The power of story, and the importance of giving good book recommendations


These days, it seems like I cross a threshold every day with my children.  Last this, first that, yes, yes, and yes.

This summer, for the first time, Grace began recommending books to me.  First, she suggested that I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  I was resistant (I don’t know why) and she kept insisting that I’d love it.  Finally I read it.  I loved it.  We talked about it at length and still refer to Auggie all the time.

This month, both Grace and Whit recommended that I read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  I read it.  I loved it.  All three of us talked about it, and I applauded them for suggesting to me such a great book (books, in the case of Grace).

And last week we had a long conversation about books.  About what we love and what we don’t and why certain books really appeal to certain people.  I told them that the ability to recommend a good book to someone else is a quality I very much appreciate in a friend, and something I was proud to see that they were both developing.  I also told them that it’s one of the things I love most, when others ask me for book suggestions.

It’s not a secret that I love to read.  I can’t even count how many posts I’ve written about books, reading, quotes, authors.  When I enumerated the ten things I most wanted Grace to know when she turned ten, one of them was “reading is essential.”  And for me, it is.  So part of my pride when Grace and Whit suggest books to me is that I know they too are finding this passionate attachment to the world of literature.

But it’s more than that, too.  It’s about the desire to share good books and the wish to make sure powerful words and stories are read by as many people as possible.  Any evidence that my children are beginning to understand the importance and value of stories makes me happy.  As Dorothy Allison says in Two or Three Things I Know For Sure:

Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that to go on living I have to tell stories, that stories are the one sure way I know to touch the heart and change the world.

I share this conviction.  And when people ask me for a book recommendation, I feel like I’m sharing this belief in a small way.  So it makes me happier than I can express to see my children beginning to do the same.

Do you believe in the story?  Do you like to suggest books to other people?  What are you reading right now?

48 thoughts on “The power of story, and the importance of giving good book recommendations”

  1. How strange is this!? I have a post going up later this week about what I have learned about Caroline’s reading habits based on the first book she recommended to me, Because of Mr. Terupt. I was so excited, I literally cleared some things off my to do list so I could read. One of my most favorite things to do in the world is exchange book recommendations with others so the fact that Caroline is starting to do this is beyond excited. I am reading The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell at a friend’s recommendation. She said, “You have to read this book. We have to discuss the ending.” How fun it that?!

  2. My children are much older than yours but we still swap reading recommendations. Recently my youngest read Michael Pollan (several titles) and Anthony Bourdain. My son is a culinary major in college. He highly recommended both. My daughter shares other books – Parallel, which you reviewed and recommended, and the Hunger Game series. We love to read together and discuss books.

  3. A few years ago, finally admitting that I was just plain tired of being an English teacher (the papers!), I realized that what I really wanted to be is a school librarian (the books!). Story has created/saved my life over and over again. Sometimes, a good librarian (or a friend who knows both you and books) is not unlike a paramedic.

    LOVE that photo!

  4. I love this post. I love those moments when we see them growing up and, my ego really enjoys seeing them love the things I love. One of my girls is just now really reading and loving reading chapter books. Her sister is not there yet and that’s OK because she writes stories. WE discuss stories all the time … and i just ordered Nurse Matilida, the stories that the movie Nanny McPhee were based on. I can’t wait to read it together. Books are awesome. I love to recommend them!

  5. Strange, and yet not, no? Love that we are on the same wavelength (as we so often are). This is part of why I love what GNB is doing, by the way … I must check out Caroline’s suggestions!

  6. I love the idea that I’m just starting something that may go on with my children for the rest of our lives. xoxo

  7. I love the idea of someone who recommends books as being a paramedic of sorts. A spiritual paramedic, maybe. My children both adore their school librarian. How marvelous that that’s what you do. xoxo

  8. I love hearing recommendations from others who love books. I don’t know Nurse Matilda and will check it out right now!

  9. Love to swap book recommendations, especially with my children. Though, they never read Harriet the Spy, possibly due to my too persistent recommending.

  10. Yes, I believe in story. I always give books as a gift and try very hard to get the right book for the right person. I feel such a sense of pride when someone tells me they loved the gook I gave them or suggested for them!

  11. one of my daughter’s very favorite parts about attending school for the first time (she’s been homeschooled until now) is her chance to engage with yet another group of people around reading. books have been an important – possibly crucial – element in her relationships with others. she has independent discussions with her dad and with me when it comes to sharing what we read, since we have such different interests. she avidly talks with friends about what they are reading, offering her favorites and taking up on their suggestions, reveling when there are commonalities. when she meets someone who doesn’t like to read, she despairs on their behalf and actively supports anything that will help them find a love for reading. she rejects the list of characteristics of “what makes a good reader” according to her school and instead follows her own long-developed habits of reading anything she can find, often simultaneously, in a range of genres, incorporating poetry and graphic novels, classics and new authors, collections and series, desiring works that stretch her and finding joy and inspiration in illustrated texts that others would consider “lower level,” noting that there are elements that others are sadly missing when they restrict their reading choices.

    she relishes her volunteer work in the school and classroom libraries and has one of her own at home. she lends books to family and friends and offers a featured book for recommended reading.

    only our favorites make it to my blog lists. hers is here:

  12. A spiritual paramedic. I love that. I think you qualify as one, by the way…

    Have you read Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Rifka Brunt? I think you must have, because I think you would love it.

    Did your children read My Father’s Dragon series? When my kids were young, it stood out as a classic. So much more is available now…

  13. My Father’s Dragon is BELOVED around here. And it’s one of my favorite books to give, though our peers are growing out of it now. For some reason people seem to not have heard of it as much, so it’s a great gift. But both Grace and Whit adored all three books.
    I have not read Tell the Wolves I’m Home, though I’ve heard much about it – I must put it on my list now! I will. xoxox

  14. I have been wonderfully blessed to have shared a love of reading with all 4 of my children, and it is always wonderful when we can ‘share’ in a book. I also find it quite rewarding when we don’t necessarily agree on whether we loved a book or not – it is always interesting to hear of someone else’s interpretation of what they read. Equally as wonderful has been to have my husband find books that have been great reads for him, as he was not always an avid reader.
    Currently I am reading Grace (eventually) Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. I happen to have a very strong love of great quotes, and have come across and shared many by Anne, so I though it was time to do some actual reading of hers.
    Always appreciate recommendations of books, even though they make my stack of ‘to-read’ books increasingly large!

  15. Books and stories are one of the central currencies in my life. As such, I believe that recommending books is a big responsibility and I am careful about whose recommendations I take. But it’s such a gift to get a recommendation from a trusted source – like you, my dear! – and an honor to be asked for a recommendation.

    Right now I’m reading The Master and Margarita, which, honestly, I’m struggling with. Thank goodness I have Dani’s luminous Still Writing to balance it out! Next up: Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland.

  16. Grace (Eventually) and its two cousins, Traveling Mercies and Plan B, are my favorite books by a beloved author. She is SO marvelous. I hope you are loving it!

  17. I agree entirely about the responsibility AND the honor. You’re on my shortlist of trusted recommenders, too! In fact I think you were among the people who told me I had to read Lahiri and she’s on my list now!!

  18. Oh how this photo tugs at my heart. So precious, these shared moments –books, bed, comfy pjs, children snuggled in. I STILL miss it!. These days, my sons are more apt to recommend episodes of the Daily Show to me than books — although Henry is urging me to return to Far from the Tree, which he read all 800 pages of and loved. After finishing “Someone,” Alice McDermott’s exquisitely beautiful novel, I almost need to leave a space, as I fear nothing else will quite measure up.

  19. Oh how I am anxiously awaiting the day when my daughter starts recommending books to me! And it’s probably not an exaggeration that I am forever telling friends “You must read…”, probably to a degree of overkill. Inasmuch as I love to read books, I love to talk about them too. I’ve recently realized that the book reviews on my blog are a band-aid solution to my now defunct reading group, just so I can keep talking about them and getting the word out about good books. Just reviewed one today (When Women Were Birds, by Terry Tempest Williams), and am about to start Still Writing, thanks in part to your and many others’ recommendations, so keep ’em coming!

  20. I am so obsessive about book recommendations. I demand to know what kind of books people like so I can recommend appropriately. I even started a book review site so I could help people find recommendations that really fit for them.

    It gives me tons of joy, but I wish I had more people to gush over books with!

  21. Still reading/finishing/loving Liz Gilbert’s “The Signature of All Things” (I am a slower reader than you!), and then onto “The Untethered Soul.” And yes, stories are absolutely essential to my life. I studied drama as an undergraduate and counseling psych as a graduate student, and I’ve always believed that the one thing both of those seemingly-disparate fields of study have in common is accessing and elucidating human stories.

  22. Lindsey, I love this post for a bunch of different reasons (WONDER is an incredible book, no? Have you read The Fault in Our Stars? Also great) but mostly because I just finished The Happiness Project and have been DYING to ask you if you’ve read it and/or commented on/reviewed it. I thought of you SO MANY TIMES while reading it — mostly in the parts where she talks about the days being long but the years short — and all I kept thinking was, what would Lindsey think about this? I found myself incredibly comforted by the idea (supported by research, apparently) that memories are a part of the happiness cycle– meaning that replaying a happy memory in your mind is part of what makes you happy. And it means that even when our children our grown, we can REMEMBER them as their young selves and derive happiness from that. Which (perhaps) can make the passing of time seem less sad. Anyway, tangent, but that’s what I’ve been reading and it was a total departure for me b/c I normally don’t pick up books like that one. But so glad I did. xox

  23. My daughter and I read Ivan this summer and we both loved it. I am loving that I am getting to the stage with her when she is reading chapter books (she’s my oldest, in first grade now) and we can talk about the books. I also love reading, I read this summer that only about half of Americans read a book in the last year, and it made me profoundly sad. I have read many books lately based on your recommendations ~ we have similar interests so I love reading your posts about reading!
    I am still reading Signature of All Things…

  24. Because of Kristen, I started reading Lahiri. I started with her short story collection which does NOT dissappoint. Have you ever read Jeanette Walls? She’s an English Author. I’m reading her short story collection for a class I’m taking and she is very intriguing. Her story structure is not traditional, but she jabs right at the heart of things. I just read an amazing short story of her’s called “Little Green Square.” So far, I would recommend it.

  25. I completely agree that those two fields have that in common. How marvelous that you have studied both; I’m sure it enriches you in both arenas. xo

  26. I ADORED The Fault in Our Stars. Probably one of my top two or three of 2013. Adored. Her voice!! I find it remarkable that she was written by an adult man. I did read The Happiness Project. Truthfully, I liked Happier at Home better, but I was interested in both. To be discussed!!

  27. I have been pushing The Giver on Grace for a bit now. Mindful of what Zibby mentioned below, I’m trying not to overdo my enthusiasm…

  28. Didn’t Walls write The Glass Castle? I have heard so much about her if I am remembering that right. And Lahiri is next up for me (I just finished Stitches) – really excited. xox

  29. So beautifully said, Lindsey. Thank you thank you thank you for being such a perceptive reader and for all of your contributions at Great New Books.

    I, too, love when my kids recommend books to me. Both WONDER and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN have been books both of my younger two boys have chosen to do projects on for school. They recommended them to me, but also their whole classes. It makes me burst inside, to see it.

    Yes, being able to recommend a great book is one of the most meaningful parts of life for me, too. Thank you for sharing! xo

  30. My oldest daughter is almost 5, and we’ve been giving books as gifts for every birthday party that she goes to. I’m not sure how excited the recipients (and parents) are to receive a book, but I love that my daughter wants to share her favorite stories to friends. Our most recent favorite? Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin. Humorous for both kids and adults. Not sure how into children’s books you are, but this is a great one.

  31. I love children’s book – assume you mean picture books? I LOVE. And we still read them. I will check Secret Pizza Party out right now!

  32. Just before I nodded off last night my brain goes, “Did I write ‘Walls?'” I meant Winterson! Jeanette Winterson. I don’t know why I would think about THAT right before sleep, but I did. That’s what happens when you’re only the second round of sickness for the season. Gotta love preschool germs. They are awesome.

  33. Great picture! Mine are still too little to read on their own, but I can’t wait. I have so many books I want them to read- my husband and I both have a list going. My first has always been very into books, even as a baby but my second seemed uninterested for awhile there and I was so worried we wouldn’t have a reader. I’m like, whatever will she do when the rest of us read? 🙂 Luckily it’s now her favorite thing to do with me.

    As for recommending- yes I think it’s an important part of any friendship. And I take care in selecting books that fit the person. Not everyone will love Neil Gaiman or Jhumpa Lahiri, but the key is finding what they will love. I’ve started this little list of my own, sort of a “if you love x, you’ll love y” so I’m prepared.

    And you MUST read Lahiri. Her short stories are haunting, I still think about ones I’ve read. Haven’t read her newest yet.

    I just finished We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson, and Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. I’m still reading End of Your Life Bookclub (I keep it at work and read on my lunch break). Next up I’m reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell because I let my husband pick my next book. After that I’ve got my eye on The Goldfinch or Lowland.

    Always love your book suggestions and will look forward to adding Grace’s and Whit’s to the mix!

  34. You know I like to suggest books! I love taking your suggestions too. Wonder is sitting on my son’s bedside table next to the Ivan book. He hasn’t been interesting in picking up either one. I’m doing everything I can not to ruin it all by making him read them. I’m just waiting patiently. I haven’t read them yet either. I plan to by the end of the year.

  35. As you know, I am (still) reading “Still Writing.” Stalling, literally, because I don’t want it to end.
    Books are such a part of my life, too, and it’s one of the most rewarding moments in my parenting life when my kids show that love and passion for books.
    Right now, my oldest is reading (well, we are reading it to him) “Peter and the Starcatchers.” Although he has had many books he has really, really loved (Charlie and the Chocolate FActory comes to mind), this one, he seems to be particularly fascinated by. Hubby is like me, too, with books. They really are a treasure (sounds soooo corny and cliché, but true).

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