15 of the most recommended books from 200 episodes of What Should I Read Next?

15 of the most recommended books from 200 episodes of What Should I Read Next?

Readers, we have a big milestone coming up soon: next Tuesday, we’re publishing our TWO HUNDREDTH episode for my podcast What Should I Read Next.

In the podcast world, 200 episodes is a big deal, and we have all kinds of fun plans to celebrate. In (almost) every episode, a guest tells me three books they love, one book they don’t, and what they’re reading now, and I recommend three titles they should read next. That means over three and a half years we’ve shared hundreds of book recommendations and countless hours of book talk with more than two hundred readers, all of whom have very different reading lives.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to discuss and recommend books in this format. And while I try not to recommend the same book twice, the same titles do come up from time to time—either because a certain book was too perfect not to recommend to my guest, or because multiple guests chose a specific title as a favorite. (The photo below shows a peek at my process, this time from episode 176, “Books in the freezer, & other horror stories.”)

Today I’m answering a frequently asked listener question and sharing 15 of the titles that have been repeatedly recommended on What Should I Read Next. (If you’d like to see the entire list of what I’ve recommended on the show—and an exhaustive list of my guests’ loved and unloved titles—we make our super secret spreadsheet vault available to all patrons over in our patreon community.)

If you’re a current listener, thanks for being a part of what we do. If you’re ready to give the show a try, click here to view it in Apple Podcasts. If you’ve never listened to a podcast, this is how you do it. (Or better yet, ask a friend. Just yesterday in the coffee shop I showed someone how to download and listen.)

The following 15 titles are in no particular order. (If you listen to the show, you may enjoy pausing a minute to guess what you think will be on this list before you scroll any further!)

15 of the most recommended book on What Should I Read Next?

Most Recommended Books in 200 Episodes of WSIRN Podcast
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

This book was first recommended very early, in Episode 12, "Life is hard but reading doesn't have to be." I'll bet you weren’t assigned this breezy Cinderella-ish story set in 1930s Britain back in English class. When a placement agency sends unemployed middle-aged governess Miss Pettigrew to the wrong address, she spends the best day of her life with a glamorous nightclub singer, extricating her hour by hour from one scrape after another. Light, charming and utterly delightful (though FYI, this was first published in 1938 and some conversations and attitudes feel quite dated to modern ears). More info →
Jayber Crow

Jayber Crow

Author:
This is one of the books I read over and over again so it only makes sense I'd recommend it over and over. I first recommended it to Andrea Griffith in Episode 28, "Books that no one's writing about in Entertainment Weekly." I resisted reading this one for a long time because I thought the name "Jayber" was ugly. Please don't make that mistake. This gorgeous novel has an impressive sense of place. It's a book you can see and feel. It's contemplative, beautiful, and sad. It's a book that stays with you. More info →
Love Walked In

Love Walked In

I first recommended this in episode 24, devoted to life-changing books. De los Santos novels have all the characteristics of good binge reads: good storytelling, likable characters, and beautiful writing. Cornelia is a hopeless romantic, obsessed with the epic love stories portrayed in classic films, but floundering in her own life. Everything changes the day a Cary Grant look-alike walks through the door of the coffee shop she manages. Of course she falls for him, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with his 11-year-old daughter. Cornelia's family provides support (the friendly and witty kind, thankfully) as she navigates big transitions and tough decisions. If you love this, good news: there's a sequel. More info →
Garden Spells

Garden Spells

I LOVED discussing this book with the author's fellow North Carolinian Kendra Adachi in Episode 27, "Books good enough to make you turn off the tv (even if you love tv)." Sarah Addison Allen's novels share common elements: they're Southern, small-town, and uniquely magical. This is the book that hooked me on her writing. The romance is cheesy, the magic impossible, but put them together and it sings. A few love scenes are a little racy (ahem). If you're not down with supernatural food or a magical apple tree, skip this one—but you should know how many readers call this "a wonderful surprise." A must-read for fans of The Language of Flowers. Sweet, sparkly, and thoroughly Southern. More info →
Four Seasons in Rome

Four Seasons in Rome

Author:
I first recommended this book to Tsh Oxenreider in Episode 6, "Books for book nerds, author backstories, and simple stories told well" and was delighted to hear it influenced her writing process for At Home in the World. I later recommended it to a mother-daughter duo in Episode 111, "A lifetime mother-daughter book club." This magical memoir is about the year Doerr, his wife, and his twin baby boys spent in Rome after he won a writer's residency grant. He found out about the award the same day they brought the twins home from the hospital. Doerr writes beautifully about his year abroad, from the everyday and the extraordinary: grocery shopping, sourcing baby gear (for twins!), his wife's illness, sightseeing, Pope John Paul II's funeral. I googled every street, church, and town he referenced. More info →
Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove

I first recommended this to a fun husband-wife reading duo in Episode 137, "Reading as a couple + the best books YOU read this summer." This big, fat, Pulitzer-winning novel was on my radar for years before I finally picked it up. It's not the kind of book I expected to love: the story revolves around a 3000 mile cattle drive from a dusty Texas border town to the unsettled lands of Montana in the 1880s, and features a motley cast of characters including illustrious captains, notorious outlaws, ex-slaves, Texas Rangers, sheriffs, and more. Yet I did—and so have several guests! More info →
The One-in-a-Million Boy

The One-in-a-Million Boy

Author:
This title gets the distinction of the most recommended book on the podcast. I LOVE the way Holland Saltsman describes this book in Episode 40, "Spouses of Readers Anonymous." Wood explores themes of love, loss, and identity through a quirky 11-year-old boy who loves making lists, a wily 104-year-old woman, an absentee father, a Boy Scout project, and the Guinness Book of World Records. (That means if you want to talk about it, you need a reading companion!) More info →
Tell Me Three Things

Tell Me Three Things

Author:
I've WANTED to recommend this book a dozen times on the show, but I've only done it twice: to Leigh Kramer way back in Episode 9, "The reality of bookworm problems," and to Annie Spence in Episode 109, "Reading slumps are the worst." A girl-next-door type suddenly finds herself in an elite California prep school, and has to figure out how to navigate this new privileged world while still grieving her mother's death. When she gets an email from an unidentified boy who calls himself "Somebody Nobody" offering to be her spirit guide to her new school, she doesn't want to say yes—but she really needs his help. A sweet and fun teen romance, but also a pitch-perfect portrayal of the grieving process. I couldn't stop myself from cheering for Jessie as she put her life together again. More info →
Before We Visit the Goddess

Before We Visit the Goddess

I recommended this book during a wonderful conversation with Max Dunn in Episode 48, "It's good to be a Special Readerly Snowflake." The novel tracks three generations of Indian women and their fraught relationships. The title comes from a chance encounter one of these women has with a stranger, which is fitting because my favorite parts of the story deal with the small moments that change the course of a person's life, and the unlikely friendships that do the same. This is a wonderful, beautiful, and sad book, and I've been recommending it like crazy since I read it. More info →
Miller’s Valley: A Novel

Miller’s Valley: A Novel

Author:
I loved discussing this book with Melody Warnick in Episode 39, "Judging a book by its first sentence." This story of a young girl growing up in a rural community during a time when the community itself is facing a tremendous change. This was wise, reflective, and easy to read, and strongly reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior. More info →
Stay with Me

Stay with Me

I most recently recommended this in Episode 148, "Rebuilding your life (and your library)." Adebayo's debut is a powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide's mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband's second wife, that she didn't know he'd married. More info →
Home Fire

Home Fire

I recommended this book to a Scottish bookseller in a delightful episode of What Should I Read Next recorded live in Scotland's national book town, that's Episode 171: "A podcaster, a barrister, and a joiner walk into a bookstore." This modern retelling of Antigone was long-listed for the 2017 Man Booker Prize and powerfully probes themes of love, political allegiance, and terrorism. I'm not sure I would have realized this was rooted in the Greek myth if I hadn't been told: Shamsie's story feels modern, timely, and incredibly relevant to current events. (First line: "Isma was going to miss her flight.") More info →
The Lola Quartet

The Lola Quartet

This is the kind of book I love: a compulsively readable literary mystery, featuring stylish prose plus a plot that keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next, by Emily St. John Mandel, author of bestseller Station Eleven. I talked about it on an impromptu episode of What Should I Read Next that laid the foundation for One Great Book. I was so impressed by the way Mandel unfolded the story piece by piece, introducing us to a seventeen-year-old girl in hiding (with piles of cash duct-taped to the underside of her baby's stroller), and slowly revealing how she ended up there—and how the members of the old high school musical group the Lola Quartet are connected to her disappearance. Set in muggy South Florida, the story is dripping with atmosphere and has a noir feel. More info →
Harry’s Trees

Harry’s Trees

Author:
Have you ever read a book that made the world around you feeI just a little bit magical? I first raved about this latest from Jon Cohen to the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, and we read it together earlier this year. This story features an unlikely friendship, a book-within-a-book, a battle to save the local library, and a mysterious good Samaritan, all set amidst the beautiful Pennsylvania forest. Listen to author Jon Cohen talk about books that capture the magic of everyday life on WSIRN episode 160. More info →
What We Were Promised

What We Were Promised

Author:
I loved this emotionally resonant debut about class, culture, regret, and the road not taken so much that I included it on last year's Summer Reading Guide; it deserves more attention than it's gotten. After twenty years abroad, the Zhens return to their native China to take up residence among Shanghai's nouveau riche. But deep unease lies behind the façade of their pampered lifestyle, and the reappearance of a long-lost brother stirs up a host of long-buried emotions, and forces the family to revisit complicated (and secret) past choices. The backdrop of contemporary Shanghai and a national festival highlights how the family embodies China's current conflicts and complexities: rich vs poor, urban vs rural, old vs new values (and I loved talking with Cindy Brandt about the realities of these divides in episode 140 of What Should I Read Next). More info →

What books did you expect to see on this list? What do you think of the book ACTUALLY on this list? Tell us in comments!

58 comments | Comment

58 comments

Leave A Comment
  1. Jade Winfree says:

    I expected to see The River (although I think you may have recommended it to people on other podcasts or other formats of your own), An American Marriage, and A Place for Us.

  2. Anne, You almost made me cry when you included “Harry’s Trees” and “The One In A Million Boy.” Both of these books are two of my favorite books of all-time and reading them was a joy. I felt for the longest time that Harry’s Trees in particular was not going to find an audience because it was not getting a ton of press. What a marvelous book. Both of these books are life changing and utterly compelling reads. I hope the ladies of MMD will pick these up and slowly ingest some magic. Thanks for this list. You amaze me.

    IG: @bookbimbo

  3. Rhonda McGee says:

    I LOVED Garden Spells as well. Thank you for recommending the book. I don’t know that I would have seen the book without your recommendation.

  4. Dorothy says:

    So many great titles!!! I hope everyone reads Harry’s Trees! It is perfect, one if my favorite books ever! Another great recommendation Anne gave on WSIRN was Wednesday’s Wars. Delightful!

  5. Dee says:

    Have to agree with everyone who is surprised Station Eleven wouldn’t be on here. While I’ve heard you mention the Lola Quartet, Station Eleven seems to pop up a lot more often!

  6. Tracie Haddock says:

    Aha! The Lola Quartet! You just solved a major “what is the title of that BOOK?!” problem for me. Your description on the podcast a while back of the young woman with the thousands of dollars in her stroller basket has stayed with me, and I’ve been trying to figure out how in the world I would deduce the book title from just that description. Whew, problem solved. Thank you, Anne!

  7. Tracie Haddock says:

    Oh, by the way, my guesses for what would be on the list were 11/22/63 or On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King, This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel, and Americanah or We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

  8. Carol says:

    Haven’t read any if these so excited about adding these to my huge tbr. I only started listening to the podcast a few months ago, but from that I expected to see a Place for Us. I read it and thought it was !

    Thanks for the podcast and all your the other great insight! Looking forward to the next 200 episodes!

  9. sabiha chunawala says:

    I’m still on Cloud 9 from reading Four Seasons In Rome. Doerr is the most lyrical, poetic and vivid writer of our time. Thank you for this amazing recommendation!

    As for what I was expecting from my own memories of the podcast: Crossing for Safety, A Place for Us, Station Eleven, something by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (I love the way you say her name so effortlessly). But your data doesn’t lie! I’m glad to see this list.

  10. Hannah says:

    I definitely thought that Rules of Civility, Crossing to Safety, and Station Eleven would be here! You’ve recommended them a ton, but maybe more on the blog than the podcast?

  11. Julie says:

    My TBR list just got a lot longer!! I started listening at Episode 186 and have enjoyed your podcasts and read a lot more books in the past few months. Looking forward to Episode 200 and many more!

  12. Cyndi Moskal says:

    I was so excited to see One in a Million Boy on your list! Monica Wood is from my very small home town and it’s inspiring to see her on one of your book recommendation lists. We are all so proud but it’s so great to see how much she’s loved outside our world.

  13. Svenja says:

    I honestly haven’t even read one of the books on the list. But especially “One in a Million Boy” sounds like a book I’ll be reading next. Thank you for all the great recommendations.

    Love, Svenja

  14. Mary-Chapin says:

    I absolutely LOVED the Lola Quartet and am looking for more literary mysteries like it. Does anyone know of other books like this one that they’d recommend?

  15. A.J. Trevino says:

    Thank you for this post! I asked about Stay with Me at a bookstore once. I couldnt remember the name or the author or even what the cover looked like since i’d heard it on a podcast. But of course i couldn’t remember which one at the time. I took a screenshot this time!

  16. Louise White says:

    Thank you for helping me grow as a reader. I have reached the last pages of books feeling as if I didn’t want to leave . I love these recommendations and listening to your podcasts. Thank You for being our reading guru. Reading in my opinion adds so much wonderful dimension to our lives.

  17. Christine Dober says:

    I am pretty sure The River has been recommended a number of times and I was very surprised not to see in on this list. Or maybe it was just part of the discussion and not an actual recommendation?

    • Anne says:

      I think what happened is I recognized my propensity to gush about that one and restrained myself. It’s funny, some of my favorite books don’t appear on this list because I know how easy it would be to talk about them too much, so I hold back.

  18. Sue Baum says:

    This was not on your list, but I just finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek because you recommended it recently. I really enjoyed it because it combined two of my faves: epistolary novels and bad-ass librarians. It occurred to me that this title would be a great pairing with The Library Book by Orleans (another book about some very colorful librarians!). What do you think?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *