Monday, March 31, 2008

Reader's advisory for the reader's advisor

A funny thing happened on my trip to the bookstore.

I didn't know what to get.

I live not far from a very large Barnes and Noble, and I like to browse the YA section to make sure I'm not missing out on any of the hot titles. I figure if I've at least heard of all the books on faceout, I'm doing okay. Then I wander the adult fiction section and I feel thoroughly, embarrassingly, lost.

In my apartment that is really too small to hold all the books I own, I have five bookcases. No, six. Two of them hold YA fiction. One holds nonfiction. One holds children's fiction. One belongs to my husband and holds his science books and cookbooks. And one holds adult fiction and graphic novels. The adult fiction bookcase is noticeably less stuffed than the YA and nonfiction bookcases and studying it, I'm not sure what to think. I haven't read a work of fiction geared toward an adult audience in about a year. Part of this is the drive I have to do my job well; I review for three YA sources and that plus whatever else I want to read for my job puts me in the area of 125+ books a year, just YA. That doesn't leave a lot of time to read adult fiction. The other part, I think, is just that I don't know what to get when I want to read an adult book. I know the authors, don't get me wrong. I know James Patterson writes murder mysteries and Alice Hoffman writes literary fiction and Anne Rice is a bit of a nutjob. But I'm not one of those people who can definitely say "I like mysteries" or "I like Regency romances." When it comes to adult fiction, I know what I don't like (fantasy, Regency romances) , but I'm often lost as to what I do like. Most of the time when I read a book aimed at adults, I end up reading nonfiction. I found The Tipping Point and Freakonomics fascinating, and currently my nightstand holds Women and Money by Suze Orman, How to Walk in High Heels: The Girl's Guide to Everything by Camilla Morton, and The Numbers Behind NUMB3RS: Solving Crime with Mathematics by Keith Devlin and Gary Lorden.

That said, here's a sampling of some of my favorite adult books:
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (in fact, Shirley Jackson is probably my favorite adult author of all time)

  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

  • A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

  • Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

  • The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

  • The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

    and other books I liked but aren't my favorites:

  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

  • Light Before Day by Christopher Rice

  • One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (I love humor!)

I'm also one of those weird people who love short stories: Ring Lardner, David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman, the aforementioned Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Amy Hempel, etc.

All of this leaves me standing in the adult section of your average bookstore or library feeling very dumb and kind of lost.

My husband is a huge fan of Christopher Moore (I got him hooked, oddly enough) and tells me his books are a must-read, so those are on my list. Other than that, I haven't got a clue as to what I might like. Joyce Carol Oates? I do like her YA books. Khaled Hosseini? Tom Wolfe? How is it that I'm so good at picking out books for other people and my personal collection of adult books looks like fourteen different people put it together?

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