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Jim will tell you what to read

by Jim

A few days back, John Warner, one of the commentators for The Tournament of Books, offered up a service. If you listed the last five books you had read, he would tell you what you should read next.

It sprang from a discussion about how we decide to choose what we read when we each know darn well that we’ll never get through every book out there. So a lot of folks stick with what they expect to like and might miss out on some great reads.

Unable to turn down something like this, I listed the last five books I had read (that weren’t work related). Warner suggested I read Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. I groaned a bit since I had read a collection of Chaon’s short stories a few years back and was underwhelmed. I wouldn’t have picked his new novel up on my own without the recommendation, but I grabbed it that night and finished it this weekend. It’s a literary whodunit that is enervating and upsetting, beautiful and bleak. I loved it.

All of this said, the Tournament of Books commentators and readers seem to have a distinct literary fiction bias. The proportion of readers who included Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask in their past five was very telling (which is not an insult—it was in mine!). Knowing that we have readers who write across genres and for very different target audiences, I’d love to try to recreate Warner’s experiment here and see what the results are. What I’ll try to do (and I have no idea how this will work in practice) is recommend a little outside the box. Maybe an adult novel to someone whose last five reads were YA. Or a thriller to someone who skews more romantic. Or maybe there’s another book just like the ones you list that I’ll think you absolutely have to read. I will try to recommend only books that I have read but may have to turn it over to colleagues or our readers if I feel stumped. So let’s see if this works: just promise that you’ll let me know if and when you actually read the book—y’all can find my email address!

Update: A little confusion–sorry for my lack of clarity! Post the titles in the comments, and I’ll give the recommendation there. You should email me if you read the book and/or want to chat about my choice!

109 Responses to Jim will tell you what to read

  1. JoAnn says:

    This is interesting, since I am always wondering about what I should read next…and it seems like my kindle gets confused about what to recommend. My last 5 were:

    1. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
    2. Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson
    3. Dead and Gone – Charlaine Harris
    4. A Reliable Wife – Robert Goolrick
    5. The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown

  2. fatcaster says:

    Thank you, Jim! Beasts of No Nation it is. Low Life is already one of my keepers. Sometimes, dark leads to great writing. May I in turn suggest Wanderer, Sterling Hayden's autobiography? Thanks again.

  3. Elizabeth Lynd says:

    Still open? If so:

    The Weight of Silence (Heather Gudenkauf)
    The Secret Sisters (Joni Rodgers)
    The Belly Dancer (Deanna Cameron)
    While I'm Falling (Laura Moriarty)
    Noah's Compass (Anne Tyler)

    Thanks for this, sounds like fun. Interested to hear what you suggest and see how it goes.

  4. Demon Hunter says:

    Great idea, Jim. 😀

    Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

    The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

    Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

    The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

    Blood Colony by Tananarive Due

  5. DGLM says:

    Okay, I'm a sucker for this, so I'm going to offer choices for the four of you who popped by since my last visit.

    Lynn, I'm more confident in my recommendation to you than I have been in many others. Which either means I'm more off base, or I've really hit the nail on the head. You can let me know which if you give Gilead by Marilynne Robinson a read.

    Tess, you've got some seriously diverse titles there. How about Everyman by Philip Roth? He has his ups and downs, but I actually thought this late-career gem was truly underrated.

    JoAnn, this one is beating me up. I came up with a few titles off the top of my head, but I've already recommended them! So for the first time since I started, I'm throwing this one to guest recommender Miriam Goderich whose suggestion is Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock.

    Elizabeth, how do you feel about short stories? My recommendation: ZZ Packer's fab collection Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.

  6. DGLM says:

    Argh, Demon Hunter. I thought I was done! :)Okay, I recommended this author before, but not this book: Fledgling by Octavia Butler.

    P.S. Hope you loved Carrie's book.

  7. Clix says:

    Hurray! Thank you, Jim – it sounds awesome!

  8. Lynn says:

    Thanks Jim, I'll let you know!!!

  9. Readerly Person says:

    I finally got around to reading The White Tiger, your suggestion for me, and I loved it! It reminded me a little of Ilustrado, by Miguel Syjuco. Anyway, thanks so much for the suggestion.

    – Rebecca

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