Ask A Librarian

You had some great requests last week, and hopefully my suggestions work for you!  Please, keep asking!

I was just thinking earlier today that I’d really liked Cory Doctorow’s The Makers, which was given to me a Christmas or two ago (social commentary in sort of sciencey/nerdy way!) Fairly unrelated, but what I also tore through more recently was Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist. [I liked] the strong independent characters, the time period and her descriptions of nature, the interweaving storylines. Huh, I just realized that’s part of what I like in a lot of my books: multiple perspective narration that gives you many sides to a story, but without giving you the whole story.

The first book I thought of when you mentioned The Orchardist was Jonathan Evinson’s West of Here, a sprawling story with multiple storylines and set in both the 19th and 21st century.  It’s also set in Washington, like The Orchardist, but on the western side, on the Elwha River.

If you like a setting that’s almost a character itself, have you read The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy?  The South Carolina Low Country is essential to this novel.  It is only told from one character’s perspective, but Tom’s vivid descriptions of his family bring them to life as surely as if you were reading from their perspective.

While this doesn’t tie in perfectly to your mentioned books, I really think you might enjoy Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Henrietta was a black woman in the south whose cells were harvested by a doctor at Johns Hopkins without her consent.  They were the first cells to be replicated in a lab, and over the following decades, have been used in research fields from space to cancer.  The story follows Henrietta’s life and the struggles of her descendants to come to grips and find justice for their mother, as well as the journey of Skloot in uncovering and piecing together this hidden tragedy of the 20th century.

I recently read and enjoyed several sad YA books; They Cage the Animals at Night, The Fault in Our Stars, and If I Stay BUT I am tired of the sad, crying books. I want humor. Smart humor. Also maybe writing for grown ups?

Pick up Rachel Dratch’s Girl Walks Into A Bar!  Dratch is (in my opinion) one of the great under-praised treasures of the last twenty years of Saturday Night Live.  This is her memoir about comedy, dating, and accidental motherhood.  She’s frank about her struggles in comedy and show business, as well as her dating misadventures.

I am still totally butt-crazy in love with Rob, the narrator of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.  Yes, he’s a bit of an immature jerk, but his honest and funny reflections on himself, his failings, his love life, and music are the way to my heart.  The John Cusack movie is great, but you should really read the book that started my love affair with Hornby.

Smart, bittersweet humor abounds in Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  This is one of those novels that transcends the category it was published in (YA), and has something to appeal to everyone.  Junior is a teenage basketball player stuck on the Spokane Indian reservation, and his diary is filled with his reflections on race, sex, rez life, basketball, and the fine line walked as an Indian kid who goes to play basketball at a white high school.  Illustrated by the artist Ellen Forney, it’s a quick, engaging read, and one that I would suggest to anyone.  How great is this book?  It was selected for the first “If All Bosnia Read the Same Book” program in 2012.

I am looking for another Maeve Binchy. I LOVE her books; Tara Road is my all time favorite. To me, they seem simple (as in not a lot of action) and character driven with the location also playing a bit of a character. Any recommends?

Have you read Eva Ibbotson?  Nancy Pearl strongly suggested her Madensky Square to me and I adored it.  It’s the quiet story of a dressmaker in Vienna in the months before World War I.  There are no bombastic events, only Susanna’s involvement in her neighbors’ lives, and her quiet love affair.  I absolutely adored this, it’s perfect for a rainy afternoon and tea.

Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist is, like all her others, set in Baltimore, which plays a minor role.  After the death of their child, a couple separates, leaving Macon, a travel writer who hates to travel, with his son’s now-vicious corgi as well as a need for a dog trainer.  Tyler is well-known for writing memorable characters, and this may be her best-known book.

If you love food and characters, I would suggest tracking down Julia Child’s My Life in France.  Julia is an unforgettable character, as anyone who’s watched her cooking shows can attest, and her story of falling in love with France and its food is supposed to be just lovely.  This has been sitting on my to-read shelf for a couple months, and every friend I know who’s read it raved about it.


Please, keep your requests coming!  You can post them in the comments, or e-mail me at  Let me know what you read recently, what you liked and didn’t like about it, and what you’re in the mood for!

By Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to

19 replies on “Ask A Librarian”

I think I’m going to check out Madensky Square!

I’m always on the look out for new recommendations, and I’d love to hear what you have to say. I generally read fiction, like Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel, Zadie Smith, Kei Miller, Jonathan Safron Foer etc. etc. etc. I’m particularly on the lookout for some non-fiction. Absolutely anything, particularly with an emphasis on women’s history/narrative.

Thank you!

(P.s. I love libraries.)

I love this column! I have a question for you.

What do you recommend for those of us who love non-fiction, but want to read more fiction? I’m usually non-fiction all the way. I like memoirs by people who have lived through some kind of hardship (war, abuse, homelessness, etc.), feminist criticism, and sociology/culture stuff. When I do read fiction, it’s usually a popular novel that everyone is talking about, and I usually don’t like it. I also like they typical troubled teen girl YA books, but I’m looking for something a little more suitable for someone in their early 20s. Any advice?

Great suggestions! I have read a few of them and have now opened a new tab for my local library to order some others.

I would love some suggestions, hopefully this helps:

I enjoy multi-generational, family sagas, set within historically accurate times, preferably starting 20th century. I have read and loved things like Clara Callan, the first two books of the Century Trilogy, and just finished (and llllooovvved) Life After Life.


Hmmm… I am so excited, I’m not sure how to respond.

I think I enjoy most when there are multiple characters and it spans generations because I like plot points that continue to influence long down the line. That makes me think of Middlesex, which I also really enjoyed. I really enjoyed The Birth House, A Good House (one of my all time favs), books like that. I think I’m not so fussed as to what the plot point contains, I just like reading about how single decisions, circumstances, etc influence more widely.

Does that help?

Have you read Alexie’s other books? He is just a brilliant writer– I recently read Blasphemy and had to keep stopping to take pictures of the lines/quotes that stood out to me. If you have Netflix Instant, Smoke Signals is based on his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and it’s a film with a predominantly Native American cast and crew, wich is pretty great. (Also, Victor and Thomas are dreamy.)

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