Readers, every time I enter a new title on my To Be Read list, I make a note about why I’m excited to read it. That usually means listing who told me about it, and why they thought I might like it. This makes it easy to see where I get my best book recs, and provides ample opportunity for bookish conversation with friends and fellow readers.
Because I track this info, I know which bookselling friends reliably recommend forthcoming books I end up adoring, and which reading friends give recommendations that land. And I know just how many book recommendations I get from my own podcast. The answer is: A LOT.
What Should I Read Next? is my literary podcast dedicated to helping readers go beyond the bestseller list to find books that are exactly right for them. Each week, I invite one reader—whether that’s your mom, your neighbor, your teacher, or your favorite author—to share three books they love, one book they don’t, and what they’re reading now. Then I hand-pick three titles I hope are perfectly matched to their reading tastes.
We always end up swapping stories about the reading life, solving common bookworm problems, and sharing extra titles we can’t help but recommend.
The TBR list in my reading journal is full of titles I first heard about on the show, from our guests—so today I’m sharing recent reads inspired by WSIRN guests.
If any of today’s titles catch your interest, be sure to download the matching episode for even more reading inspiration. Readers, I hope you find an intriguing title—or an entertaining listening experience on this book list.
8 books I read based on WSIRN guest recommendations
I recommended this all the way back in Episode 17: Smart, slightly eccentric, diverse books with Andi Cumbo-Floyd, and I revisited it recently after my conversation with Cliff Cullen in Episode 256: The perks and pitfalls of omnivorous reading. Cliff is an Octavia Butler completist, having read every single one of her works, and I aspire to do the same. This series—a planned trilogy that was never completed—is the most realistic of Butler's fiction. The setting is California, 2026, where a Black teenager named Lauren struggles for survival in a world gone to pieces, ravaged by climate change and drug abuse of epidemic proportions. Despite the overwhelming and terrifying obstacles she faces, Lauren isn't ready to give up yet, and bands together with a group of fellow travelers to head north in search of rumored safety, with the hopes of founding a colony for her Earthseed religion. Utterly gripping, and a great introduction to Butler's work. More info →
Over the years I've been floored by the superlatives readers use to describe this behemoth of a novel—epic, thrilling, the best book they've ever read. It's appeared in WSIRN show notes many times, but recent guests Hamid Printer (Episode 286: How to find those hidden gems) and Ahtoosa Dale (Episode 279: Read these books when you need a good cry) gave me a well-timed nudge. Both recommended the unabridged version, and Ahtoosa provided a hot tip when we were off mic: to read the audiobook, specifically the version narrated by John Lee. Forty-seven hours later, I finally understand why readers love this tale of a man thrown into prison for a crime he didn't commit and his long quest for retribution. This was wonderful on audio, but I did turn to SparkNotes on a half-dozen occasions for clarity on plot twists. This was A LONG BOOK, and while it won't go down as one of my lifetime favorites, I'm glad I read it. More info →
Emily Van Ark shared a strong recommendation for Becky Chambers's books in Episode 259: The formula for a 5-star read and then Max Lemoine followed up with another push in Episode 262: Books that deliver a little depth, a little distraction. I moved this up my To Be Read list, then our producer Brenna read it and said YOU HAVE TO READ THIS NOW. (Our guests inspire her reading life as well!) I'm so glad I did. This rollicking, big-hearted, constantly surprising space opera told a great story built on big themes—friendship and love, gender and politics, mortality and prejudice in a way that was just plain FUN. I loved these characters and look forward to seeing how the rest of the series unfolds. (Book 4 just hit bookshelves this spring.) More info →
This letter written by ancient Greek philosopher Seneca, now published in book form, is over 2,000 years old—and I never would have read it if not for Neil Pasricha's enthusiastic recommendation in Episode 289: A ridiculous plan to read more books. According to Neil, it reads like an ancient motivational speech, yet it's incredibly prescient for today. He said, "it feels and sounds like an email that your best friend sent you today. It really feels that contemporary, telling you to just chill out. Life's not really that short. It's long if you know how to live it." Neil rereads it often and even travels with the slim volume in his suitcase. I appreciated the short 25 pages of stoic wisdom and wrote down a few quotes to remember. More info →
Jennifer Weiner first put this book on my radar when she mentioned it as an all-time favorite in Episode 234: The Recipe for a Delicious Summer Read. After reading The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz for the Summer Reading Guide this year, I needed to see how two near-identical premises compared. (To my surprise and delight, the endings are TOTALLY different.) This twisty 2002 novel features a wannabe author who, despite his pretensions, can't write anything worth publishing. But then his studious roommate dies in a tragic accident, leaving behind a brilliant manuscript that's not only ready for publication, but based heavily on the wannabe author's own life. He lands a literary agent, publishes "his" masterpiece," zooms to the top of the bestseller lists—and only then finds out he's not the only one who knew about his roommate's manuscript. I found the outlandish plot and cheeky tone hugely entertaining. More info →
I tend to read backlist books this time of year, and Anne Helen Peterson's description of this 2003 National Book Award winner intrigued me. In Episode 284: I need an irresistible read this summer, she describes it as a story of longing (her favorite!) and impossible love. The story opens in 1947 with British War hero Aldred Leith arriving in Japan on official business: he's tasked with documenting the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, and while on assignment falls in love with Helen Driscoll, a woman 15 years his junior, who is just 16 when they meet. While the story is compelling, what I really loved in this novel was Hazzard's introspective style and carefully crafted structure. I love discovering hidden backlist gems like these through WSIRN podcast guests. More info →
I considered reading this for ages, but I needed a nudge from Heather Williams in Episode 281: Authors who make you feel seen to finally pick it up. Heather said, "I really like those types of essays that just make you take a beat, think about how you’re living and the choices that you’re making, and I particularly like it when the author isn’t preaching and telling me what I should be doing." In this reflective, incisive essay collection, Jia Tolentino explores her own relationship history with the internet, social media, consumer culture and other distinctly millennial concerns—and in doing so, presents uncomfortable conclusions about our society at large. I enjoyed the way Tolentino expertly combines personal stories, like her time on a reality TV show, with broader musings about society. She doesn't offer easy answers, which makes this collection memorable and highly discussable. More info →
I couldn't resist this new release after Anne Helen Peterson mentioned it in Episode 284: I need an irresistible read this summer. I'd describe it as The Book of Essie meets Olympus, Texas. McKinney's debut novel is set in the insular small town of Hope, Texas where evangelical megachurch pastor Luke Nolan is both revered pastor and local celebrity. But this is really the story of his daughters, Abigail and Caroline, who find themselves at a crossroads when information about their father comes to light and throws their core beliefs into question. Part coming of age story, part family drama, this modern story of community and identity completely drew me in. I can see why it was one of Anne's most anticipated reads of the year. More info →
Have you read a book after hearing about it on WSIRN? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!