As you may have heard before, one of the things library staff do, and really LOVE to do, is something called readers’ advisory. That’s where you ask us to help you find a good book to read. Sometimes you’re looking for another book by an author you’ve already read and liked. Other times you’ve just finished something great and want another one just like it. Often, you have no idea what you’re looking for; you just know you need something to read. No matter the circumstances, we can help you!
Typically, we will begin by asking you what types of books you like to read. Is there a particular genre you like best (mysteries, science fiction, family dramas) or one we should avoid? Then we’ll usually ask you about the last book you read that you really enjoyed. We’ll ask why you liked that book. Was it the plot, the characters, the time period or setting, or the way it was written? Once you provide us with this information, we’re off! We can begin finding titles for you using our “official” library resources like the online catalog or a database like Novelist. But we often use “unofficial” resources too, like our brains and our colleagues. If we haven’t read something that we want to recommend to you, chances are we work with someone who we know has. We especially like to bounce ideas off each other when answering a readers’ advisory question.
Last Thursday afternoon, I was asked by a fellow library employee to help her select some books on CD for a car trip she was making the next day. (See, we even help each other out!) She told me that she asked me specifically because she had liked several of my staff picks and other book recommendations from this blog. She had most recently listened to The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and enjoyed it. She had also liked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Her typical reading tastes were for nonfiction and historical fiction.
So based on that information, here is what I recommended and a little explanation for each about why I selected it for her…
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – This is the classic nonfiction that reads like mystery fiction. It is evocative of its place and time the same way that The Devil in the White City is.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini – I thought this would touch on some of the issues of racial division that were central to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler – Historic fiction based on fact.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson – If you like one Erik Larson, you will probably like more. He is fairly consistent.
Thunderstruck by Erik Larson – See above.
The Paris Wife by Paula McClain – Another historic fiction novel based on a real relationship. P.S. Apparently, it’s never easy being married to an author.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis – Another read-alike for Henrietta Lacks. Although this is fiction, I thought the strength of the familial bonds of an African American family would be the similar theme here.
Run by Ann Patchett – I recently read a list of titles by Ann Patchett with descriptions and now I seriously want to read every. Single. One. This was one of the only ones I could find currently available at my location. It seems that her characters and settings can read like nonfiction. This seems to be a thinly veiled parody of the Kennedy family.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – See above. But also, this actually came up as a “Similar Title” suggestion for Henrietta Lacks in our new catalog.
The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas J. Preston – Another serial killer, but this time in Italy.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – More historical fiction. If you read my blog posts, you’ve seen this more than once before. This is my favorite book from the last few years. I recommend it to EVERYONE. Whether they ask for it or not…
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson – Three different individuals migrate from the south. Another story of strong African American people.
Did all of these suggestions hit the mark? Probably not. But hopefully one or two or five did. And that’s how readers’ advisory goes, where the second and third laws of library science meet. Second law of library science: Every reader his/her book. Third law of library science: Every book its reader.
Happy Readers’ Advisory to all!