August 1, 2019

Finding Book Recommendations Beyond the Usual

3 metal stars on a blue background with text: Searching for Recommendations?

A bit over a month ago, I posted about a quote I saw—”I ran out of books in my to-be-read pile”—and wondered how anyone could run out of stories to read. I shared how I’m constantly adding new books to my TBR pile (faster than I can read them, in fact *grin*) due to:

  • new releases from auto-buy authors
  • backlist of enjoyable, new-to-me authors
  • books on sale that sound interesting
  • recommendations from friends and those whose opinion I respect (“influencers”?)

I also mentioned that I keep myself open to new possibilities—such as new influencers and recommendation resources—which has helped expand my reading of stories from authors in marginalized communities. If all we pay attention to is a very small bubble of sources, we’re less likely to see release announcements or recommendations for diverse stories.

I’d have missed out on many of my favorite books of the past year if I’d limited myself that way, so this isn’t just a call to do the literary equivalent of “eat your vegetables.” Good stories are good stories.

But if we don’t know where to go to get recommendations beyond the “usual,” we might get stuck in a reading rut. Rather than limiting ourselves to just a few resources for their recommendations, let’s share ideas for other lists and sources to try. *smile*

First Step: Google

Google is our friend, and searches can reveal blogs and articles and lists that share recommendations (and do-not-recommends) for many different types of situations and characters. Whether we want to find a character with our background or struggles, or we want to broaden our experience, we can find stories to try. Hopefully good ones.

If we’re interested in stories beyond our experience, however, we need to be careful if the author is from outside the community. While some authors can do a wonderful job writing about characters different from themselves, many of us have experienced the disconnect when others try to speak for us. How many decades (centuries?) have women complained about how poorly some male authors write their female characters? *smile*

It might seem easiest to go to those communities and ask for their recommendations of well-done representation, but chances are that work has already been done. As Lillie, a proofreader and story bible creator, said on Twitter, we have Google and we should use it.

In a reading rut? Get book recommendations beyond “the usual” Click To TweetI’ve seen resources analyzing books for their Native American representation, Muslim representation, fat representation, disability representation, LGBTQIA representation, etc. Google saves everyone time and effort so authors in those communities can get back to writing more books.

Second step? Learn who talks about the sorts of books we want to read and watch for their recommendations. Or keep an eye out for blogs or articles by interesting readers or reviewers. Or check Goodreads (or even Amazon) for their many lists.

Options Are Abundant in the Romance Genre

I’m lucky that I read romance, as there are resources for just about every type of story imaginable. Tons of reader and reviewer blogs share their recommendations and “best of” lists. As I mentioned above, I’ve learned who to follow on Twitter for good recommendations too.

Read romance? Here are a few of my recommendations beyond “the usual”... Click To TweetIf we’re looking for romances by women of color, a great resource is WOC In Romance. Their Twitter account (@WOCInRomance) highlights new releases, and the WOC In Romance website offers ideas by genre and trope/themes. Want a Western paranormal with werewolves? It’s there. Want a second-chance sports romance? It’s there. *grin*

Romance Writers of America recently created a list of trailblazers in the genre through the years. There are resources for everything, even a site for English-language contemporary romances by Filipino authors.

“But Are They Any Good?”

Over the years, my romance reading has definitely broadened, and given that I’ve discovered several new favorite authors, that’s a very good thing. In fact, I spent a few minutes yesterday adding an “inclusive characters or authors” shelf to my Goodreads—not for my sake, but so others could see which books I’ve enjoyed. (And I probably missed some relevant books too, but these were ones I remembered would qualify off the top of my head.)

Several of those books also landed on my Keeper Shelf, including:

So I hate that some have questioned the historic wins this past weekend of the first Black authors to win RWA’s RITA competition, as though they didn’t deserve it or the contest must have been “rigged.” RWA’s Board of Directors made an official statement, but I know from my own reading that there’s nothing undeserved about the long-overdue attention given to authors who have too frequently been silenced or ignored over the years.

This year’s RITA contest finally found a way to do an end run around racist or biased judges, ending the “rigged” way it had been for the previous 36 years. Personally, I picked up those winning books, Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan and Bad Blood by M. Malone, so I could see just how good they are. *grin*

As I mentioned on Twitter, if we’ve resisted reading any stories by authors from marginalized communities and/or we haven’t found any we enjoy, we’re not qualified to judge a contest like the RITA—or compile a “best of the year” list—as that lack likely indicates a bias problem within ourselves. If we don’t think that’s the case, we can start expanding our reading choices now and erase that problematic gap. *smile*

Looking for Writing-Related Books?

If you’d like recommendations for writing-related books, don’t worry. I have that covered too. Last year, I did a post sharing my recommendations for writing-related books and resources and asked others to add theirs in the comments.

(And several more recommendations are in the comments of the original version of the post too.)

No matter what kind of book we want to read, there are often choices out there. If we’re stuck in a reading rut, we might just need to broaden our recommendation sources. *smile*

Have you ever felt stuck in a reading rut before? How did you get out of it? Do you try to broaden your sources of recommendations sometimes? Has that helped you find good books to break the rut? Where and how do you suggest looking for reading recommendations?

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Sieran Lane

Oh, I’m surprised there aren’t any comments here yet, since diversity is such a huge topic in writing and reading. On diversity, I observed the opposite phenomenon in myself. As you know, I pretty much only read LGBTQ romances nowadays, and have become quite uninterested in cishet romances, unless they are written by a friend. Yes, I know I’m limiting myself by avoiding cisgender, heterosexual romances, especially as these are in the majority. But I just got too bored and unmotivated to read them anymore, save a few exceptions. (Once, I saw this short story romance that had very mixed reviews, where some readers loved it and some hated it. That piqued my curiosity, and it was short anyway, so I read it. I wasn’t really interested in the romance, but the story itself was entertaining and engaging.) Yet, I was pleasantly surprised that when I read a friend’s story some months ago, I got very excited by a potential straight couple. I don’t remember the last time I felt excited about a straight couple, so that was a nice feeling. More on this topic of minority readers reading about majority characters, a fellow trans friend invited me to do this 2019 Toronto Public Libraries Reading Challenge. I aimed to read mostly LGBTQ books. My friend said that they wanted to diversify their reading, i.e. they were going to AVOID sticking to LGBTQ books. XD That’s really funny, actually. When we talk about diversity, we’re usually addressing readers in the…  — Read More »

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