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
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 a ton since I read it. More info →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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!