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5 Favorite Books That Other People Recommended to Me

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Katie McLain

Contributing Editor

Katie's parents never told her "no" when she asked for a book, which was the start of most of her problems. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Lake Forest College and is working towards a master's degree in library science at U of I. She works full time at a public library reference desk in northern IL, specializing in readers’ advisory and general book enthusiasm, and she has a deep-rooted love of all things disturbing, twisted, and terrifying. (She takes enormous pleasure in creeping out her coworkers.) When she's not spending every waking hour at the library, she's at home watching Cubs baseball with her cats and her cardigan collection, and when she's not at home, she's spending too much money on concert tickets. Her hobbies include debating the finer points of Harry Potter canon, hitting people upside the head who haven’t read The Martian, and convincing her boyfriend that she can, in fact, fit more books onto her shelves. Twitter: @kt_librarylady

I suggest books for a living, which is awesome and gives me access to all kinds of book resources for my own TBR, but sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on the experience of having someone else personally recommend a book to me. Part of this is because a number of the suggestions I get tend to be wildly off base (Random person, I’m happy you enjoyed 50 Shades of Grey, but I can think of few books that I’d rather read less), but part of it is also because by the time someone gifts or recommends a book to me, I’ve already heard about it, read reviews, suggested it to other people, and/or read it myself.

When I do get a great recommendation though, I want to pay tribute to it, and the person who suggested it to me, as much as I can. So without further ado, here are five books that other people suggested to me personally that I adored. Hopefully you will enjoy them too!

The Likeness—Tana French

Recommended by: College roommate

Reason: Spectacular writing, in-depth mystery, group of postgrad student characters highly reminiscent of our own group of friends

If you listen to the Read or Dead podcast, you’ve probably already heard fellow Rioter Rincey Abraham and I going on at length about our undying love for Tana French’s mysteries, so I apologize if this is your second time hearing this spiel. But when I was in college, I had never heard of Tana French until my roommate randomly picked up a copy of The Likeness, read it, and immediately passed it along to me. The mystery itself is compelling and intense, but the real magic of the story is in her precise, razor sharp writing. We both have read everything Tana French has ever written at this point, and I don’t know how long it would have taken me to discover Tana French on my own. Some questions are better left unanswered.

So Cold the River—Michael Koryta

Recommended by: Library patron

Reason: Solid horror novel, reminiscent of Stephen King

I’ve worked in a library for over six years, and I’ve developed some really cool reading relationships with our patrons. I met one of those patrons years ago when he came in looking for a Michael Crichton novel. I had been reading Crichton novels since I was in middle school, so we immediately started talking about our favorites, along with other types of books we enjoyed. When I mentioned that I loved horror and Stephen King, he recommended Michael Koryta to me. I had never heard of this author, so I decided to take him up on his suggestion. I’m so grateful I did. So Cold the River involves a mysterious billionaire, an old haunted hotel in Indiana, and a miraculous source of healing mineral water, which doesn’t sound like it should work for a horror novel, but it totally does.

A Thousand Splendid SunsKhaled Hosseini

Recommended by: Same college roommate

Reason: New book from the author of The Kite Runner? (I honestly don’t remember.)

This book was actually gifted to me for Christmas or something, and I can’t remember the exact rationale behind it, but it ended up becoming one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. It tells the story of two women living in Afghanistan who are brought together by fate and war. The novel recounts several decades of Afghan history, and I was immediately caught up in the beauty and heartbreak of of Khaled Hosseini’s writing. At the time, I didn’t read very diversely; I tended to stick to horror & thriller novels written by white men, and I reread a lot of my favorite books instead of branching into something new. A Thousand Splendid Suns marked a departure from this tendency, and although it still took several years for me to actively seek out diverse books on my own, I’ve never forgotten this story.

Dumplin’—Julie Murphy

Recommended by: Library manager

Reason: Funny, body positive YA with a delightful heroine

My coworkers and I love sharing book suggestions with each other, and soon after Dumplin’ was published, my manager told me about how much she loved this novel with its combination of sass and seriousness. I didn’t get around to reading it until several months later when I was selecting titles for a high school book talk, and I couldn’t get over how much I adored the character of Willowdean. I loved her spunk, I related to her vulnerability, and I aspired to her level of bravery. It’s a book that I put out on display as much as I possibly can.

The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian—Andy Weir

Recommended by: Library coworker

Reason: Snarky, thrilling, fascinating science fiction, even for non sci-fi readers

By this point, most people have probably read The Martian or at least heard about it, so I won’t go into plot details here. What I remember about this book, though, is seeing my coworker reading it and asking her to tell me how it was when she finished. I knew my coworker typically read historical fiction, literary fiction, and some romance, so I was a little surprised (and intrigued) to see her reading science fiction. A few days later, she came by my desk, dropped the book on a pile of my stuff and said, “Holy cow, you need to read this book. NOW.” I didn’t read much science fiction at the time either, so that strong of an endorsement piqued my interest immediately. I started reading it right away, and I couldn’t put it down. By the time I finished, I was so excited and elated by what I had read that I wanted run laps around my apartment, shouting for joy. I wanted to find every person I knew and smack them upside the head with the book until they agreed to read it. Between the two of us, we suggested this book to dozens of patrons over the upcoming months, and I still use this as a benchmark to gauge my reactions to new books. “It was a good book, but it didn’t make me want to jump up and down like The Martian did…”

Do you have any favorite books that were suggested to you by another person? Let us know!