Ask the grumpies: Where do you find suggestions for books to read?

First Gen American asks:

I’ve been struggling with books lately. It seemed so much easier to find good books to read when I was younger. I did work In a cafe In a bookstore, so it helped to know what people were buzzing about.

Although I love the disruptive nature of being able to self publish, it seems like it’s much harder to sift through the junk these days. When I come across blatant spelling errors or a complete lack of editing, I just can’t go on reading a book. I don’t trust best seller lists either as some of the titles are on there just because of the success of their publisher’s marketing machine. NPR used to do a best books and summer reading list that was pretty good. I wonder if they still do that. I am finding the same issue with new music content as well.

How do people find new interesting things these days?

#2 listens to a lot of books podcasts.  She also loves to browse at libraries and book sales and reads some book blogs.  Also librarything has recommendations.  #booklife

#1 piggy backs from that by stealing book ideas off #2’s amazon wishlist.  She also takes book ideas off her SIL’s amazon wishlist.  And she leans heavily on amazon recommendations (after seemingly decades, amazon has finally figured out that it should recommend new books by authors that I’ve bought from before– before that I was having to check library thing for new books which I could never quite remember how to do and would have to ask #2 every time).  Overdrive (from the library) also seems to have a good idea of what to recommend for me, though sometimes the books are low quality.  I get a lot of recommendations from the comments of our books posts– many of our readers have excellent taste!  Sometimes I’ll feel in the need for something and I’ll find a list from Google and systematically go through it using the library.  I somewhat avoid terrible books by not reading many books that are lower than 3 stars on Amazon/Goodreads and by checking the 1 star reviews on any unknown books because it seems like there are a lot of people out there who also dislike having their cozy romance interrupted with rape or attempted rape, or (to a lesser extent) TSTL main characters.

I will sometimes spend an entire evening just trying to find things to put on my library wish lists.  I do browse.  The year after we left paradise, I still had access to their free online books (not overdrive, something seedier with a lot more self-pubs) and I searched by “historical romance” and read all of them in alphabetical order by author that had more than 3 stars (I was desperate).  There were some gems and also … a lot of spanking.  Which really isn’t my thing.

Grumpy Nation, how do you find new things to read?

29 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Where do you find suggestions for books to read?”

  1. Steph Says:

    I’ve found a lot of good books from your posts :) I seem to have similar tastes to at least one of you.

    I’ve found Twitter to be a good place to find book recs. I follow authors I like, which means I see their new books, books from their friends (when they retweet them), other authors they talk to, and rec lists they post or retweet. And then I’ll follow new authors and get notified when their new books come out or they have sales! It’s been especially good for indie authors and authors of color, who may not be promoted as heavily by publishers or mainstream sources.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Both of us! #2 just also likes darker books too.

      KJ Charles has excellent taste! I love her reviews.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I have only recently started following authors I like, starting with a friend of the wife of an ex-coworker of my boyfriend’s (ha ha)! Hmm, I think I’m only following two (A.J. Bass and Kwei Quartey), but I have looked at the blogs of other authors and decided not to follow them.

      • Steph Says:

        It may depend somewhat on the particular authors and how much of their genre/subgenre community is on twitter. The romance authors I read are very active on twitter, and at least some subset of SFF authors are too. I also definitely follow some of them for the drama – there have been several scandals over the last few years that were very entertaining (from the outside at least), especially since many romance authors are current or former lawyers

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Courtney Milan, amirite? She is the BEST. (Also LOVE LOVED LOVED her two books that just came out!!!!)

  2. Leah Says:

    Bookstagram! That is, book people on Instagram. What Kari reads is my favorite. She has a saved highlight of hidden gems.

    Recent good reads include Station Eleven, The Round House, and The Night Circus.

    I use the Libby app to get ebooks from the library, mostly. Tho I still love reading a real paper book.

  3. Miser Mom Says:

    Kind of old-fashioned, but . . . I ask for book recommendations at parties, especially when I don’t know how else to talk to someone. I’ve gotten some dud suggestions, but I’ve also found gems that I never would have discovered otherwise. And even if the book suggestion doesn’t pan out, the conversation about what to read and why has a pretty good chance of making a decent conversation starter!

    Of course, this suggestion worked better pre-pandemic, when there were actual events where we’d stand around in the same place eating snacks and trying to make small talk.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      People I know in real life all read book club style books, which is not my cuppa.

      • Miser Mom Says:

        yeah — I’m talking about asking people I *don’t* know, but who I happen to be stuck with (faculty party, where I’m chatting awkwardly with a prof from Russian, or econ, or some non-me field, and don’t want to get into yet another talk about college policies or such). Or a wedding where I’m chatting my child-in-law’s relatives.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Book club style books? That’s a thing? Is that why most book club selections have sounded like things I don’t want to read? I have found *two* books I liked from book clubs, though (“Guns, Germs, and Steel” and “A Gentleman in Moscow”).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        They often have discussion questions in the back!!

        Often they’re recommended by Oprah or Reese Witherspoon and will eventually be made into movies.

    • Debbie M Says:

      Ooh, I love this idea for a party topic of conversation.

  4. Alice Says:

    Short answer is that I generally rely 100% on browsing and not on recommendations at all. I usually stick to library books for authors I haven’t read before– I am more willing to at least give someone a try if I’m not stuck with a book I don’t like on my shelves after the fact.

    Our state allows all state residents to have a library card at the state capital’s library system, so I have a library card there as well as one at our local system. I use it entirely for eBooks on Overdrive. It’s still not enough. I’ve read some good things, but once you start rolling the dice too much, you start getting a lot of dreck.

  5. CG Says:

    My mom, a retired librarian, subscribes to Booklist and passes it on to me. I generally choose only the starred reviews and have found a lot of great ones that way. She also personally recommends a lot to me because she reads even more than I do! I also read the NY and WSJ book review sections (usually just the crime section of the NYT). My friends are all big readers too and we pass along recommendations to each other. Also, thank you to whoever recommended The Improbability of Love a couple of weeks ago–I enjoyed it a lot. So that’s another source–this blog! Unlike #s 1 and 2 I am not a big romance reader but there’s usually enough overlap with the things I like for me to get a couple of good recommendations.

  6. delagar Says:

    I get ideas from you, and from other blogs I read. I also follow a lot of SF pages, which often do reviews. One of my favorites: Jo Walton’s Reading List, which come out once a month: https://www.tor.com/author/jo-walton/

  7. Debbie M Says:

    * Recommendations from friends, especially my live-in boyfriend, who has many overlapping tastes and knows which of his don’t overlap with mine, plus I can just read his books directly. I am lucky to know several people who like books that I also like. If I had less time, I would use this method exclusively.

    * Blurbs on the backs of books that I see in the library plus the first couple of paragraphs and maybe a couple of (hopefully non-spoiler) paragraphs in the middle.

    * For particular topics (like my current books-in-every-country goal), I google for recommendations. Sometimes that just lets me find *something* but now that I look for YA recommendations, I’m more likely to find things I actually like. I also ask people for their favorite books about or set in other countries, but usually I just get the sound of crickets chirping.

    * Librarians used to put lists on bookmarks–I miss those.

    * I once decided I had above-average success reading classic books than random books. But well-recommended books set in other countries are often about the most horrific part of their history which is very important for us to know about, I guess, but no fun to read.

    * I also think it’s a good idea to read award-winning books, but I haven’t researched which awards might be rewarding things I like.

    * If you feed things into Amazon, which I have not, apparently they do get good at recommending new authors you would like. Even looking up books you like may get you something good in their “people also like [these related things]” list. Eh, I let my friends do that and then read the treasures they find.

    I’ve had enough luck with self-published books lately that I will no longer reject a book just because it is self-published. But I still want it to be recommended to me by someone I trust.

  8. FF Says:

    My current book (almost done!) was one of the recommendations on last week’s post (A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder) so this is one place I get book recommendations from. I recently found another blog I like for book recommendations: https://girlwithherheadinabook.co.uk. Generally, I find most books through either browsing in libraries and bookstores (not recently), recommendations from friends, and the NYT book review. And some amount of stumbling into things online. From my point of view, the Amazon recommendations are not great–I want to find books I otherwise wouldn’t know about and wouldn’t find on my own so the latest books by authors I already know I like plus every possible edition of classic works of literature (for example, every single edition of Pride and Prejudice–and there are many) are not all that helpful to me.

  9. Turia Says:

    I have had a lot of success with Modern Mrs Darcy, especially in terms of finding great memoirs and nonfiction (I have to be more selective with her novel recommendations, especially since I do not like thrillers). Wish she read more sf, but sometimes good stuff does turn up.

  10. xykademiqz Says:

    I am part of literary Twitter, so I never have a shortage of books to read (writers I follow, people they promote etc.), actually the opposite — too many books, too little time. I read a lot of short fiction (A LOT) of all genres, but when it comes to novels I like dark and usually speculative. However, I don’t like sword-and-sorcery fantasy (hate magic), don’t care for YA books of any genre — I am sooooo over anyone coming of age, I’m too old for that shit and it really irritates me when I find out that I bought a book and it turns out that’s what the protagonist’s arc is. I also don’t care for most contemporary fiction where boring middle-aged people (like me!) whinge about their boring middle-aged lives; I have enough of me already! That’s also why I don’t care for most contemporary nonfiction and memoirs; I find that people lives aren’t nearly as interesting as they think they are. (Granted, I may be extra irritable today, as it’s grading time.)

    For readers who like dark and speculative, just looking at the list of recent recipients of Hugos and Nebulas and Bram Stoker awards will get you a long way!
    http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-history/2021-hugo-awards/
    https://nebulas.sfwa.org/award-year/2020/
    http://www.thebramstokerawards.com/uncategorized/winners-nominees/

  11. natalieinne Says:

    I follow several book blogs, such as Strong Sense of Place (https://strongsenseofplace.com/) and Modern Mrs. Darcy (https://modernmrsdarcy.com/), who also had a podcast called What Should I Read Next where she interviews people who provide three books they love, one book they hate and she recommends three new books that fit their style. That’s nice because if I like any of the other books being discussed, I can try the others in the episode.

  12. teresa Says:

    Modern Mrs Darcy (but also wish she included more SFF and fewer thrillers), comments here and sometimes other blogs, things B&N suggests after I buy something, Hugo/Nebula/Booker lists, things mentioned on podcasts (more nonfiction), sometimes the “notable books coming out in [month]” NYT column, and random things I find in my mother’s kindle account. I tried using goodreads and librarything years ago but never managed to input anything consistently enough to get useful recommendations out of either.

  13. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I really like Liz Bourke’s recommendations, generally speaking! (https://www.tor.com/author/liz-bourke/)

  14. TodayWendy Says:

    Jenny Lawson has a “Fantastic Strangelings” bookclub. These are really not club books, and most of them sound pretty fantastic. Here’s the backlist:
    https://www.nowherebookshop.com/read-strangeling

    Leans a little more towards horror than I’m entirely happy with.

    I also like to check out the Hugo & Locus award nominees – some really fantastic stuff there assuming you like the genre.

  15. First Gen American Says:

    Thank you for posting this and the fabulous comments. So many new places to look!

    I don’t know what this says about me but a lot of my friends and my spouse have totally different taste in books than I do. But I have hope. One of my newly discovered reader friends actually has shared some stuff I like. My husband likes big complex books with too many plots and characters and it’s just too much for me to keep straight. I don’t want to have to keep a cheat sheet to keep track of who’s who.


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