Category Archives: recommendations

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Art imitating…other art

I’m pretty in love with this list on BuzzFeed that gives book recommendations based on favorite movies. This could have been really simplistic, pairing books up with movies whose plots were super similar or were even based on one another. However, the compiler of this list really thought about it, basing the recommendations much more on sentiment, overarching theme or general takeaway more than anything else. Some of them are more plot-based, but there’s clearly real thought going on here.

Though I’ll admit there are only three pairings here where I’ve both read the book and seen the movie (Pulp Fiction and The Sisters Brothers, Amelie and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and finally, Midnight in Paris and The Paris Wife) I’ve really enjoyed all six of those things so I’m going to go ahead and assume that the rest of the thirty matchups are equally helpful. And I’ve definitely got some books and movies on my to read/to watch list now.

I’m really curious about Q by Evan Mandery—not only is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a great film, but Q’s cover is just really lovely. I’ve picked up The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson in bookstores more times than I can even remember but for some reason, have never purchased it, even though I’ve said time and time again that I specifically love books about quirky, offbeat families. I’ll have to give it a real shot next time!

I love the Amelie/The Elegance of the Hedgehog matchup. Yes, there’s the obvious Parisian connection, but though both have whimsical covers and conceits, there is a truly dark undertone to both pieces that gives each an unforgettable quality.

I’m a sucker for book recommendation lists, so this was the perfect Friday afternoon treat. If you could pair a movie with a book, what would it be?

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What do I read next?

It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves. I often talk with friends, coworkers, and scour the internet looking for my next great read, but one avenue I almost never turn to is, perhaps, the most obvious: book reviews. Book reviews serve a variety of purposes, but their main objective is to help readers choose what to read next. I frequent the book review sections in papers, such as The New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal, as well as the “Briefly Noted” section in The New Yorker, but I can’t recall one instance in which I ever actually read a book recommended from one of these reviews.

So I’m wondering, am I alone in this tendency? Do others do the same thing: read book reviews but never actually pick up the books being reviewed? For some opinions on the matter, I turned to our interns. And I couldn’t have said it better myself.

When I’m trying to figure out what to read next, I don’t take reviews into great account. At bookstores, I make selections based on covers and jacket copy, but don’t pay much attention to endorsements and praise unless it’s coming from someone in whom I already have an interest (typically, authors whose books I have enjoyed.) On my iPad, I usually select from whatever Oyster recommends based on other books I’ve rated. A lot of other books I read come recommended by my grandmother and her gal pals. When I do look at reviews, it’s usually on Goodreads or Amazon, because many of those users post plot synopses that are more detailed than what the publisher offers. In the end, I try to make my own judgments and not let them be swayed by what others may think about a story. Weirdly, despite the fact that I don’t use reviews as a deciding factor in my reading choices, I still have made a point recently to post reviews of books I’ve read to my personal blog. 

As much as it pains me to admit, I primarily rely on Amazon when I am looking for book reviews. Generally, I don’t frequently read the reviews posted by users, but I do look to see how many stars a book has received. Anything less than three stars, and I get nervous about purchasing the book. But while I do look at the ratings, I primarily decide on what books to read based what my friends suggest. I trust that my friends will know more about my likes and dislikes when it comes to books than some random Amazon reviewer. For example, a book may have three stars on Amazon, but if my friend recommends it to me, chances are, I will still purchase the book. When I do read Amazon customer feedback, I generally read the one or two star reviews. I find those to be much more honest and entertaining. I also will use Publisher’s Weekly for suggestions and reviews, as well as some blogs.

Let’s face it: Amazon’s library and Barnes & Noble’s shelves are overwhelming. I can easily spend more time reading reviews than I’ll spend on the novel itself, and it’s hard to be sure reviewer K.Reader978 has more discerning taste than Good_Books4U. I solve this by starting my book hunts with someone’s personal recommendation. While that someone is often an enthusiastic friend, I found some of my recent favorites through a blogger’s musings, or buzz on my Twitter feed about upcoming debuts. It’s rare for a book to be a total flop if someone’s taken the time to rave about it for four paragraphs. Before buying, though, I get some groupthink insurance by scrolling through Amazon reviews. Weirdly, long-winded three-star-awarding purchasers are the most accurate. Fellow essay-trained humanities majors unite?

So now I’ll ask our readers: how do you decide what to read next? Do book reviews play a major factor? Sound off in the comments.

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I like reading YA and I don’t care who knows

I’ve always felt secretly awkward of the fact that I love young-adult fiction. I mean, can you blame me? Just look at how the phenomenon of adults reading YA has been dissected.

With so much analysis aimed at those of us adults who read YA, we needed a hero, someone to stand up and say nay, it’s not weird. And then I came across this game changer from John Green. (Who else?) And now I’m not hesitant to admit it. I love reading YA. I want to shout it from a mountaintop.

Do you qualify as a YA addict? Gotta love the shout-outs to Richelle Mead and James Dashner…but don’t stop your YA reading list there! Many of our clients are doing awesome things in YA!

Now, to get to the point of this post, I’ve been searching for a series that can live up to the recent ending of, what is scientifically speaking, the best YA series of all time: The Wheel of Time. Any suggestions? Anyone? Bueller?

I wish I grew up reading…

It wasn’t too long ago that I became Uncle Mike. My cousin gave birth to a little baby girl, Eleanor. (I know that technically makes me her second cousin, but Second Cousin Mike doesn’t really roll off the tongue.)

It also wasn’t too long ago that a roommate told me he wished he read more growing up. He can’t remember the last time he read a book cover to cover and attributes this shortcoming to the lack of pages he turned as a kid.

Now I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that if you develop a love of reading when you’re a child, you’ll be more likely to pick up a book in adulthood. And let’s face it, wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone read more? Numerous studies show positive correlations between reading and intelligence, empathy and emotional health. This is just one of many.

So I’d like little Eleanor to grow up reading. And when she actually is able to read, I’d like to give her a basket full of books similar to the one in my childhood room at my parent’s place—only with fewer books about aliens, wizards, knights, and trains. But until then, I’m in the market for some good board books that her parents can read to her.

So please help! What do you read to your children?

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Making it last.

I was sitting in my favorite local coffee shop this past weekend when one of my favorite local coffee shop neighborhood friends stopped by as well. She sat down next to me as I was doing the crossword and pulled out the latest book she’d started reading. I don’t remember what it was, she wasn’t too sure about it either—she’d bought it on recommendation from one of the bookstore staff members and was none too keen on placing full faith in the reliability of said recommendation.

In any case, it was as she opened it up to the title page that I stopped her. There was an adorable stamp of one of those Victorian silhouette portraits and underneath, in simple block letters, it said “FROM THE LIBRARY OF [name redacted to protect the privacy of local coffee shop neighborhood friends].” I thought it was a great idea—not only to make sure that any person who may borrow or pick up the novel in the future would know to just whom to return it, but also as a mark of character.

One of my favorite things about used books—aside from the stories themselves—are the ownership markings, inscriptions, postcards that fall out, shopping lists and notes tucked away for safe keeping or bookmarking and promptly forgotten about. I have used books that I’ve bought solely for the inscription on the title page or for the personal notes scribbled therein. I don’t mean notes on the text—though if not too intrusive to my reading, those can be very fun, too—I mean the way you can just tell this book was owned, read, used and loved by someone before you. That the sentimentality and personality of a previous owner as well as the merit of the book itself can last for generations, too.

After exclaiming at my friend’s stamp, I vowed to get one of my own. I haven’t, yet, but it’s definitely on the list. My friend noted that one of her favorite things is adding her stamp to a book’s title page that already has a previous owner’s name, a library stamp, anything like that what have you. She called it a little catalogue of all the places the book has been and the people whose lives it has touched in any way—insignificant or otherwise. I thought it was a wonderful sentiment and agree wholeheartedly.

Old, used books are great for so many things, their “book smell,” the way they’re worn in, for possibly an outdated cover, but above all, it’s the reminder that many lives, not just yours as the current book’s keeper, can be touched by such a simple thing. What say you? Are you in the same camp or do you just hate any kind of mussing or marring on your literature? Go ahead, rant or wax poetic, Romantic, I’m all ears.

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Books for young (and very young) readers

For those of you who haven’t read my recent Facebook posts, I have a brand new grandson: Leo Daniel Stein, born on January 20th.   

Leo joins his six-year-old big sister Elena who is thrilled to have a little brother.

This, of course, got me thinking about what I will be reading to my new grandson (after all, it has been years since I have done this).  And, because I always want to bring Elena a book to read as well, I’ve been thinking about what titles she might like.

For newborns I have chosen the traditional and ever popular Goodnight Moon, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Guess How Much I love You, and Pat the Bunny and then Brian Fiocca’s Locomotive which just won the Caldecott Medal.  For my granddaughter who is a terrific reader, there is Where the Wild Things Are, What Does the Fox Say?, The Polar Express, I Want My Hat Back, Make Way for Ducklings and Mrs. Rumphius.

I would love to hear your suggestions for titles for each of these age groups.  There can never be too many books!

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Audiobooks, who knew!

As everyone in the office can tell you, I’ve been sick this past week, though thoroughly denying it every morning and trying to pretend I can work anyway. Thankfully, I’m better now because even lying in bed all day can get pretty boring after a while. When I’m not in a right enough mind to focus on a screen to watch or a page to read, what else is there to do?

I keep meaning to start in on audiobooks as I think it’s a great way to pass the time hands-free and a nice alternative to listening to music. As a kid, I spent nearly every night being read to sleep by my dad, and I don’t just mean picture books or short stories. I “read” the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy that way! I’ve got a history with listening to long books being read aloud…just not recently, and it’s something I’d like to start getting back into, but I don’t know where to begin!

What kinds of books do you feel work best as an audiobook? Personally, I would think more fantasy, adventure, exciting exploration stories would work well, but I think that’s just because I’m imagining a narrator with an elastic voice (possibly accented) telling a story to children. Have you read any excellent audio adaptations of novels you’d like to recommend?

I’m all ears…literally! (Give me that joke, please, I’ve been sick).

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The old man and the lists

Because of a client’s Facebook post, last week I ordered a copy of The Hemingway Cookbook by Craig Boreth.  Now, most everyone who’s known me for a week or twenty years knows that my devotion to Papa Hemingway started early and has never really wavered.  It has survived the bad publicity, the parodies, the mediocre later works, the disdain of my feminist friends who think of him as a sexist blowhard who could write a little….

Thing is, I still find that despite the reams written by and about him, this author continues to surprise and delight.  Every once in a while I’ll read a book (The Paris Wife) or an article about Hemingway and his intimates and cronies that makes me think, “Man, those people lived large!”  And despite the tragic ending and the many missteps I’ve always felt that he possessed great generosity of spirit.

Many years ago, I read in the local paper about a young man who wanted to be a writer and went to Hemingway for advice.  He was given two lists of books to read.  I dimly remember that both lists contained classic titles, but one featured books Ernest considered masterpieces and the other those he considered terrible.  He suggested that the young author become familiar with both, the logic being that you can learn a lot even from a bad book.   This notion has served me well professionally and so I’m always thrilled when I come across stories of Hemingway’s reading lists, like this one.

I think great writers learn to write by learning to read and I think a properly curated list is an invaluable tool.  Do you agree?  And, what books would be on the list you make up for someone looking for advice?

BTW, the cookbook is a treasure.  I’m gonna try the burger recipe this weekend.

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Holiday gift ideas

Today it snowed in Manhattan for the first time this season. You know what that means? The holidays are here.

It may not officially be holiday season until Black Friday hits stores, transforming shoppers across the country into characters straight out of Lord of the Flies, but it’s never a bad idea to get a head start. In fact, rather than wait in an endless line for the new iPad, try giving a book as a gift. I always enjoy unwrapping a good story, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The key is to choose the right book. That’s why I’m coming to you. I need suggestions. And don’t be afraid to get creative. In fact, it’s encouraged. Nothing says “I didn’t really try” like buying someone a bestseller they’ve already read (although I suppose that asking for ideas over the internet comes close).

What you need to know

Dad: likes legal thrillers, sports books, military history

Mom: likes any controversial nonfiction (especially something health-related), thrillers, romance

Sister: likes everything from YA to literary fiction to books on psychology, no science fiction or fantasy though

So get in the Christmas spirit! Share your suggestions!

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From Sea to Shining Sea

I like to listen to podcasts on my morning commute. I’m a big fan of Book Riot, Bookrageous, Books on the Nightstand, NPR: Books…oh, did I mention they’re all bookish podcasts? Don’t worry, the newest one to the rotation doesn’t even have “Book” in the title:  The Readers (gotcha!). I enjoy this one because a) one of the hosts is British, and British accents are a pleasant thing to hear when you’re jammed on the subway too early in the morning and b) they often discuss books that aren’t on my radar.

For the most recent episode, Simon and Thomas made lists of the ten books that they felt most represented their countries. Their discussion was lots of fun – I happen to think Thomas had the rougher task, considering how much larger the US is than the UK. But I found Simon’s list the most interesting, because I tend to picture Britain in very broad strokes – London, Dublin, and Edinburgh,  Heathcliffe wailing on the moors and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. I never think about the unique personalities of Bath, Bristol, Manchester, let alone the truth vs. the stereotypes of those reasons. So it was fascinating to hear Simon describe various regions of his country and the books he loves that speak for each.

And, of course, it was fun to analyze and second-guess Thomas’ list of books to for the United States. Sure, there’s some fantastic choices on there, but also some glaring oversights. Hello, Middlesex by Geoffrey Eugenides is not only a classic Detroit book, but also a searing portrayal of the 20th-century immigrant experience! And I don’t know how you can pick two books for California without including John Updike. But I suppose we would all have lists that look very different, because we each have our own unique set of connections to our homeland.

What book best represents your part of the country?

Do you know of an awesome podcast I should add to my lineup?