Recently, I posted about making personalized book recommendations. You can find a form here if you’d like to ask for something – just tell me something about the books you like, don’t like, why, and what kinds of books you’re looking to read. I’m sharing two recent requests so you can see what I came up with. I’m also going to post a shorter version on my Book Recommendations page if you’re interested.
I had to do some research on the books each person liked and disliked in order to come up with some (hopefully) good suggestions. I also discovered that one or two suggestions simply wasn’t going to cut it – I decided a variety was needed so the requester has options and can find what suits them. There’s no way I can identify one book title and have it be just right. I also don’t want to recommend anything I haven’t read and enjoyed.
My first request came from Lory at Enter the Enchanted Castle. She likes fiction and nonfiction with well-developed characters and settings, a distinctive writing style, and something she can learn from, as well as books about other countries and cultures. The book she liked, What Happened to You? by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey, provided information about trauma and healing in a hopeful way, and was told through personal stories. The book she didn’t like seemed trite and dull and had too many characters, leaving her feeling uninvested.
My first recommendation was a very recent read, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro. The author tells the story of how she recently discovered that her biological father was not the man who raised her, creating a crisis of faith and identity. It’s an intensely personal story but Shapiro brings in research on trauma as well as the interesting and problematic history of in vitro fertilization. It was well-written and hopeful even while exploring the author’s personal crisis.
Then I thought about fiction from around the world, and I concentrated on books with distinctive writing, addressing serious issues, with well-researched history and compelling characters. I recommended three novels. First, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, which is a modern take on Sophocles’ classic Antigone. At the same time, it’s a strong commentary on racism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and what it’s like to be a Muslim immigrant in the UK or United States today. Then, a book that’s more straightforward historical fiction, that provides detailed history in a compelling narrative, is How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee, about a woman from Singapore who is forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during World War II. I don’t love dual timeline novels, but here the story is so powerful it was worth the read. Finally, one of my favorites from last year was Three Apples Fell from the Sky by Narine Abgaryan, a story about rural Armenia over several generations during the 20th century. It blends history, folklore, and magical realism, about an older woman who thinks she’s dying, but life has more in store for her. I found it that rare book that’s quirky without being cute.
My second request came from a reader who lives in Cairo and likes mysteries and books about travel and archaeology. This reader was interested in books that are realistic, light and entertaining, and liked Educated by Tara Westover, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult, and The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window by Jonas Jonasson.
I couldn’t recommend anything directly related to Egypt or archaeology, but a book that reminded me of Educated was Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper. Her story is also about growing up with a challenging family and how she finds her own way. I also loved My Beloved World by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an inspiring story of growing up with a Puerto Rican family, going to law school, and becoming the first Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally I thought of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. His story about his upbringing in South Africa is funny and clever and moving.
In fiction, I recommended Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek. It’s a mystery but it’s also about an immigrant family in the U.S., and the challenges of parenting a child with autism. It’s got heavy topics but it’s written in a personal, engaging way. Similarly, I thought of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, a fantastic book that deals with family issues as well as race and class.
Because the reader enjoyed The One-Hundred Year Old Man, I thought of Helene Tursten’s An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, a collection of short stories about an elderly woman in Sweden who gets involved in a series of murders. It’s clever and light without being too heavy. I recommended two other books that are meaningful but aren’t too heavy: Less by Andrew Sean Greer is about a fifty year old man who takes a trip around the world. He worries about getting old, being alone, how he’s perceived by others, whether he’s been successful and what that even means. And Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night, about a relationship between two elderly people who find each other, is about love, aging, and the mistakes we make in life.
It was a lot of fun sifting through my favorite books and finding books that others might enjoy! So if you’re interested, please fill out the form.