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There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting the perfect book recommendation and giving great book recommendations is nearly as satisfying. Books are personal — we all love different ones — so receiving a brilliant book rec often seems even more magical than simply receiving a book. It’s like someone looked into your soul and just knew. I’ve been giving and receiving book recommendations for years, and I still get shivers whenever I get — or give — a really good one.
The internet is full of people recommending books. Folks talk up their favorites on Bookstagram and make whole videos about why you should read the newest YA fantasy on BookTube. There are, of course, tons of book blogs, not to mention book review sites. Here at Book Riot, we’ve got TBR — a whole book subscription service based around personalized recommendations (it’s awesome)! Recommending books is literally one of my jobs.
I truly love being surrounded by all of these opinions about books. But sometimes it does start to feel overwhelming. There are so many books out there. I’ll never have the time to read all the books that get recommended to me, let alone all the books I read glowing reviews of. I’m perfectly capable of picking out my next read without input from anyone, but I genuinely love the feeling of reading a book because someone said “YOU MUST!” So how do I to navigate this delightful but loud sea of book recommendations that is my daily existence?
Lately, I’ve turned to book recommendation newsletters. I know, I know: more stuff cluttering up your inbox? Just another person telling you they loved some book you’ve never heard of? Why not just follow someone on Goodreads or BookTube or wherever you go for recs? What makes a newsletter different? I admit that book recommendation newsletters aren’t for everyone, but I do think they have something unique to offer. The newsletters I subscribe to bring me so much joy — and honestly, this surprised me! I had no idea I would love them so much.
Even though the writers of bookish newsletters aren’t writing to me specifically, receiving their newsletters feels relational. A newsletter is something I’ve chosen to receive. I don’t know why this makes it feel more special than checking out an Instagram post, but it does. Signing up for a newsletter is a tiny commitment. It’s a way for me to mark something as important. Sure, I can browse someone’s book blog each week, but have I ever actually done that? No. But when a newsletter arrives in my inbox, it feels like a little treat, something fun I’ve given myself. It makes me actually want to read it, and actually reading it leads 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 one meant specifically for me. If I tell someone I love queer lit and family sagas, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to find me a book I’ll enjoy. But I could have probably found that book myself. The most magical recommendations are not for books that someone thinks I will love, but for books that they love, as long as — and this is the crucial part — I know a bit about what they love.
This is what book recommendation letters are so good at doing. Each week, I read about a book or books someone loved. I get a sense for what really gets them going. I start to understand not only what genres they gravitate toward, but what they look for in a book. Do they like to be surprised? Do they love books that play with structure? Do they mostly write about books that challenge them, or books that leave them feeling happy?
Newsletters are a way to get to know a reader. Getting to know a reader is what leads to great recs. Do I pick up every book I read about in the various newsletters I receive? Of course not. But over time, it becomes easier to see where our tastes overlap, and whether or not someone else’s favorites might also become my favorites.
Getting to know a reader like this also encourages me to take risks in my own reading. One of my current favorite newsletters is Rioter Rebecca Hussey’s Reading Indie. She reviews a lot of genre-bending nonfiction, books about translation and poetics, and indie press fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes our tastes overlap and sometimes they don’t. I don’t add every book she writes about to my TBR. But I always appreciate what she has to say about structure, the ways books use language, and the intersection of form and subject matter. I take note when she lingers on these ideas in books. She recently wrote about In the Wake by Christina Sharpe. I’d never heard of it, and now I’m excited to check it out. Not because it was a book someone picked out specifically for me, but because of why she said she loved it, what I know of her as reader (thanks to her writing) and what I know about myself.
Another newsletter I love is Deepanjana’s monthly Dear Reader. Sometimes her newsletters have a theme, but mostly they’re just a wonderful collection of thoughts on whatever she’s been reading lately. She sometimes reviews one or two books in depth, and sometimes writes about five or six books in one newsletter. She goes on at length, sometimes veering off on tangents. I don’t get the sense that she’s trying to convince anyone to read the books she reviews. She simply writes about books that have moved her, delighted her, frustrated her, made her curious. Dear Reader gives me a window into someone else’s reading life. I don’t actually need endless book recommendations. But reading a newsletter like this, where I can just luxuriate in someone else’s love of books? I could do that 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) I absolutely love. And you’ll find a lot more wonderful ones on this list of the best book newsletters for readers.
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