There is nothing quite like getting the feeling of getting the perfect book recommendation and giving good book recommendations almost as satisfying. Books are personal – we all love different ones – so receiving a brilliant book often feels even more magical than just receiving a book. It’s like someone is looking into your soul and knew. I’ve been giving and receiving book recommendations for years, and I still get chills every time I get – or give – a really good one.
The internet is full of people who recommend books. People are talking about their favorites on Bookstagram and making whole videos about why you should read the latest YA fantasy on BookTube. There are, of course, tons of book blogs, not to mention book review sites. At Book Riot, we have TBR – a comprehensive book subscription service based on personalized recommendations (that’s awesome)! One of my jobs is literally recommending books.
I really enjoy being surrounded by all of these opinions about books. But sometimes it starts to get overwhelming. There are so many books out there. I’ll never have time to read all the books that are recommended to me, let alone all the books I read rave about. I’m perfectly capable of choosing my next read without anyone’s interference, but I really like the feeling of reading a book because someone said “YOU MUST!” So how do I navigate this delicious but noisy sea of book recommendations that is my daily existence?
Lately I’ve been turning to book recommendation newsletters. I know, I know: more stuff cluttering your inbox? Just another person telling you they liked a book you’ve never heard of? Why not just follow someone on Goodreads or BookTube or wherever you go for leisure? What makes a newsletter different? Granted, book recommendation newsletters aren’t for everyone, but I think they have something unique to offer. The newsletters I subscribe to bring me so much joy – and honestly, it surprised me! I didn’t know I would love them so much.
Even if the editors of the bookish newsletters do not write to me specifically, receiving their newsletters seems relational. A newsletter is something that I have chosen to receive. I’m not sure why this makes this more special than checking out an Instagram post, but it is. Signing up for a newsletter is a minimal commitment. It’s a way for me to mark something as important. Sure, I can browse someone’s blog every week, but have I ever done that? No. But when a newsletter hits my inbox, it’s like a little treat, something fun that I treat myself to. It really makes me want to read it, and reading it brings us to the next thing I love so much about newsletters: getting to know someone’s tastes and style over a long period of time.
Over the years, I’ve learned that a good book recommendation isn’t always a recommendation just for me. If I tell someone that I love queer and family sagas, chances are they can find me a book that I will appreciate. But I probably could have found this book myself. The most magical recommendations aren’t about books someone thinks I’ll like, but books that they or they love, as long as – and this is the crucial part – I know what they like.
This is what book recommendation letters are so good at doing. Every week I read a book or books that someone liked. I have an idea of what really drives them forward. I’m starting to understand not only what genres they gravitate towards, but what they’re looking for in a book. Do they like to be surprised? Do they like books that play with structure? Do they mostly write about books that challenge them, or books that leave them happy?
Newsletters are a way to get to know a reader. Getting to know a reader is what leads to good reads. Do I collect all the books I read in the various newsletters I receive? Of course not. But over time, it becomes easier to see where our tastes overlap and if someone else’s favorites could become my favorites as well.
Getting to know a reader like this also encourages me to take risks in my own reading. One of my favorite bulletins right now is Rioter Rebecca Hussey’s Reading Indie. She reviews a lot of genre non-fiction, books on translation and poetics, and independent press fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes our tastes overlap and sometimes we don’t. I don’t add all the books she writes to my TBR. But I still appreciate what she has to say about structure, the way books use language and the intersection of form and subject. I take note when she dwells on these ideas in the books. She recently wrote on Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake. I had never heard of it, and now I can’t wait to find out. Not because it was a book someone had chosen especially for me, but because of why she said she liked it, from what I know about her as a reader (thanks to his writing) and what I know about myself.
Another newsletter that I like is the monthly Dear Reader of Deepanjana. Sometimes her newsletters have a theme, but most of the time they’re just a wonderful collection of thoughts on everything she’s been reading lately. Sometimes she reviews one or two books in depth, and sometimes writes about five or six books in a single newsletter. It continues for a long time, sometimes veering on tangents. I don’t feel like she’s trying to convince anyone to read the books she reviews. She simply writes about books that have moved, delighted, frustrated, curious. Dear reader gives me a window into someone else’s reading life. I don’t really need endless book recommendations. But read a newsletter like this, where I can just bask in someone else’s love for books? I could do this all day. And I end up with stellar recommendations anyway.
And if you’re wondering, I do indeed have my own book recommendation newsletter, Books & Bakes, where I write about books (and recipes) that I love. And you’ll find a lot more wonderful ones on this list of the best book newsletters for readers.