Monday, April 05, 2010

Jim told you what to read: A recap

by Jim

I had a lot of fun/was totally overwhelmed last Monday when I offered to suggest the next book any commenter should read based on the last five titles they had completed.

Beyond the fact that I love telling people what to do, it was an interesting challenge trying to draw connections between titles individuals had read (often without having read those books myself). And coming up with fresh books to recommend each time was tricky. Happily, since 2007, I have kept a list of everything I read.

For me, reading is a great individual pleasure, and there’s something exceedingly exciting about finding a novel on your own that you just tumble head over heels for. But there is something equally invigorating about finding yourself in a community of readers. I thank everyone who took part for sharing what they’ve read and entering that community for a moment. It was also an exciting opportunity to mentally revisit my own reading habits, and I can say that I’ve been browsing my bookshelves quite a bit over the past week. I was surprised to find that I didn’t recommend anyone read Prague by Arthur Phillips, a novel I adore and have tried to convince many people to read over the years. For some reason no one ever takes me up on it. So I’ll offer it as a group suggestion. It has one of my favorite openings ever, and there’s a small scene on a funicular over the river between Buda and Pest that thrilled me so much I can still remember the first time I read it.

One of the most interesting comments (I thought) came from Michael who noted: “Too lazy to check for myself but of all the books mentioned in the last five read list, has any book been mentioned by more than one reader? So much for the idea we all are reading today's ‘Bestsellers’.”

Good question! I went through all the lists and counted. Five books were read by three people. They were:
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls
Kathryn Stockett’s The Help
James Dashner’s The Maze Runner (repped by our very own Michael Bourret)
Gail Carriger’s Soulless
Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth (repped by yours truly)

Soulless totally surprised me. Two books that agents here represent makes sense since our readers might share an interest in…you know, us. Wintergirls and The Help are great big books that have gotten tons of attention. Soulless doesn’t seem to have those characteristics, which makes it kind of exciting. Are we seeing a book in the process of really breaking out? Go Gail Carriger!

And then one series truly set itself apart: seven people had read either The Hunger Games or its sequel Catching Fire. Rock on, Suzanne Collins. I haven’t loved a YA series more since Harry Potter. I root for the success of these books as a reader and a fan.

But let’s get to the MOST exciting part of my suggestions: the ones people have already taken! Three people have been in touch so far to let me know that they read what I suggested. How’d it go? Well…two hits and a miss.

Kristi had this to say: “I don't often read books involving male protagonists but I absolutely loved "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You." It was a quick read but has stayed with me for several days and I love it when books do that to me.” Yay! This makes me happy.

About We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Joan offered this: “I loved it from the first page: “Everyone else in my family is dead.” And the magic continued throughout the book where she’d drop in little bombs like that... To me it felt like a mix of two of my favorites, Diane Setterfield’s Thirteenth Tale and Sarah Waters’ Little Stranger. I’m sure you’ve read them, but if not, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.” Hurrah! Success AND other recommendations. I’ve read the Setterfield but not the Waters. Add it to the list!

Peggy was less thrilled with her suggestion. “It was... OK…I'm glad I read something by de Maupassant, though, since he's one of those authors I was probably supposed to read in high school and never did. I have found, as I have read those sorts of books through the years that most of them are disappointing. I suppose the moralistic tales that can teach us what to be - or not to be - in high school don't have much effect on us years later.” Drat! Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all!

To wrap it all up, I got a lot out of this exercise and hope others got a bit of fun out of it as well. And I hope that if any more people do read the books I recommended, they let me know what they think, good or bad!


  1. I think it was a great exercise and I can certainly say I enjoyed watching the comments roll in! Thank you for my recommendation, I've promised myself I'll buy it once I finish writing a) a first draft of my new novel and b) my dissertation for university. A treat for all my hard work, so to speak. Not long to go now...

  2. I thought something really cool happened as the result of your post and I think you've hit it on the head: it has to do with booklovers, who engage in their (our) pursuits privately, for the most part, entering a community. I hope you'll keep updating us on the book recs and peoples' responses.

    A neighbor loaned my Prague but I was--okay this is a lame excuse--but the print was so small on so hard on my multi-troubled eyes that I didn't continue. Maybe I'll get a copy with larger print.

  3. Thanks again for doing this -- and for quoting me in your post! I haven't read Soulless yet but heard Kristin (Nelson) read Gail's opening at a first pages workshop and it's definitely on my TBR list. :)

  4. Well, you recommended Drinking Coffee Elsewhere to me, a book of short stories by ZZ Packer, and I started last night and am a story and a half in so far. The first one was quite good--plus it used my daughter's (fairly unusual) name, so that was fun. I will definitely update you when I am done to let you know my thoughts.

    By the way, did you ever read When We Were Romans? A good read, a story that evolves (I won't say how) without the reader seeing it coming. Really authentic voice, too.

  5. Thanks for the mention Jim! I'll try Prague and let you know. I cheated and looked at the opening on --interesting!

  6. I loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth (and the sequel), but I thought that The Maze Runner didn't live up to the hype that I had been hearing about it online. When someone compares your book to the movie Cube -- you have ton to live up to and Maze Runner didn't deliver the level of intensity you find in Cube.

    I will admit that I enjoyed The Hunger Games, but it does irk me that it is a dumbed down (Americanized?) version of Battle Royale.

    This was a great exercise.

  7. I am behind on my blog reading so I missed your first post, but I wanted to chime in to say, I loved SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO ME (or whatever it's called). The librarian gave it to me last week and I blazed through it, but I'm still thinking about it too.

  8. Awesome observations. Thanks for the recap and for doing this in the first place. It's amazing to be able to chat about books with someone in the industry AND find out your tastes. I'm sure that's valuable to a lot of people wanting to query you. What a unique opportunity.
    I just got a notice that the book you recommended, Purple Hibiscus, is in from the library. I will pick it up tomorrow. I love talking books so I'll certainly be in touch with my thoughts. :-)

  9. Well, I haven't read the one you recced to me (our library doesn't have it! gah!) although I did mark it over on Goodreads (do you keep track of your books there too?) and I also checked out a couple of books that you recced to others who listed books I also liked (Perfect Chemistry and The Marriage Test, IIRC).

    This is similar to the way I rec books to my students; I ask them to name a movie or TV show that they like & tell me what they like about it. Then I (try to) choose a book that has those elements in it.


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