickier when it’s a one-time request in email. (Plus, asking takes a lot of back and forth, sometimes.) So, here,have a page of some things that will help people give you better book and reading suggestions.

First, this assumes you have some idea what you’re interested in.

If you’re totally brand new to Paganism, and don’t even know anything about it, I’d suggest starting with a little online reading:

Three possible places to start (no one source is ever perfect!)

Once you start to get your bearings, you can move on to the rest of this list.

What do you know so far?

I’ll recommend really different books to someone who’s brand new than to someone who’s been reading and talking to people for a year. Give me some idea of your background.

  • What particular Pagan religions are you most interested in?
  • How have you learned about them so far?
  • What books have you read already? You don’t need to list all of them (especially if you’ve read more than 5-10). Pick the ones that most resonated with you.
  • What did you think of them? A sentence or two is great – whether you found them useful, or confusing, and a little bit of why can help a lot with other suggestions.
  • Are there websites or online sources you’ve found particularly useful?
  • Again, what did you think about them?
  • Are there books or sources you really found not useful? Why? Don’t go on a big long rant – just let people know briefly (you found terms confusing, or didn’t like their approach confusing, or whatever.)

What do you want to know?

Often, what you’ve already read or learned is only one part of the picture – you might want to focus somewhere totally different now.

  • Do you feel drawn in a particular direction? What is that?
  • Do you have specific questions you’re trying to answer? What are they?
  • Do you want information focused on solitary practice, or are you interested in finding a group?
  • Do you have questions about the quality of the information you’ve found?

Who are you asking?

I do actually have friends from a number of Pagan paths, and I know a fair bit about some general resources for most better known paths. But, by and large, books about other paths are not on my bookshelves. I’m going to have less specific resources and suggestions than someone on the same type of path.

Likewise, while I have a personal religious practice, a lot of my time and training is in a group setting, and in an initiatory and mystery-focused tradition (but one, at the same time, that is not British Traditional Wicca, though heavily influenced by it) I certainly have suggestions for related paths or practices – but you might want to go ask someone who is doing even more of the same things as you’re doing.

  • Why are you asking this particular person (or if online, in a particular forum)?
  • What’s their background? Are they familiar with the path you’re interested in? Are they the best source you know of to ask about that path?
  • Have they made other suggestions you find useful? Or have an approach you want to learn more about?

If you don’t have good answers to these questions, consider asking somewhere else.

Ask why people suggest a book. I try to do this briefly.

For example, when I recommend Deborah Lipp’s Elements of Ritual (which I do a fair amount), I say that I don’t agree with all of her conclusions, but that I think it’s a great book for getting you thinking about different ways things might work, and that she does a good job of showing how to adapt ritual steps to different situations.

This lets the reader know why I’m suggesting it – and also opens up possible discussion (which things I disagree with, and why), without getting into too many complicated details right away (that probably won’t make sense unless you’ve read the book.)

Finally, be sure to let people know if you have any unusual limits

For example, if you are completely unable to buy books, tell people that – so they know to suggest online resources. If you can only afford one or two in the next few months, say so – people can then suggest the books that will be the greatest benefit for your money.

If you’re relying on your local library, I sometimes ask people what their library system is (if it’s not overly identifying of where they live: I don’t want to invade someone’s privacy, but both county-wide systems and city ones cover a lot of people!) Since so many library catalogs are online these days, it’s relatively easy for me to look and see which books they should have easier access to.

Some examples of possible answers

(these are given just to give you an idea how simple your answers might be. I don’t mention specific titles here, obviously, fill those in…)

“I’ve read this webpage, and that one, and now I’d like something that talks about what people actually do, and how I can start celebrating the Sabbats quietly at home.” means I can focus on resources that talk about the Sabbats and personal practice.

“I’ve read a couple of books, but I’m really frustrated by the fact that these books don’t really talk about why we do things this way.” – this would be a good hint for me to suggest books that focus on why rather than ones that talk about how.

“But what do we *believe* – all these books are about practices!” would be a good time to talk about practice-based religions (like Wicca) versus belief-based religions (like Christianity), and how you go on from there, and then to suggest books that talk more about this difference, or that help someone understand the practices so they make more sense.

“I’ve read this book and that book, but they use confusing words.” might be solved if I work through specific terms with someone – or suggest a source with a good glossary. I might also ask if someone has dyslexia or something else that makes reading hard for them, and suggest some alternatives.

You get the idea. Your answer doesn’t need to be long and complicated – but giving some idea where you’re coming from and what you’re looking for will help people give you much better suggestions.

Other essays:

You might also find my Critical Reading and Pagan Books essay of interest.