Never Ask a Librarian This Question

My favorite part about being a librarian is helping someone find that perfect book: Whether it’s a cookbook with recipes that are just right for their dietary needs, a massive biography that will help a student write a report, or just the lastest can’t-put-down novel.

As an avid (and rather voracious) reader, the last one is my particular favorite. I love when I help someone find a story in which they can get swept away and lost in an adventure.

It’s easier, of course, when a patron gives us some guidelines: “I like John Grisham. Who can you recommend that’s similar to him?” Or: “I’m really into time travel.”

Criteria like that is a big help. However, if you want to make it harder on us (read as: if you want to see your librarian short-circuit like a robot), then ask: “What is your favorite book?”

“What is your favorite book?”

Why not just ask us what breath of air was our favorite?

You have to understand. We’re surrounded by books, and if you’re already a bookworm, then that sort of temptation is dangerous. You start reading books you don’t normally read, taking recommendations from fellow librarians even though you already have a Leaning Tower of Literature at home. You are inundated by novels and biographies; by how-to’s and comics; by literary fiction and fluffy feel-good stories.

So when you ask a librarian what his or her favorite book is… we have to do a miniature March Madness-style bracket in our head, pitting favorite books from every genre against each other, hoping to come up with that one, singular, perfect book in a matter of seconds….

And then we usually just ask, “Well, what kind of book are you looking for?”

In short: It’s nearly impossible for us to pick one favorite book. And I know that makes it hard when you’re looking for one, single recommendation.

So today, I thought I’d share some of my favorites. These are all books that captured my imagination, and–if you’re looking for a good book–I hope they will do the same for you.

Favorite “The Book Was Better Than the Movie”

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Just the concept of this book sounds absurd. So why did I read it? Well… because the concept of the book sounds absurd! I actually listened to this story on audiobook (which I would highly recommend, as it has musical interludes that match the tone of the story and provide wonderful atmosphere). I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it: As outlandish as the actual plot may have been, it was clear that Seth Grahame-Smith did a ton of research, carefully crafting his paranormal tale around real history. In comparison, the movie felt like little more than your run-of-the-mill action flick.

Favorite “Unexpected” Read

The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot

I don’t read romance. In fact, I’m a bit like a second-grade boy when it comes to “mush.” Give me spaceships and explosions and detectives and… well, anything else! But a fellow librarian who also doesn’t like romance recommended this book to me… and, okay, I’ll admit it: The story was really cute. A modern epistolary novel (it’s written in emails), the story is a pretty basic case of mistaken identity, but Meg Cabot utilizes the email format to give each character a unique and engaging voice. The end result is a quick, fun read.

Favorite Young Adult

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I don’t reread books. I’m very much a one-and-done kind of bookworm… unless that book is Harry Potter. (I can’t even count how many times I devoured those during my childhood.) The other exception: Looking for Alaska. A heart-wrenching, but also beautiful novel that is carefully crafted around two “famous last word” quotes. This book is one of those that felt nothing short of enlightening to teenage-me. All of that, and John Green even still manages to throw in some humor. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book (but make sure you have some tissues nearby).

Favorite Graphic Novel

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb

Batman is known as the World’s Greatest Detective. As such, any good Batman story should first and foremost be a good mystery. Hush delivers just that and MORE. In addition to all the twists and turns, you also get: (1) Cameos from nearly every villain; (2) Catwoman and Bruce Wayne romance; (3) One of the best Batman v. Superman fights; (4) A returning character from Batman’s past (though I won’t say who because… spoilers!); and (5) A probing look into Bruce Wayne’s past and, ultimately, his psyche. Honestly, it seems impossible that so much could go on in one story arc without feeling cluttered, but somehow Jeph Loeb balances it all with finesse, giving the reader expert storytelling and character development alongside classic comic book action.

RUNNER-UP: Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid

Favorite Series

Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch

Like almost every kid who grew up in the ’90s, I adored Harry Potter. However, when making this list, The Boy Who Lived seemed like a bit of a cop-out. So while I would still easily call that my favorite series, I wanted to highlight another page-turner that I just read: The Wayward Pines trilogy. Action, suspense, and mystery all centered on just the right amount of sci-fi and set against a backdrop of perfectly understood human nature. This series has gone through several librarians, and from there, recommended to several patrons. It’s one of those stories you don’t want to say too much about–you just have to read it for yourself.

Favorite Nonfiction

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Break-Ups in History by Jennifer Wright

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. It’s just so hard for me to pick up a “real” story when there are so many fictional worlds still unexplored. That said… with a title like It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Break-Ups in History… how could I not pick it up? This book is full of stories that range from hilarious to tragic, all while told in a very conversational style that is very accessible and entertaining. It’s a perfect book to learn some history while also not feeling like you’re learning history.

Favorite Bestseller

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I have no idea how long this book has been on the bestseller list, but it’s got to be close to two years now. It’s also a book that is nearly impossible to get your hands on at the library–the hold list continues to be staggering. With those kinds of stats, this must be one amazing book, right? The answer: Yes. From the characters to the atmosphere of the swamp setting to the questions it asks (and leaves the reader asking), this is a book that reminds us what books should be. You finish the story and immediately want to talk about it with someone else. The good news: LOTS of people have read it (and are still reading it) so it won’t be difficult to find a book-buddy to discuss Delia Owen’s tale of the Swamp Girl.

RUNNER-UP: A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

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