A few of us librarians recently read this Flavorwire piece, “The First 10 Works of Fiction You Should Read If You’ve Never Read a Book Before,” and as we read down the list, our collective reaction could be summed up as “No…no…no…no!” The article was intended for an adult audience, specifically those adults who are reluctant readers, and these books were author Emily Temple’s suggestions for where to begin.
Now, lists are created to provoke conversation and controversy – think Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, or the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time – but we would not have disagreed (much) with the list Temple compiled if she had titled it, say, “Ten Classic Works of Literature.” However, if you’ve made it through your whole childhood, adolescence, and adulthood-thus-far without getting hooked by a book, are these where you should start? We think not.
Therefore, we have taken it upon ourselves (because let’s face it, this is precisely the kind of thing we like doing anyway) to create our own list, complete with links to the library catalog. Without further ado…
You think you don’t like reading? Well…have you tried one of these?
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas lives in a world where everything is perfectly controlled: wise community elders assign vocations, pair up couples, and give them children to raise. But Jonas receives a special assignment, and he’s about to discover that there is much more to his community than he ever knew.
This young adult classic preceded the current dystopia trend by about twenty years, yet it stands the test of time.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Narrated by none other than Death itself, The Book Thief is set in Germany during World War II, and follows Liesel Meminger while she lives with her foster family, who is hiding a Jewish man. Though Liesel is an adolescent, this story has universal appeal (some of us didn’t realize it was “a YA book” until after we’d read it).
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Lyra’s world is much like the one we live in, with one major difference: everyone has a daemon, a part of their soul in the form of an animal companion. Children’s daemons can change, but as people grow up, their daemons settle into their one true form. Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, discover that an organization called the General Oblation Board is doing horrible experiments on children and their daemons, and they vow to put a stop to it. Along the way, they meet gyptians, witches, armored bears, and a Texan aeronaut: this is a hero’s journey, an adventure, and a fantasy all in one. If you love it, try the rest of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
Carrie by Stephen King
Originally published in the 1970s, Carrie is just as frightening today as it was then: it’s the story of a girl who is tormented at school and at home, and whose pent-up fury finally finds an outlet through telekinetic powers. School bullying is a hot topic in today’s news, but it’s not a new topic at all, and, as King makes clear, it can have terrifying consequences.
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
This slender book has thirteen different narrators from various walks of life – different ages, ethnicities, and situations in life. All are brought together by a community garden. Seedfolks was chosen as a “Vermont Reads” book in 2005 and “Somerville Reads” in 2012; it’s a perfect choice for readers of any age.
The Flavorwire list was just fiction – which we love, don’t get us wrong – but maybe made-up stories don’t capture your interest. If that’s the case, here are some nonfiction books to try.
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
This book comes from a single question: what would happen to the planet if all the humans disappeared? Weisman explores this idea by talking to professionals in many fields; his writing is engaging and the topic is fascinating. He describes how nature would creep back into Manhattan – birds would nest in skyscrapers, the streets would cave into the subway tunnels, which would become rivers – and goes on to explain which of the ways we impact the planet would remain, and which would be erased.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Just as infectious diseases can spread, so can changes in society, argues Gladwell. He identifies three types of people (connectors, mavens, and salesmen) who are essential to fostering these changes. Gladwell’s examples, or case studies, are various and interesting, from Sesame Street to crime in New York City to smoking habits. Through these examples, he shows “how little things can make a big difference.”
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
American writer Bill Bryson hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT), and A Walk in the Woods is his chronicle of that experience. It’s amusing, informative, and entertaining in equal measure – a painless way to learn about the trail itself, hiking and hikers, and American history. If you like Bryson’s writing style, you might try one of his other books, such as A Short History of Nearly Everything or At Home: A Short History of Private Life.
Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings
This is a marvelous book for anyone – young or old, parent or child, male or female. The title says it all: Jeopardy champ Jennings researches dozens of parental warnings and proves or debunks them. Each myth gets just a few pages, so this is a perfect book for those with short attention spans or just little time. Not only is this book informative, it’s really funny; here’s a excerpt from the “don’t go swimming after eating or you’ll cramp up and die” entry: “It is true that when we eat, our body diverts blood to the stomach to aid in digestion, but, as you may have noticed after every meal you ever ate in your life, that doesn’t immediately immobilize your arms and legs….Not one water death has ever been attributed to post-meal cramping.”
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Do you watch Saturday Night Live? 30 Rock? Multitalented comedian, actor, and writer Tina Fey’s book is just as funny as you’d expect from her work on those shows, but even if you haven’t seen her on TV, you can appreciate her memoir for her story; she’s a woman working in the “man’s world” of comedy. Not only is this memoir funny, it’s also honest and insightful. Younger readers and/or fans of The Office might also like Mindy Kaling’s memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns), and those who are looking for a dose of humor that ventures over the border of crazy should try Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir). All three are also available as audiobooks.
So that’s it; those are our recommendations for adults who think they don’t like reading. (You say “I don’t like books”; we say “You just haven’t met the right book.”) If you’d like more suggestions, head on over to our Book Recommendations page and fill out a questionnaire so we can find books that are particularly suited to your tastes.
Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments – we want to hear from you!