Eileen Kern

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If You Liked This Book, Then You May Like…

In my former life as a bookseller, part of my job was to help align readers with the books they wanted to read, and one of my great joys was introducing readers to new authors and new texts. I followed book bloggers and major (NY Times, NPR, Washington Post, etc.) book review sites to stay informed about what was new and hip. I skimmed the back cover or flipped through attractive-looking books as they came in to the store. We occasionally got Advance Reader Copies (ARCs); some of my favorite texts that I discovered that way were Room by Emma Donoghue and Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor. And most importantly, I learned how to read into both publisher-intended marketing and naturally-occurring word-of-mouth discussions to begin to guess what someone might like to read, even if that person didn’t share my own tastes and even if I hadn’t read the book with which I ultimately matched them.

I remember when we received the ARC for Divergent by Veronica Roth. I read it and was thrilled because, prior to Divergent‘s release, I had some difficulty matching young readers of The Hunger Games with a book that was “just like it.” I could suggest books like Ender’s Game, but the style of Ender’s Game is different enough that if the reader really just wanted more of The Hunger Games, it wasn’t necessarily going to satisfy. However, a young reader who liked the love plot, adventure, and dystopian society of The Hunger Games would find familiar elements in Divergent–with enough differences that, ideally, they would still feel excited to read it.

However, I personally believe The Hunger Games is the stronger of the two novels, and so would recommend to nearly anyone who enjoyed Divergent that they read The Hunger Games, but might be more hesitant to recommend Divergent to every Hunger Games fan.

I was thinking about this this week partially because I just finished The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood, and read The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline last year. To almost everyone who enjoyed The Obituary Writer, I would recommend The Orphan Train–the novels share structural similarities. Both feature two female main characters, in different times, and explore what it means to be a woman in general and in those times. However, I at least wish that I had read them in the opposite order: I enjoyed The Orphan Train so much that it became more difficult for me to judge The Obituary Writer on its own terms. This was especially true because a key difference is that The Obituary Writer explores grief in more breadth and, in general, “grief” is something that I tend to try to avoid when making my reading selections. I told my book club that I thought it was a good book for a different reader.

Today, I am thinking about this because I am actively searching for new books to read, and trying to figure out how to use book reviews and other readers’ reading behavior to point me toward books that I’ll really enjoy. However, I am also open to specific recommendations–if you have any thoughts, leave them in the comments! (I tend to really enjoy science non-fiction, graphic novels, character-driven science fiction, literary fiction with elements of humor and/or wonder, and YA with a sense of adventure.)