Fairly often I get asked about books I’d recommend or who my favorite authors are. That’s always tricky since my recommendations would largely depend on what the person asking likes to read. I myself read fairly widely, though I certainly don’t read everything. I couldn’t name a good erotica book, for instance, and I’d be limited in science fiction or epic fantasy. The only horror I read, really, is Stephen King and Dean Koontz, so I’d be little help there either.
As for favorite books, well, I have a few. And there are a handful of authors I read pretty consistently, though that handful changes over time as well.
Here are some books I generally name when asked, broadly, for recommendations:
The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
In the Woods by Tana French
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Captive Queen by Alison Weir
King and Goddess by Judith Tarr
City of Masks by Daniel Hecht
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin
Exit Sherlock Holmes by Robert Lee Hall
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
What Do You Hear from Walden Pond? by Jack Douglas
You’ll notice a few things, perhaps. For one, those books are all fiction, though many are historical fiction. A number of them are also mystery and/or fantasy. Only two are Sherlock Holmes stories (and neither by Doyle). None are Shakespeare or Shakespeare adjacent. There’s no Jane Austen on this list. That’s because I don’t think Sherlock Holmes or Shakespeare or Austen are the kind of thing I can recommend to just anybody. They aren’t most people’s cup of tea. If I happen to believe the person asking might like any of those, I’d certainly mention it. But when asked flatly, “Can you recommend a book?” these are what come to mind as most likely to please.
Some of the books listed above are also the first in series. I figure if the person reads and likes the book, it’s on them to follow up with the rest.
Then there are authors. As I mentioned, I go through cycles. I devoured all the Hercule Poirot novels when I was fifteen. I also read a lot of Dean Koontz and Stephen King around that time, and I started in on Anne Rice’s vampire novels too. I worked my way through Judith Tarr. Sara Hylton. Victoria Holt. Someone introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s work when I was 18. I went through a Kathy Reichs phase. I read all the John Le Carré Smiley books. Lately I enjoy Aaronovitch, Morton, and French as mentioned above.
“Which Stephen King books do you recommend?” is another one I get a lot. In my mind, there are two kinds of SK books: those from before his accident, and those from after. For earlier works, I usually suggest ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, and The Dark Half. In the latter group, Duma Key is my favorite, though I also really enjoyed Bag of Bones.
Those asking for Koontz recommendations, well, I quit reading his books some while ago—around the time he dropped the “R.”—so I can’t speak to newer stuff. I really liked Watchers, and Twilight Eyes still haunts me. Lightning holds a special place in my heart, too, because it was the first “grown-up” book my dad ever handed to me. It was probably not right for someone as young as I was at the time, but I loved it. I kind of want to re-read it, but at the same time I’m afraid it won’t be as good as my memory of it.
“What about nonfiction?” I read less of that than I do fiction, but I enjoyed F You Very Much by Danny Wallace. I tend to like books that examine psychology and/or society. Just about anything by Jeanne Twenge, for example. For film industry books, Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman is the first that comes to mind. I also have quite the personal library of books about Nicholas II and the last Romanovs. The Last Empress by Greg King is really good. I know I’ve also read a number of good biographies, but I suppose none have left much of an impression since nothing springs to mind when people ask me about biographies worth reading. “Who are you interested in?” is my usual reply.
Sometimes the question is about my favorite books from when I was a kid. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author when I was younger, and The Changeling was my favorite book by her, though I also really loved The Velvet Room. And of course I read a lot of Judy Blume. I also tended toward animal books: Where the Red Fern Grows, Lassie Come Home, The Trouble with Tuck, Socks . . . I liked this one book called The Seventh Princess, I liked the Vesper Holly series by Lloyd Alexander, and I recall enjoying The Dollhouse Murders. There was also this one book called Cadbury’s Coffin that intrigued me. I liked The House of Dies Drear and The Secret of Gumbo Grove. And I read the Not Quite Human books, too.
For more recent titles—for books my kids enjoy, really, and that I sometimes enjoy reading to them—the usual suspects emerge: Riordan, Rowling, and the like.
This is, you see, a very long answer to the question. But there can be no short answer. I like—or, really, love—a lot of books. My house is piled with them, and then there are more still in boxes in the garage. Books I can’t bear yet to part with.
Well, then, what about you? What is your answer when someone asks you for a recommendation?