Bookish Discussions

“I Don’t Read. Can You Suggest A Book?”

The dreaded and exciting question posed to me last week at work. Dreaded because, where do you even begin? There is no personal backlist to pull from. No favorite book or genre. No TBR list. No readalikes to align to. I even asked about television shows. None. I also don’t want to scare a new reader away by rambling off every book I’ve read in the past two years that I’ve loved.

Exciting because I was once (for a very short time during college and grad school) a nonreader. Those first few books I finally picked up really helped me pave the way to rekindle my love for reading and hone in on genres I enjoy. It’s still evolving.

After a little prodding I found out what this young mother of two didn’t want: nothing too long, nothing racy, not too dark or disturbing, nothing offensive (whatever that could be), no social justice, nothing political. Something available on our shelves without having to put it on hold. I work at a branch so our books are from the last five years or so. Something light yet inspiring. Ah. I led her to…

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.  Now to be fair, I didn’t get through the audio of this book myself. I ended up skimming the book after, though. There are numerous readers who swear by the KonMari Method. It’s a short read with helpful tips on decluttering your home which then declutters your life and mind. Surround yourself with things that “spark joy”. She checked it out and I’m happy to report came in today liking it. She was there to pick up Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, a much heavier and thought provoking book. So she likes books that are current, nonfiction, with content to mull over. With that revelation I’d also suggest:


Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. I just reread this collection of essays (previously published in The New York Times), and was reminded how insightful and inspiring he was. There are essays that will make you tear up but all will leave something to digest about life. The four essays were written between 2013 and right before he died in August 2015. The Joy of Old Age was written when he turned 80 and continues to remain a favorite of mine. My Own Life is about when he found out his cancer had spread, My Periodic Table about his treatment, and finally (and very sadly) Sabbath. I’m linking the original essays.

Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on KindnessAnother book that left me with a feeling of direction and inspiration is this tiny little book that I just don’t want to return to the library yet. Congratulations, By The Way by George Saunders should be read by everyone and would be the perfect gift for that high school or college graduate. Or a person in your life that needs some inspiration or is going through some big questions in life. The 64 page book is the speech he gave at Syracuse University and how I wished I had heard something like that at 22. Here’s a link to the video as well as a copy of the speech. Read the speech first. 🙂

Many times at the library we are asked for suggestions, not recommendations. The difference is when recommending, we’ve read the book and can get a feel if it might be something in their wheelhouse. But we suggest much more often, trying to decipher which books match their tastes in reading. In both cases, it’s a hit or miss. I think in this case, I was limited with my suggestions, but in the end choosing books that bring joy and were thought-provoking benefited this born-again reader.

Has anyone who doesn’t read or want to read asked you for a suggestion? Where do you begin?






7 thoughts on ““I Don’t Read. Can You Suggest A Book?”

  1. Holy moly! Tough row to hoe. No TV either? That’s ridiculously hard. Still, I can’t believe you didn’t throw in one short story collection. 😉 Well done, I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

  2. That’s just baffling. Not even movies? Or areas of interest? These are good suggestions…the only thing I could think to add would be something like the Little House books or Little Women. I’m not saying that to be rude, but maybe to help kindle some interest in good fiction (and work up to, say, Jane Austen) that meets her criteria.

  3. There’s so much pressure when a non-reader asks for a recommendation! I always feel as if I could ruin reading for them forever if they don’t like what I pick. I usually ask a few questions for deciding on a recommendation and then follow up with the “it’s okay to DNF” speech and a promise to help them find something else if they need to.

  4. I teach middle school literature. The most aggravating thing that parents will say to me (usually upon meeting me for the first time at open house) is, “My dear little Johnny/Sally here doesn’t read.” Drives me nuts! Then the student nods in agreement with their parent, smiling because it’s just accepted as such. I am then tasked with finding books that will light that spark and will get them interested. No pressure there…. 🙂

  5. Non-readers who ask me for recommendations had better be ready to read fiction. I won’t be able to recommend much nonfiction other than accessible pop science and memoirs. If they’re open to some incredible reads from all over the world, though, they’re asking the right person!

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