Like many readers, I get my book recommendations from multiple sources: friends, peers, genre bestseller lists, Amazon algorithms, and deal sites.
The latter two are sources new to me since I switched to a Kindle in Christmas 2011. Prior to that, two big sources of recommendations would have been the front tables in bookstores, and review pages of newspapers. Neither really fulfill that function anymore.
I don’t know if it’s because of the source of the recommendations, or because of the ability to sample anything before purchasing, but I find I’m buying a lot less duds.
I’m reading a lot more self-published work these days, as well as titles from small publishers. I can’t say whether the average book from either is better than what comes from large publishers, but I can definitely say that I’m reading a more diverse range of voices and subject matter, and I find this enriching.
Two books, in particular, jumped out at me lately.
I stumbled across Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti by Ted Oswald when I was trolling the bestseller lists on Amazon. I think this book might have been free at the same time as one of mine, and I liked the cover. The blurb was strong enough for me to download without sampling, and I was intrigued enough to start reading it right away.
It tells the story of 10-year old Libète and her sidekick Jak, inhabitants of the infamous Haitian slum Cité Soleil who discover the bodies of a mother and child, brutally murdered. A lack of evidence leads the police to drop the investigation. The rest of the slum-dwellers have their hands full with the daily struggle of staying alive while gangs, police, and UN peacekeepers battle for control. But Libète and Jak are compelled to discover the truth.
The writing was so strong, within a couple of chapters I was hassling everyone I knew to check out the book. I was about half-way through the story when the London Book Fair started, and spent most of my time running around like a crazed loon demanding that everyone read it.
It would have been quite funny if the second half turned out to be awful, but luckily that wasn’t the case. If it were possible, I would have given this book eleventeen stars, but you can read my five star review here. I’ll have Ted Oswald on at some point over the summer to talk about this book a little more, but for now I’ll just tell you that it’s a beautiful, lyrical story, you’ve never read anything like it, and all profits go to Haitian charities.
I can’t quite remember where I discovered Another Broken Wizard by Colin Dodds. I think it was through one of the deal sites I’m subscribed to (maybe ENT or BookBlast) but I’m not sure. I do remember that it was the incongruence of cover and title that first caught my attention, before the sample reeled me all the way in.
Another Broken Wizard seems like the kind of novel – on reading the blurb – that advances fairly typical literary fiction tropes: an MC on the cusp of his 30s, trying to figure out his life, who returns to the town where he grew up to take care of his now-divorced father, in advance of life-threatening heart surgery.
But it’s so much more than that! Colin Dodds deliciously subverts those tropes and expectations and does what 1000 identikit “literary” novels don’t: he creates exceptionally vivid characters, a story which sneaks up on you at first, then gathers pace, and the book has tight writing which keeps you turning the pages right until the profoundly moving denouement. Simply put, Another Broken Wizard is brilliant. Read this book!
So that’s what jumped out at me from what I’ve read recently, but now I want to hear from you. What have you read lately that had you accosting randomers in the street, and sending links to everyone you know? Which stories got your blood pumping?
Both of these books just happen to be self-published literary fiction, but you can recommend anything, published by anyone. I only care that you (genuinely) think it’s a good book.
Just so everyone doesn’t think I only read “literary” books by white guys, the book before these two was a time-travel romance/mystery called Out of Time by Monique Martin (excellent, and free). And so you don’t think I exclusively read self-published books out of some kind of one-eyed parochialism, next up is Zoo City by Lauren Beukes.
Anyway, let me know your picks in the comments and give me a couple of quick lines on the book (esp. about why you liked it). This isn’t a term paper. Speak from the gut! Also, out of interest, tell me where and how you discovered the book, and what made you pick it up.
To keep things orderly, some rules:
#1 Don’t promote your own book. I’ll zap those posts without warning. Those of you with multiple pen-names, behave. I have a sixth sense for these things, and peerless Google-fu.
#2 No quid pro quo. I don’t want to see any mutual back-scratching. I’d like this to be genuine recommendations from reader-to-reader. I know this rule is just begging to be broken, but contain yourselves! I will zap anything with the slightest whiff of horse-trading.
#3 On a similar note, please don’t recommend books by your friend, your boss, your teacher, your agent, your co-author, or the anthology editor you are trying to schmooze. Please only recommend books by strangers (I have no connection with either of the above authors). Strictly no shilling. Let’s keep these recommendations pure.
#4 One recommendation per post. I want you to put a link in there so we can all check out the book you’re crazy about, but more than one link will automatically put you in the spam bucket. I may or may not be around to rescue your post. You may have multiple posts, but let others have their say first. Don’t take over the conversation (another zappable offence).
#5 I’m expecting a few responses, so let’s keep it neat. Flag the genre up top for people scanning the list, follow that with the title and author, put in a few sentences about why you love the book, then put the link at the bottom. Like this:
THIS BOOK IS AWESOME BECAUSE IT REMINDS ME OF MY DEAD DOG
IT WAS RECOMMENDED TO ME BY PAULY SHORE
#6 There are no restrictions on form (short stories, novellas, poetry, etc. is all fine), or subject matter. We’re all adults, but with some of the saucier stuff out there, use your common sense in how you describe the content (i.e. perhaps there’s no need to go into granular detail about why you liked something at the bluer end of the spectrum).
#7 Finally, please leave any Amazon affiliate codes out of the links. That’s one of the things that keeps the lights on and I’ll probably slip in my own (when I get a chance).
I’m thinking this might be a fun thing to do regularly if these few guidelines are respected. So… have you read a good book lately?
UPDATE: I almost forgot to mention that I’m taking part in a debate on self-publishing as part of The Literary Conference, here in London, running from (this) Friday June 7 to Saturday June 8. There are still tickets available, both one-day and two-day passes. Check out the program/prices here and follow the hashtag #TLC13 for the juicy bits!