If you’re looking for something new, maybe I can help! Let me know what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want to read more of, and I’ll give you my best suggestions. Just fill out the form below. I’ll describe your request (anonymously if you prefer) and any suggestions I’ve made. And then I hope to hear back from you about how the recommendations worked out.
It’s helpful to hear what you like beyond just genre. I’m not a fan of simple, “if you liked this, read this” recommendations. Give me several examples of books you liked and disliked and why.
For example, here’s how I’d describe what I like: I like books that deal with serious, often emotional topics. I like books with multi-dimensional, even unlikable characters. I like books set in times and places that are detailed and well-researched.
What I don’t love: I used to like epic, lengthy fiction like the Outlander books, but I’ve gotten away from that a bit. Now, a really long book needs to hold my interest. I also don’t love dual timelines; I think they’re overused, though if a book is really well-written I can live with it. And I struggle with books where the setting is generic or unspecified; I find those a bit maddening.
Remember there’s no harm in saying a book didn’t work for you, as long as you can articulate why. A lot of us have a hard time criticizing books.
To give full credit, this is loosely based on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s podcast What Should I Read Next?, which I highly recommend. On that podcast, Anne Bogel asks readers for 3 books they love, one they don’t, and what they are currently reading. She spends a whole hour with each guest discussing why they like or dislike what they read, and her recommendations are really thoughtful. Of course I won’t have time to talk with you for an hour, but I’ll do my best.
Please see below for descriptions of some of the requests I’ve received and my suggestions. I’ll update this page every few months.
My first request came from a reader who 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 history of in vitro fertilization.
Then I recommended three novels from around the world, with distinctive writing, addressing serious issues, with well-researched history and compelling characters. 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. 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; 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 archaelogy. 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.
A book that reminded me of Educated was Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper. Her story is also about growing up with a very difficult family and how she finds her own way. I also thought of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. His story about his upbringing in South Africa is funny and clever and poignant.
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. 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 also recommended Less by Andrew Sean Greer is about a fifty year old man who takes a trip around the world after a break-up. He worries about getting old, being alone, how he’s perceived by others, whether he’s been successful and what that even means.