35 Books Librarians Have Recently Loved
Romance, biography, manga, and so much more.
Back in September, BuzzFeed Books sent out an unscientific survey to librarians, asking them about their jobs, projects, pet peeves — and recent books they've loved. About 1,400 librarians responded, mostly in the US. Here’s what they had to say.
What it's about: When Darius travels from the US to visit his grandparents in Iran, he's sure he'll be as much of an outsider there as he is at home. He's into Star Trek and comics, and his clinical depression makes it hard for him to connect to others, but when he meets his grandparents' neighbor — a boy who doesn't seem to think Darius is that strange at all — everything changes.
"I loved everything about this book — the humor, the heart, the Star Trek references, the descriptions of food. It's a book about being soft, about being true, and about finding yourself in your family. A stellar debut." —Angie M.
"I cried at the end and immediately wanted to restart it." —Tegan B.
What it's about: In What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Elizabeth Catte takes a critical look at the nation's recent fascination with the Appalachian people and politics, analyzing stereotypes and depictions in popular culture and highlighting writing and art created by Appalachians rather than simply about them.
"What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte directly addresses the New York Times best-selling memoir by J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy, which completely mischaracterizes my hometown and its residents. Catte discusses the historical context for the region's struggles and also credits the region’s diversity, which does in fact exist." —Evelyn H.
"A much needed, fierce rebuttal to Hillbilly Elegy and about so much more than Appalachia." —Natalie Draper, Virginia
What it's about: Keiko Furukura's life, and even her personality, revolves around her job at the local convenience store where she's worked for 18 years. She finds comfort in it — a comfortable place in a world where she doesn't fit in — but for some reason everyone in her life seems to think it's not enough. Check out an excerpt here.
"This was such a quiet book but it touches on the ways single women are judged globally, as well as the meaning of work. Very interesting and weird little book." —Christina Vortia, Florida
"Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata was so well-written. You can really experience what certain characters go through, how their thought process is a little different." —Liz, Virginia
What it's about: A lonely boy befriends a wolf while both are struggling to survive in a vast, desolate tundra — but neither is what he seems to be.
"Manga seems to be underrated, but the stories are powerful. To Your Eternity is about an immortal sent to Earth to learn and grow. Pain seems to be its only teacher at first, but soon you realize it's much more than that — it's connections to people, both good and bad." —Courtney, North Carolina
What it's about: A historical examination, written with wry humor and through a feminist lens, of the female serial killers who rival their male counterparts in evil and violent intelligence.
"Historical true crime with a healthy dose of feminism makes for FASCINATING reading. Each chapter is dedicated to a different female serial killer from all around the globe, and I would easily read an entire book about each of these women. Highly recommended on audio!" —Katie, Illinois
"I am in love with the informal writing style. It's absolutely how I would enthusiastically talk about these women at a party (probably to people who regret starting a conversation with me and desperately want to escape)." —Rose, New Jersey
What it's about: An informative and impassioned call to revitalize our idea of the social or professional gathering and to create meaningful, enjoyable experiences.
"I loved Priya Parker's The Art of Gathering for its inspiring look at why we gather, and why it is important to be deliberate in how we gather." —Stephanie Chase, Oregon
What it's about: When a straight-A student and star athlete is given a copy of the out-of-print mystery novel The Bubblegum Reaper by her favorite teacher, she's inspired to add a little rebellion to her life. But rebellion doesn't come without consequences.
"It's such a great story for anyone who feels lost in life. The main character Nanette receives a copy of The Bubblegum Reaper from her favorite teacher, and it absolutely changes her outlook on life and makes her question if she's on a path in life that she actually wants to be on. (Also, underneath the dust jacket, the hardcover looks like the worn-out copy of The Bubblegum Reaper she received.)" —Rebekah, Alabama
What it's about: Anthony Ray Hinton spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit, awaiting execution and watching as his fellow inmates went to their executions just feet from his cell. In 2015, he was released with the help of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, and The Sun Does Shine is the unlikely story of his transformation in prison.
"In The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton gives a heartbreaking look into his life spent on death row, and an understanding of what the death penalty means. Many innocent people are sent to death row for crimes they did not commit. Ray was one of the lucky ones to get out." —Beth, Ohio
"I love it because it shows how morally unjust the death sentence is, but also how the main character sought out ways to make life on death row bearable, such as forming a book club." —Ashley Wills, Kansas
What it's about: In a postapocalyptic Africa, a woman gives birth to a baby after being raped by one of the generals who destroyed her village. She names the baby Onyesonwu — meaning "Who fears death?" — and both she and Onye realize very quickly that she seems to have special abilities. When Onye discovers in a spiritual visit that someone powerful is trying to kill her, she makes it her goal to get to the would-be murderer first — and find out more about who exactly she is along the way.
"You can't imagine what it feels like to love a genre that doesn't love you. That's the beauty of afrofuturist literature. Black folks can see themselves in the narrative, and even learn about African traditions long lost to us as a result of slavery." —Robyn Reed, New York
"It was like nothing I’ve read before!" —William Ottens, Kansas
What it's about: Graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu highlights the women who accomplished amazing things but who've never received the acclaim they deserve.
"My go-to recommendation is Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by French graphic novelist Penelope Bagieu. Straddles YA and adult, and each biography made me laugh and cry in the span of 10 pages (sometimes simultaneously). It stands head and shoulders above similar feminist biography collections." —Emily Roberts, Colorado
"Who wouldn’t want to read about these not-often-mentioned kickass women who ruled the world in their own unique ways?" —Naomi, Texas
What it's about: Journalist Maya Dusenbery dives deep into the systemic problem in the medical industry of dismissing and ignoring women and their symptoms, showing how doctors who write off women's complaints as overreactions can lead to aggravated illness and even death.
"Doing Harm is about how much harder it is to be heard as a woman with an illness. It's very sad since it shows how much work still needs to be done, but it is also somewhat empowering since it makes you feel like you could help change the world for women with health issues." —Vedana Vaidhyanathan, Texas
"It's amazing and informative and makes me so grateful to live in a country with socialized health care, and to come from a privileged background where I have been believed and helped by the medical profession." —S., Canada
What it's about: An exploration of not only loneliness but also aloneness, as discovered through art in New York City — the titular lonely city.
"I loved The Lonely City because it was an appreciation of the art that moves us and connects us. We all need more perspectives like this in our lives." —Audrey, Florida
What it's about: Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray fall in love at church bingo in 1963, but they're kept apart but their family and society and are pushed into separate marriages. Decades later, they find each other again and discover their connection is still alive. Check out an excerpt here.
"I loved Bingo Love — a graphic novel about two girls who fall in love in the ’60s, are torn apart by their families, and reunite late in life." —Ashley, New York
What it's about: Ten-year-old Mia Tang manages the front desk of the motel she and her family work and live in. Her parents, Chinese immigrants, let immigrants stay in empty rooms for free, and Mia is busy keeping this secret from the mean motel owner, and another secret — her desire to be a writer — from her parents.
"I love a book whose characters walk off the page, and the story of an immigrant family helping out other immigrant families was really compelling. The characters are rich, diverse, and I fell in love from the first page!" —Shannon McDonald, Colorado
"Though written for younger readers, Front Desk was eye-opening for me as an adult in the way it portrayed a type of immigration experience I knew little about. It was lighthearted but touched on serious issues and dealt with them honestly and thoughtfully. It was based loosely on the author's own childhood, and in an afterword she discusses some of the hardships her family and others she knew faced." —Michelle, Illinois
What it's about: A dual-timeline novel that looks at the effects of the AIDS crisis in 1980s Chicago among a close-knit group of friends, and 30 years later in Paris, where one of those friends must track down her estranged daughter.
"The Great Believers tells the story of a group of gay men coming of age in Chicago at the start of the AIDS crisis. We’ve come so far in just a little bit of time but it’s important to remember our past, and how we lost an entire generation." —Scott Lenski, Wisconsin
"The Great Believers blew me away. I’m glad we are seeing more stories about the early days of the AIDS pandemic. It was a hard read for me — I lost a beloved family member to AIDS in the late 1980s — but we need to remember what happened." —Nanette, Illinois
What it's about: Vivian Carter is tired of the jocks at her high school, the fact that they'll never get in trouble for their casual harassment, and the general sexism built into the rules. Inspired by her former Riot Grrrl mom, she creates and distributes an anonymous zine, which quickly turns into a revolution.
"Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu was a book that resonated deeply with me. I wished I could have read it when I was high school. There are truly some amazing YA novels being published right now." —Caitlyn Stever, New York
"Powerful and inspiring." —Shannon DeSantis, Vermont
What it's about: A critical look by New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani at the trends in social media, academia, culture, and politics that have allowed for the prioritizing of subjectivity and emotion over science and rational thought.
"As a librarian, I particularly appreciated Kakutani's description of a pitfall of the internet: that the sheer volume of data available allows people to cherry-pick facts to augment points of view (no matter how outrageous they are) rather than to arrive at a logical and rational conclusion based on a close examination of empirical evidence." —Rich McIntyre Jr., Connecticut
What it's about: Stella Lane is 30 years old, highly successful in her career as an economist, and almost entirely inexperienced in the romance arena. Her parents are itching for grandchildren, but interpersonal relationships have never come easily to Lane (she, like author Hoang, has Asperger’s syndrome) so she decides to call in a pro to help as she navigates the dating world. Enter Michael Phan, a Daniel Henney lookalike and male escort who wants to be something more.
"I loved The Kiss Quotient. Steamy and of course sweet with a HEA (Happily Ever After) — because this is a romance after all — Stella learns to come out of her shell with help from her new partner." —Leann, Maryland
"The best book I've read in the last month was The Kiss Quotient. It's a diverse romance not only in ethnicity but in the representation of autism and Asperger's syndrome. The characters are well developed, and more than their diagnosis." —Alana Mutum, New York
"My favorite summer book. I read it twice." —Meagan Towle, Vermont
19. The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein
What it's about: Before Sandra Pankhurst founded Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services, a company that handles crime scene, hospital, hoarding, and other trauma cleanup, she was raised in an abusive household as a little boy; she was a husband and father, then a drag queen, sex worker, and wife. In all of these periods of her life, she was trying to find her place in the world — and it ended up being where she could help others who'd lived through trauma.
"The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein is an excellent biography about a fascinating trans woman who had an incredibly difficult life, and channeled her suffering into a career helping people at the worst time in their lives as a crime scene cleaner." —Jenny, Ohio
What it's about: A young, broke Swedish immigrant arrives alone in California and begins a journey on foot to find his brother. Along the way, he meets criminals, swindlers, religious fanatics, visionaries, and, through these adventures, slowly becomes something of a legend.
"Hernan Diaz's novel In the Distance is an isolating story of a man who is separated from his brother as they travel to America, and then his struggle to survive, living off his wits. I checked it out from the library and as soon as I finished it I ran to my local indie bookstore to buy a copy — it’s that good." —Franco Vitella, Ohio
What it's about: After 15-year-old Will's older brother is murdered, he shoves his brother's gun into his waistband and gets on the elevator — the first steps in his journey to avenge his brother's death. Long Way Down is told entirely over the course of that one elevator trip, showing how Will's mind frame shifts as people join him on the elevator and engage him in meaningful conversation, telling him more and more about the story of his brother's death — a story he thought he knew.
"Long Way Down is my 2018 favorite — no question. I talk about it to every student and staff member who walks into the library. It gives my students a glimpse into struggles they are fortunate not to live, but it does so in a way that is accessible to every reader. It won’t let you stop thinking about the kids whose lives are so deeply rooted in violence. Everyone should read this book. Have you read it? Read it!" —Angela Pigoni, Illinois
"This was my first time reading a novel in verse. I loved it because it kept me riveted from page 1, and it was a very quick and yet suspenseful and emotional read." —Kelsey B., Pennsylvania
"Holy cow, this book gave me goosebumps and was so powerful. The free verse adds to the beauty and rawness of the story." —Amy Armstrong, Idaho
What it's about: A four-volume series spanning one year and written in daily letters to his unborn daughter, describing the world that she'll soon meet.
"I loved the Season Quartet by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I’m a relatively new father, and this series of essays, written to the author’s daughter, are beautiful, mundane, and a pleasure to read. They’ve helped ease some of my anxieties about being a new dad, and have definitely taught me to slow down and appreciate who my daughter is as she grows up." —Franco Vitella, Ohio
What it's about: A journey across the most famous haunted places in the US, during which Colin Dickey explores the history hidden within these legends.
"I love ghost stories, and this book goes beyond the story itself and talks about the social and historical context of popular ghost stories around the country." —Kaela, California
What it's about: A shocking exposé of the rise and collapse of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup that claimed to have a machine that would revolutionize blood testing, and the story of the woman who founded it — and then did all she could to hide the fact that the tech didn't actually work.
"I couldn't put down John Carreyrou's Bad Blood. If it had been written as fiction, it would have been criticized for being too unbelievable. The story says a lot about the time we're living in now, but it also has classic elements — hubris, villainy, greed, courage, and an intergenerational family struggle. Even if you're not interested in tech startups, this is a fascinating book." —Sandra, Canada
"I love a good scammer story." —Nimisha, Ohio
What it's about: The patriarch of the De La Cruz family decides to throw a huge birthday party in the last days of his life, but his mother also dies in the days leading up to the event, leading to a bittersweet celebration of both of their lives and their family's legacy. Check out an excerpt here.
"I recently loved The House of Broken Angels by Urrea. I don't know why he isn't a best-seller!" —Sarah B., Michigan
What it's about: An epistolary novel told in letters between Anders Larsen, a Danish professor and widower, and Tina Hopgood, an English woman who lives isolated on her farm. The two bond over their shared interest in the Tollund Man, the bog body made famous by one of Seamus Heaney's poems, but their relationship grows into something more special.
"Meet Me at the Museum by debut author — and septuagenarian! — Anne Youngson is a short epistolary novel that stole my heart this summer." —Kelly Moore, Texas
What it's about: Aiden Bishop is trapped in an eternal loop of the same day — the day Evelyn Hardcastle dies. It'll keep looping until he can identify her killer, which would be easier to do if he didn't keep waking up in different bodies.
"It keeps you on your toes until the end. So good!" —Maddy, Australia
"I was hooked on this one — murder mystery with a time-turning and genre-bending plot." —Cari, Ohio
28. Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith
What it's about: A groundbreaking portrait of the intense, complicated, and largely behind-the-scenes friendship between Malcolm X and Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, looking at previously untapped resources like personal writing and FBI records.
"I really enjoyed learning more about the intertwined lives of Ali and X. I hadn't had more than a cursory exposure to the life of Malcolm X and so learning more about his life was particularly enlightening." —Nick Iwanicki, Colorado
What it's about: Librarian and war orphan Lazlo Strange has spent his life dreaming about the mythic lost city of Weep, and the hope that one day he might find it. He doesn't believe he's brave enough to travel the world to search for it, though — until a war leader named Godslayer shows up and presents an unusual opportunity.
"I love Laini Taylor’s lyrical writing style and the beautiful worlds she creates." —Kelsey O'Brien, New York
"Laine Taylor created this huge, beautiful world for this epic fantasy story, but also built in a tragic and compelling love story. I couldn't put this book down." —Rebecca D., Tennessee
"Taylor's imagination and writing is hard to beat, with lush, haunting writing and heartbreaking characters." —Jessica Werner, Washington
What it's about: In the early 20th century, a 12-year-old half-Chinese orphan named Ernest is excited to be at Seattle's first World's Fair until he realizes he's there to be raffled off. Against all odds, he finds himself in a strange new sort of family — and 50 years later, at Seattle's second World's Fair, Ernest and his own family, including his sick wife, grapple with their history.
"It's a history of early Seattle, and the immigrant experience of one boy auctioned off at the World's Fair. Powerful characters and story." —Dawn Higginson, Connecticut
What it's about: An exposé and criticism of the ways in which search engines skew results because of private interests in certain sites, the monopoly of just a few search engines, and the biases of coding that led to algorithms that privilege whiteness.
"I am very passionate about social justice and equity within and among the library science field, and I feel strongly that with the increase of our — this includes librarians' — reliance on Google, we should be acknowledging how our search results can reflect the biases of the person writing the code. Anyone in the information science field should take the time to read this book." —Jenny, Colorado
What it's about: The first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, weaving in original reporting and archival documents as Maxwell King explores Rogers' groundbreaking career and the personal history that drove it.
"I loved watching his show when I was growing up; now as an adult who has children and works with children, I love his thoughts on what they need." —Katie Moran, Indiana
"It's interesting to learn about the life of a man who gave so much of himself to others." —Anonymous
"I’m currently listening to the audiobook of The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King. A biography of Mr. Rogers read by LeVar Burton? That begins with 'Won’t You Be My Neighbor'? It’s the most comforting thing and gives me hope for the world." —Jez, Illinois
What it's about: When young Elsie is left pregnant and widowed just weeks after marrying a handsome heir, she's stuck on an estate with resentful servants, neighbors bordering on cruel, and her late husband's awkward cousin. But there's someone (or something!) else in her new home — a wooden doll that looks remarkably like her, hidden behind a mysterious door...
"The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell was a slow burner but sooo good and very creepy." —Rosie, the UK
What it's about: When a young boy is killed in the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, those in his orbit process the massacre and his death in interconnected, gut-wrenching chapters.
"Heartbreaking!" —Annette, Australia
"I love reading about people recovering in their own ways after experiencing the worst human atrocities. HAN KANG IS THE BEST WRITER." —Megan, Virginia
What it's about: A collection of short stories about the absurdity of living, examining the very strange and the undeniably familiar — and the ways they often overlap. Characters find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, interacting with aliens and automatons, while maintaining a base level of relatability.
"I really love Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others. It's been a while since I've read science fiction short stories that were that good. They're the perfect mix of the technological, the spiritual, and the metaphysical." —Aaron Williams, Kentucky
(Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)