6 books I had to be talked into reading (that I’m so very glad I read).

6 books I had to be talked into reading (that I’m so very glad I read).

I’d like to think that I’m a knowledgeable, sophisticated reader, who doesn’t choose what to read (or not read) next based on whim and caprice.

Of course I’d like to think so—but it wouldn’t be true. I’m plenty vulnerable to picking up books, or avoiding them, for the wrong reasons. Here are six examples of wonderful books I nearly didn’t read because I avoided them for stupid, shallow reasons. I’m sharing them today in hopes that YOU won’t make the same mistake.

Surely I’m not the only one who’s nearly missed out on a great book because of a strange title or lackluster title. I’d love to hear your examples in comments.

Series: 6 books I had to be talked into reading
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

I would never have picked this book off the shelf: I just couldn't get past the awful cover. But a friend with great taste recommended it, and more importantly, she put the actual, physical book in my hands. I gave it a try out of loyalty to her, and I've been recommending it ever since. This nonfiction narrative about a Hungarian gentleman thief reads like a novel, but this true story is stranger than fiction. More info →
Ready Player One

Ready Player One

Nothing about this book description appeals to me, but I trusted my writing partner when she encouraged me to give it a try—especially the audio version narrated by Wil Wheaton. I couldn’t care less about video games or John Hughes movies, but this exceptional book hooked me from page one. I've been recommending it like crazy ever since. I've lost track of how many times readers have told me they never would have chosen this book for themselves, but they absolutely loved it. More info →
Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

I read this when it first came out, before I heard all the amazing buzz about it. (There's a reason it vaulted to the top of the bestseller list and stayed there.) Despite my interest in the topic, I was hesitant to pick this one up because it sounded boring. (I hate to admit it.) But when I finally persuaded myself to give it a try I discovered that Cain is a fantastic writer: I wasn't expecting this to be a pageturner but she hooked me from the beginning. I'm currently re-reading this for the third time. That's high praise. More info →
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

I nearly didn't read this book because of the horrible title, and that would have been a shame. I'm so glad I relied on a friend's recommendation, and my own enjoyment of Gawande's latest release Being Mortal, and read it anyway. This brief, engaging book isn't just another productivity book: it's about how to successfully live and work in a world that's becoming increasingly complex. Gawande draws fascinating examples from medicine, construction, and aviation to explain why systems remain vulnerable to human error, and what we can do about it. Highly recommended. More info →


Each book in the YA fantasy series The Lunar Chronicles puts a new spin on an old fairy tale. In this first installment, Cinderella becomes a kickass mechanic, despised by her mother and stepsisters because she’s a cyborg. Admittedly, it sounds cheesy, but it works. I'd heard great things about this series but I found this terrible cover so offputting it took me years to give it a try. I'm glad I did. (I'm currently blazing my way through Winter, the series' final book, on audio.) More info →
The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills

The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills

I'd heard great things about this little handbook, but I couldn't get over the fact that it looked like a cheesy gift book—not the kind of thing I typically read. I checked it out of the library anyway, and finally opened it out of guilt the day before it was due. I was riveted. This surprisingly readable guide is packed with fascinating insights and practical tips covering diverse fields like sports, music, art, math, and business. More info →

What books did YOU have to be talked into reading, that you ended up loving? I’d love to hear your examples in comments.

6 books I had to be talked into reading (that I'm so very glad I read)

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  1. Beth Anne says:

    Thanks for these recommendations, Anne! Adding Ready, Player One to my list.

    I have to say, I’ve been a bit irritated by all of the praise for Checklist Manifesto, but this is probably because I was so spoiled with Gawande’s first two books: Complications, and Better. They had a more personal touch and I liked the stories and lessons learned much more.

    Also, this is probably my bias but when it comes to pilots and checklists, he should have talked to fighter pilots, not commercial airline pilots. My hubby flies F/A-18’s and the checklists they have to memorize are far more extensive. Wasn’t impressed with hearing about commercial pilots 🙂

    Still a huge fan of Gawande and loved all of his other books. Checklist Manifesto was good in theory but lacked the narrative feel and more personal touch of his other books.

    Always love hearing your take on books, Anne! I’ve read so many great ones because of you!

    • Susan says:

      For me it was The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. This was back when minimalist fiction was fashionable, and I couldn’t stand how bloodless it was. I asked an English professor friend for novels that were gripping and emotionally honest — literary page-turners. She recommended Wharton, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and The Fixer by Bernard Malamud. Many years later, I’m still grateful. She opened up a world to me.

    • Anne says:

      Now I’m so curious about what the fighter pilot checklists would look like!

      I thought The Checklist Manifesto was fascinating, but I coincidentally ordered his two previous books on surgery/medicine this morning. Thanks for the nudge to actually read them. 🙂

  2. Molly says:

    I read Quiet because of your recommendation, Anne. It is an wonderful book. I am reading Ready Player One right now and can’t put it down.

  3. Regan says:

    My teenage son loved Ready Player One. He saw it at the bookstore on the staff suggestions shelf and gave it a try.

    I can’t think of a book that I had to be talked into reading, but I have read some recently that were suggested to me that I wouldn’t normally read. Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is the most recent.

  4. Tosha Morrison says:

    Mine was when I was little, my mother gave me $20 to go to my school’s book fair, and told me I had to purchase ‘Little Woman’, which I did. But because she made me get it or the title or something unknown I did not read it for a couple years. When I had nothing to read I broke down and read it. It’s the first book that kept me up all night with flashlight to injest that story, which, once finished I started reading it again immediately. It was the first book to make me feel all those amazing things a boom can evoke from the reader.

  5. Elbow says:

    Geek Love! The title is really misleading; apparently a ‘geek’ here is a person who bites the heads off living chickens in the circus. And it’s not a romance novel at all, it’s actually pretty dark. It’s so original and well-written, everyone asking me for books is having that forced on them right now 😀

  6. Nicole says:

    Outlander by Diana Gabaldon! A friend at work recommended this series and I kept putting it off because the books are SO long (I’m talking hundreds of hours of reading time for the series), but I bought the first through Audible and couldn’t stop listening! The narrator Davina Porter is amazing, and the story has just the right combination of magic, history, romance and drama to keep me completely in love!

  7. Deborah Larson says:

    Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We read this for our church book club. I put off starting it b/c the title didn’t catch my interest and the book’s cover wasn’t appealing either. But once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. It’s VERY well-written, compelling read. I highly recommend it.

  8. Jan Stone says:

    If I ever finish all the as yet unread books in my house in this lifetime, not to mention all of Modernmrsdarcy’s other recommendations, then I can simply turn to this page for even more ideas…..now I think that Edgar Sawtelle book is in the spare room…..so many books, so little time!!

  9. Sharon Colomb says:

    Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – yes, a western! My husband “made” me read it. About half-way thru, I kept saying, “I can’t believe I’m enjoying a western so much!” The TV adaption was good, but, as in most cases, the book was better.

  10. Donna Hubner says:

    I have been an avid reader all my life. I got hooked with Rebecca in HS. My favorite genre is historical fiction. I have to learn something from a book or I’m not interested!

  11. Carol Lawrence says:

    The Hunger Games. I can’t believe I almost missed this triology. My daughter, who I thought never reads for enjoyment, recommended it to me. She said she couldn’t put it down. I thought if it was that good I’d give its try. I’m glad I did. It is diffidently a read over and over.

  12. Anna says:

    Although Oprah trashed the author for embellishing his story, A Million Little Pieces remains one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. And, a MUST READ for anyone who is ever going to die Being Mortal….not “fun”, but very important.

  13. DR says:

    “Water for Elephants” was mine. I don’t really like circuses and knew the animal abuse would upset me. But a trusted reading friend suggested it. Before I finished the first chapter, I saw how captivating the storytelling was. “Cinder” and “Ready Player One” are on my to-read list.

  14. Amanda A says:

    I attempted to read Cinder. 5 chapters and I absolutely hated it and gave up. I’m not sure what book I had to be talked in to reading.

  15. Katie Toffey says:

    Into Thin Air is a book I never would have picked up on my own. One of the many things I love about being part of a book club is reading choices by other people. I loved Into Thin Air – what a fascinating story! I am listening to Ready,Player One now based on your recommendations.

  16. Christen Collins says:

    I see this is an old post, but it showed up on my FB feed. I listen to your podcast every week, so I am currently reading Ultraviolet & also purchased Ready Player One, so it’s ready to eras when I finish Ultraviolet. I just finished When Breath Becomes Air, which was discussed by one of your guests. Thanks for putting new books onto my Kindle!

  17. Louise says:

    Mine was “Dead Poets Society”. It was part of the School curriculum and our teacher was excited. It did NOT talk to me at all(!), and I waited until the bookreport was due to read it. When I finally gave in and read it I was lost in their world!
    – and ended up loving the movie with Robin Williams. It is still very special to me. Maybe it is about time to read it again…

  18. Kellye says:

    Just finished ready player one! It was great! Thanks for the post! I’m about to start another from your list!

    Happy reading!

  19. Mary G Williams says:

    This post came up on my Pinterest feed and by the time I finished the article and the comments I had eleven books to add to my Books to Read board!! Of those mentioned, I loved Being Mortal (I agree a must read for everyone), Quiet, the Austen novels and more. Here is a book I had to be talked into reading: From Sea to Shining Sea by James Alexander Thom. He is one of the best historical fiction writers ever. I went on to read everything he wrote, and so did my husband, who is not a reader. I have not had a lot of luck getting others to read his books, and that’s too bad. This one is a long book but a page turner as well as steeped in history. It is the story of both William Clark (think Lewis and Clark expedition) and George Rogers Clark, his older brother, with whom I fell in love! Another book that I read only because my sister in law said it was her favorite book was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. It is also historical fiction btw.

  20. Nakul Grover says:

    Thanks for sharing the list.

    I’ve not read any of the book listed above. But, now, I just ordered ‘the little book of talent’ after reading the post.

    I hope the book will be worth reading. .. 🙂 🙂
    Thank you again..

  21. Elizabeth says:

    I have to say Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rawley…the audio version was amazing…my favourite book this year…Every time I see hear the word tofurky or see it in the grocery story I start to giggle….

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