For the holidays this year, I had a lot of fun choosing book gifts for various family members (and supporting indie bookstores in the process). So I thought it might be fun for The Book Stop to offer personalized book recommendations. I know most of us already have too many books we want to read, but if you’re looking for something new, you can drop me a request here.
I worked in a bookstore for years, and my favorite thing was helping people find books they might like. Often a person would walk in with an idea of what they wanted or trying to find a good gift for someone. Sometimes it was a book they’d heard about but couldn’t remember the name or author. I loved that part of the job.
What did I pick out for my family? For my mom, I bought two of Karen Odden’s historical mysteries, A Dangerous Duet and A Trace of Deceit, because I like her books but also because her stories involve art and music. And, I know Odden frequently reads at a bookstore near where my mother lives.
One of my sisters wanted to read more and was looking for memoirs, so I bought her some of my favorites: Becoming by Michelle Obama, Know My Name by Chanel Miller, and Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner.
My other sister likes nonfiction stories and memoirs that are inspirational. She’s recommended some books that I’ve liked, including Jessica Pan’s Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come. For her I picked: Inheritance by Dani Shapiro, I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott, We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union, and Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan.
And for one of my nieces, who loved Six of Crows, I picked up Leigh Bardugo’s King of Scars, Brigid Kemmerer’s Defy the Night, and Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. There were many other books I wanted to get but I was limited by what was in the store. Other considerations were Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (an old favorite) and A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.
I’m a big fan of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s What Should I Read Next? podcast. Anne Bogel asks her guests what they’re looking for in their reading life, and then they describe three books they love (and why) and one book that wasn’t for them (and why). From that she puts together three book recommendations. Bogel looks beyond the obvious (like genre) and gets at deeper ideas about why people like what they like. For example, on some of her shows, she’s talked about whether her guests like multigenerational sagas or journey themes, complex characters, or books that make them feel good. Then she gives a variety of recommendations, not just one.
I’m not a fan of “if you liked this, read this” recommendations because they’re too simplistic. This made me think of some of my own likes and dislikes. For example, I like books with strong character development, particularly characters that are hard to like. I like research-based settings, in different places and times. I love good family dramas but I’m less enthused about gigantic, epic sagas. I don’t love dual timelines (I think these are overused). I don’t love books that feel “cute” or are overly sweet.
So, tell me what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want to read more of, and I’ll give you my best suggestions. I might share the recommendations here.