By most people’s standards, I read a lot. And I don’t read in just one genre. I love YA, horror, romance, thrillers, science fiction (as long as it’s not too hardcore), fantasy (though not usually the damsels and dragons type), self-help, memoirs… if it has words, I’ll pretty much attempt it.
That’s not to say I’ll like it. I like books with strong plot, and while there’s some literary fiction I love (Pride and Prejudice), there are far more that bore me to abandonment (The Goldfinch). Historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy all have a tendency to get too bogged down in details I don’t care about.
Here’s a list of books I didn’t expect to love (but did!).
1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon– When my friend told me I HAD TO read Outlander, I simply said, “I’ll add it to my TBR.” At that point, I didn’t have any expectations about it. When I found out it was historical fiction, I would have been a bit dubious if I didn’t trust this friend’s taste in books.
I read the first 50 pages and thought it was fine, but the book is thick, and I didn’t think I could get through the whole thing that way. “Keep going,” she said, “It’s just about to get to the point where you can’t put it down.”
Oh, she was so right. Right around page 80, there’s no turning back. The book is magical and I love everything about it, though I’m not sure why. It’s not usually something I’d like. But I do.
2. On A Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony– My writing critique partner handed this book to me and said, “Read it; you’ll like it.” I said thanks and put it down to gather dust. One day, for no particular reason, I picked it up and read about Zane, who accidentally shoots Death and has to take over Death’s duties. But that’s not all… he’s part of a conspiracy between Satan and people who want to stop evil. When I finished it, I was mad at myself for not reading it sooner.
3. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood– I think I find a way to put this on almost every list of books I recommend. (Sorry not sorry) I got this one through the Book of the Month club, and while I didn’t think I’d hate it, I wasn’t prepared to love it. I started it at around 9 p.m. on a Saturday night after it had sat on my bookshelf for a few months. My husband was snoring on the couch while I read straight through to the end. He said he tried talking to me a few times and I didn’t respond. It’s a hard book to explain, but it’s worth every moment spent with it.
4. Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens– I guess I really had no idea what I was getting into with this one. I knew it was about Oliver and he was an orphan, but that’s about it. While that’s true, it’s about so much more. It’s about young Oliver trying to survive against all odds in Victorian London. Through everything he goes through, Oliver remains hopeful and innocent.
5. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith– This book was actually recommended to me by the same person who recommended Outlander. (Note to self: Always listen to Lea’s recommendations…) I only read this because I needed a book for the Popsugar category: a book in a genre I’ve never heard of. (“Bildungsroman: a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character” -Merriam-Webster.com)
When I read this described as a “quiet” novel where nothing much happens, I was prepared for a slog.
But it wasn’t like that. It was kind of quiet in that it was just about stuff happening to Frannie, but I liked Frannie and wanted to follow her. I wanted to know what happened to her and her parents and brother. I wanted her to be successful.
6. Olive Kitteredge, by Elizabeth Strout– (chosen by Ramona at While I Was Reading) Another quiet literary book that doesn’t seem like my thing, but a friend of mine chose it for our book club, so I read it and prepared to be the dissenting option. (I knew the other two people in my group would love it.) This is a book about Olive, told from the points of view of different townspeople. For some people, Olive is a grumpy old woman, thoroughly unlikeable. But to other people, she’s a loving and caring person.
I liked how this book reminded me that a single person isn’t just a single thing. A person can wear many faces, and be seen different ways by different people. I’m not sure I liked Olive at the end of the book, but I respected her. She was interesting and worthy of having a book written about her.
7. We Are Called to Rise, by Laura McBride– (chosen by my book club) This is told from three very different points of view: a middle aged married woman, a young male soldier, and a child. Their lives intersect in one important moment. It took me awhile to get into, but once I did, it was worth it.
8. People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks– (Another Lea recommendation!) I wrote an entire blog post on how much I loved this book, so I won’t belabor it too much. Hanna is a conservationist who’s tasked with stabilizing and preserving an ancient Haggadah. The story is about Hanna, but also about every artifact in the book, and how it got there (a butterfly’s wing, a hair, a wine stain, and salt). I love books with marks or other hints as to their history, and I loved that this author imagined the history of this book.
9. Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King– Let me explain… I love Stephen King (when he’s not being overly verbose), and The Shining is one of my all time favorite books. But I’m always skeptical of sequels, especially when they weren’t planned. When I read the blurb about this book, it sounded cheesy. But I’m not someone who can just pretend a sequel doesn’t exist until I’ve at least read it.
So my expectations were low. I tried to remind myself that Mr. King obviously doesn’t need the money, so there was no need to write a bad sequel. I should have had faith in him. This book does justice to The Shining, and Danny Torrance is still as good of a character as he was in the original. If you liked The Shining, you should read this.
10. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– (chosen by my book club) Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t know what to expect from this book. It’s about Ifemelu, a young African woman who moves to the US and becomes a blogger about race. The book talks about racism without being about race. It’s about people, and how those people fit in to the world around them. I liked Ifemelu, and enjoyed walking with her for a little while, through the pages of this book. She’d be the type of friend who would help me grow: honest, blunt, uncompromising. She’d make me uncomfortable, but I’d never be bored.
Of the 10 books on this list, 7 were chosen for me by other people. Which is why I’ll never turn down a book recommendations. Sure, I’ve gotten some duds (I hated Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke), but the awful ones are worth getting through in order to find the wonderful ones.
What books have you unexpectedly liked?