The Penguin Hotline Helps You Choose The Perfect Book To Gift The Readers On Your List

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
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Every year, my kids ask for a variety of toys, electronics, and pure nonsense for the holiday season. Every year, they get a few of those things, a few things they need rather than want, and a few books—because they love reading and I love that they love to read. But every year, it gets harder and harder to figure out which books to gift them.

I want to get them something that they’ll actually read and not toss to the side (which has happened more years than I’d like to admit—but I stand by the old adage: it’s the thought that counts.)

My son likes graphic novels, lately with a dystopian bent but not too scary. My daughter is just entering the delightful world of young adult fiction. (She’s currently discovering Twilight and Divergent, and as a forever fan of YA fiction, I could not be happier.) They’ve devoured all the headline making series that are displayed front and center at the library and bookstore. Which is great, but it means that I’m completely out of ideas.

Enter The Penguin Hotline, Penguin Random House’s holiday gift-giving book recommendation service.

It’s the Butterball Turkey Hotline but for book lovers and book gifters. PopSugar called the Hotline “the cutest thing ever,” and proclaimed it “better than all those gift-generator websites.”

How Does It Work?

The Penguin Hotline is easy as an email—well, an online form. Anyone in need of a book recommendation can write into All you have to do is answer a few questions about the person in your life who you want to gift, including their favorite types of books, TV shows, movies, magazines, and hobbies, and then wait. Within a few days, you’ll receive an email back from a Penguin employee with personalized recommendations.

And no worries that you’ll get a biased list of book recommendations or be pressured into buying the entire Penguin catalogue. Those recommendations are for books from ALL publishers, not just Penguin Random House.

This is the eighth year the Hotline’s been active for the holiday season and the glowing reviews just keep coming. Users have gushed about the service, calling it “utterly delightful” and “my new favorite thing about the holidays.” Words like “magical,” “meaningful,” and “my favorite email ever,” get thrown around—probably with a bit of frequency.

The hotline goes live this year on Wednesday, December 1st. It’s available through December 15th, so it’s a good idea not to wait until the last minute.

A Human Touch To Book Recommendations

In a world where algorithms determine what we see on our social media feeds, what ads are presented to us, and even what products are recommended to us, the Penguin Hotline is a refreshing change.

The recommendations come from real Penguin Random House employees from a variety of departments, imprints, and divisions. They volunteer their time purely because they love books and want to spread that love. (I imagine a room full of book lovers all talking books and thinking up the perfect book to get for that history buff who loves a good paranormal romance.)

A few lucky users will also win a “golden ticket”. Those users’ recommendation requests will be answered by a few special responders, including bestselling and award-winning Penguin Random House authors like Jasmine Guillory, Megan Abbott, Emma Straub, Emily Henry, Jason Mott, Change rae-Lee, and more. (Basically a book lover’s version of getting baseball advice from a pro player.)

This Year’s Theme Is “Better With Books”

This year’s theme is “Better with Books,” and the goal is to remind folks that the gift of a book makes every moment better.

In an effort to support that cause, the Penguin Hotline partnered with ProLiteracy. It’s a nonprofit organization whose mission is to change lives and communities through the power of adult literacy. They operate based on the belief that a more sustainable, stronger society begins with an educated adult population.

Their “vision is to be the leading resource and champion for adult education and literacy worldwide.”

One of the joys of my life is that my kids are readers. And this holiday season, like every holiday season that came before, books will be among the gifts they’ll receive. Thanks to the Penguin Hotline, this year I’m more confident than ever that the books they receive will be the books they love.

And while I’m at it—I’ll probably ask for a few recommendations for myself. Because it’s the second holiday season during a pandemic, and books really do make every moment better.

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