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When I’m at work, patrons often ask for book recommendations. I usually start by asking them what kinds of books they enjoy, and there are two answers I dread hearing:
“I don’t know.”
“I like everything.”
When I know a patron has no idea what they want, I move away from books and ask what types of TV shows or movies they’re into to gauge their interest and genre preferences. But with the people who claim to like everything, I always feel a bit stuck. Suddenly, what should be the easier answer becomes complicated because there are too many options.
Today I want to share a list of 10 books that have broad appeal. These titles could attract nonreaders and should satisfy those who claim to like anything. The books I chose have universal themes, memorable stories, and excellent storytelling. Take a look at my choices and see if you agree.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A blind French girl on the run from the German occupation and a German orphan-turned-Resistance tracker struggle with their respective beliefs after meeting on the Brittany coast.
I don’t reach for historical fiction very often, but I absolutely loved All the Light We Cannot See. So did the Pulitzer Prize judges since this book won. This novel was published in 2014, yet remains extremely popular in my libraries.
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
In a rural East Texas town of fewer than 200 people, the body of an African American lawyer from Chicago is found in a bayou, followed several days later by that of a local white woman. What’s going on? African American Texas Ranger Darren Mathews hopes to find out, which means talking to relatives of the deceased, including the woman’s white supremacist husband — and Mathews soon discovers things are more complex than they seem.
This mystery novel is unputdownable, but I added it to this list because of its themes. Are you interested in crime? Racism? Politics in the South? Marriage? Complicated family relationships? Addiction? It’s all in here.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, shares his remarkable story of growing up in South Africa, with a black South African mother and a white European father at a time when it was against the law for a mixed-race child like him to exist. In a country where racism barred blacks from social, educational, and economic opportunity, Trevor surmounted staggering obstacles and created a promising future for himself, thanks to his mother’s unwavering love and indomitable will.
As you’d expect from anything authored by Trevor Noah, Born a Crime is hilarious. It’s also profound and moving and tells an important story about racism that is more relevant than ever.
Calypso by David Sedaris
A latest collection of personal essays by the best-selling author of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and Me Talk Pretty One Day shares even more revealing and intimate memories from his upbringing and family life.
I’m biased since David Sedaris is one of my all-time favorite writers, but I can’t imagine someone picking up Calypso and not enjoying it. Sedaris is always hilarious, but he can be surprisingly poignant, too, like when he’s writing about his family and grief.
Educated by Tara Westover
Traces the author’s experiences as a child born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, describing her participation in her family’s paranoid stockpiling activities and her resolve to educate herself well enough to earn an acceptance into a prestigious university and the unfamiliar world beyond.
If Educated were a novel, I’d say it’s too much. No plot should involve that many twists, no story should feel that outlandish. Tara Westover’s story is unbelievable, yet it all happened. Not only is this book a page-turner, but it’s also an inspiring look at a woman persevering against all the odds.
In the Woods by Tana French
Twenty years after witnessing the violent disappearances of two companions from their small Dublin suburb, detective Rob Ryan investigates a chillingly similar murder that takes place in the same wooded area, a case that forces him to piece together his traumatic memories.
Tana French is the queen of mysteries as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never read a mystery novel that is as well-written as In the Woods. Even readers who don’t consider themselves mystery lovers might appreciate this relatable story about brokenness and loss.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Calliope’s friendship with a classmate and her sense of identity are compromised by the adolescent discovery that she is a hermaphrodite, a situation with roots in her grandparent’s desperate struggle for survival in the 1920s.
Middlesex is a sweeping family saga, and I find that’s what many readers are looking for when they pick up fiction. That construct gives them something to get lost in. Plus, it’s somewhat comforting when you read about a far more complicated family than your own.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
A reunion with two childhood friends–Ruth and Tommy–draws Kath and her companions on a nostalgic odyssey into the supposedly idyllic years of their lives at Hailsham, an isolated private school in the serene English countryside, and a dramatic confrontation with the truth about their childhoods and about their lives in the present.
This book is a campus novel, a sci-fi tale, a heartbreaking tear-jerker, a love story, and full of suspense. It’s also relatively short. I have no idea how Ishiguro accomplished what he did with Never Let Me Go, but I’m glad he did.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
A transfer student from a small town in California, Richard Papen is determined to affect the ways of his Hampden College peers, and he begins his intense studies under the tutelage of eccentric Julian Morrow.
The Secret History is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It pulls you in immediately and doesn’t let go until the final word. Many novels are compared to this one, but none of the ones I’ve read have come close.
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
The daughter of Steve Jobs offers a firsthand account of the difficult relationship she had with her father and the poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes.
Small Fry surprised me. I picked it up and wasn’t expecting much, yet I found myself unable to put it down. Even non-readers have opinions about Apple and Steve Jobs, so this memoir from his daughter is not to be missed.