Here we go again, dear readers! It’s Top 5 Tuesday again, which means you’re about to be treated to a rant from your dear host about a seemingly random assortment of books.
This week’s topic, once again brought to you by Shanah @ Bionic Book Worm, is Top 5 Recommendations for Non-Readers.
When I worked in a bookstore, I encountered a lot of people who were proud to tell me that they didn’t read. If they were accompanying a child who enjoyed reading, the parents usually sneered at me with something like, “Can you believe they want to read?!” (I always said, “Of course. Reading’s the best.”) I had a few go-to books that I recommended to people like this when they stepped into my store, and I’m about to share them with you.
Instead of giving just five across-the-board recommendations, I’m going to do this by age group, sharing with you the tried and true recommendations that always had people come back for the next book in the series! Remember, though, a lot of these are only good if you know the person is interested in a particular topic. For example, I put “Goosebumps” under the Honorable Mentions for Elementary Schoolers because sometimes kids that age like horror stuff. It’s all about asking what they like, then going from there. I tried to put several different genres under the honorable mentions, so you have a good range to choose from.
I’ve even done you a favor and linked to all of these books on Amazon.
For Elementary Schoolers: The Magic Tree House
I would usually recommend The Magic Tree House to the majority of parents who were looking to get their kids interested in reading. There are over 50 of these books in print now, and each of them deals with a different time setting and problem. For example, the first four books in the series deals with the two kids figuring out who the Magic Tree House belongs to.
Kids get to learn a lot of facts about various things while reading this series, and there are event Magic Tree House companion guides! I’ve got the Titanic one. These guides go more in-depth into the time period/event that the books are based on. Not only are the kids learning, but it’s not technically a girl or a boy series, because the main characters are a boy and a girl! (Honestly, though, you would not BELIEVE how many people would complain about “That’s a girl book!” or “That’s a boy book!” when I held out one to them, so I figured Magic Tree House was the best way to get in-between these things.
For Middle Schoolers: Percy Jackson & The Olympians
This is the book series that got my little sister hooked on reading. Honestly, she wouldn’t read anything else for about two years once she discovered these books! The best thing is, these books grow with the kids as they move through middle school. The main character of the first one is thirteen, but he’s also dealing with a lot of problems, like ADHD and dyslexia, which are things that middle schoolers are often embarrassed about dealing with. Seeing someone else out there, a hero nonetheless, is very empowering for them.
The stories are also a great way to be exposed to the Greek myths of old, albeit with a new twist. Medusa, for example, runs a garden gnome shop, whose garden statues are…eerily lifelike…
While the main character is admittedly a boy (which makes a lot of parents upset for some reason if they’re trying to buy a book for a girl), he does have a female friend named Annabeth who can hold her own against the monsters and the situations that the group comes up against.
For High Schoolers: The Gone Series
Okay, so this one was a hard one. It was a toss-up between a couple of different series, like The Infernal Devices and the Graceling series. I ended up with Michael Grant’s Gone series because it’s got pretty much every YA thing you can think of jammed into it. There’s romance, there are superpowers, there’s a thing of great evil…and there are no parents in sight.
One good thing about this series is that it eases you into the multiple-narrator style a little bit at a time. My first year of graduate school, I read The Martian for class, and some of my classmates said they got really confused when the narration switched about a third of the way into the book. (For those of you who haven’t read it, the narration is mostly first-persons of Mark Watney, but switches to NASA and the Ares crew part way through the book.) I had barely even noticed it, because I’ve been reading books with multiple narrators for years now.
I’ll admit that I haven’t finished the series, but the first five books that I have finished are pretty great. I’ll have to buy the rest to add to my collection later.
Thankfully, as kids get older, parents aren’t really concerned with, “Well, the main character’s a boy/girl so my daughter/son can’t read this book” any more. It’s a little tougher to sell a thick book like Gone to a teenager who’s not a fan of reading, but once you get the pitch down, they’re usually okay with at least giving it a shot.
For College-Aged Kids: Ready Player One
This might have been the hardest one yet. I wanted to put The Book Thief here, but realized it’s really more categorized as YA fiction than adult fiction. Also, I’m splitting “Adults” and “College Kids” into two separate categories, because college kids aren’t adults quite yet. (Seriously: take a look at your nearest campus’s freshman class, and be very afraid.)
This probably was the hardest category to pick, because I kept looking at my favorite series from college and realizing, “Wait, I can’t recommend that. It’s too long/too deep in one genre/etc.” I wanted to pick a classic, then realized the old-timey language might be a barrier to a non-reader as well.
I still feel like this one is very genre-based, so I’d take a look at some of the honorable mentions I have below if the person you’re buying for isn’t into sci-fi. But Ready Player One is a great book, and it’s even becoming a movie next year, so now’s the perfect time to jump on the hype train. It’s a love letter to the 1980s, played out in the 2040s. If you’re a fan of video games, obscure 80s references, and treasure hunts, this is the book for you. Yes, there’s some forced romance, and yes, the female characters are kinda manic-pixie-dream-girls, but the essential story is good. It’s something a non-reader can get into, because there’s not a whole bunch of stuff to keep straight, and it’s pure fun from start to finish.
For Adults: Furiously Happy
I really, really wanted to put All the Light We Cannot See here, but considering it’s a massive volume and it’s pretty literary, I didn’t want to scare anyone away. So I picked Furiously Happy instead.
Unfortunately, this still won’t be the book for everyone. If the person avoids swearing and doesn’t think inappropriate jokes are funny, I’d steer away from this one and pick one of the safer ones in my honorable mentions list below. This is a book I pick up when I’m feeling down. It’s written by Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, who also wrote Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I picked Furiously Happy because I find it to be better written and the stories in it are pretty hilarious, too. (You should still pick up her first book if you want a good laugh, though.)
There are some dark things in this book, but it also deals with the fact that you can’t expect everything to be perfect, or else you’re going to fail. It’s okay to live with some uncertainty, and it’s okay to live with mental illness. You can’t let your illness define you, though, and Lawson does a great job of showing this.
You don’t have to struggle with depression or anxiety or any other number of mental illnesses to enjoy this book, though. I know it’s non-fiction, but sometimes you have to know that you are not alone in this world, and Lawson’s great at what she does.
Books to Read Aloud to Small Children: Library Lion
I discovered this book entirely by accident while reshelving books one day, and ended up buying a copy to give to my grandmother for Christmas. Even though all of her grandchildren are old enough to at least read chapter books, we all still enjoy her reading to us whenever we visit. Library Lion is one of those books. It features a lion that wanders into a library one day, and at first chaos, and then order, ensues. It’s got a sad bit in the middle, when the lion is forced to leave the library by an ungrateful assistant librarian, but everything is all right in the end.
How to Recommend Books to Non-Readers:
I learned how to recommend books when I worked at a bookstore (and before that, when I volunteered at a library), so I’ve got about five years of quote-on-quote “professional” book recommendation experience. It’s all about making it not sound threatening. Don’t go in over-bubbly, like “OMG THIS BOOK WAS JUST ALL SORTS OF YASSS YOU NEED TO READ IT!!” because nothing scares someone away from a book like you being super excited.
You need to take the time to find out their interests (and unfortunately, “fantasy” and “chick lit” are rarely on those interest lists: it’s more like “history, maybe?” and “anything that’s not assigned in school” or “I like turtles!”) and then figure out a book that’s not too intimidating-looking (like around 200-300 pages for a teenager) that matches their criteria.
You can’t ask people, “Well, what kind of books do you like to read?” because remember, they’re non-readers. They have no idea. The majority of these people have had their only experiences with books come from the ones they were made to read for school. Asking them what genre they like to read is guaranteed to get you a blank stare in return.
I always had people come back looking for another recommendation for me. Several parents thought I was a miracle worker because I could get their kids to read when they’d hated reading before.
Honestly, this is probably the hardest Top 5 Tuesday I’ve had to do. I knew the first two categories right away, but the others were harder, because as people grow up, their interests change. Some people love sci-fi, while others hate it with a burning passion. Those same sci-fi haters could love contemporary fiction, though, while others despise it. It’s all about figuring out what people enjoy in other aspects of their lives, and then applying those things to helping them pick out a book.
My favorite thing about working in the bookstore was when people would come back anywhere from a few weeks to a few months later, recognize me, and say, “Hey! I loved that book you gave me! What can I find like it?” And then we’d wander off into the stacks, comparing notes on what we liked and didn’t like in the first book, and figure out what else would fit their interests. That’s what I miss the most about working in the bookstore: helping people find books. If I could just do that, all day long, I think I’d feel a little better.
And if someone happens to not like the book you give them? Well, it happens. Time to turn the thing around and figure out what else makes them tick. I believe in you.
As always, keep reading.