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8 books to read if you don’t know what to read

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It happens to even the fondest of readers. Despite knowing that you want to read something, you just don’t know what… so you end up reading nothing. (Or, you start dozens of Kindle samples without feeling interested enough to continue anything.)

Reading can and should be about nurturing ourselves. Even with no one watching, even with no goals achieved, reading can soothe us, inspire us, and heal us.

To help you get back into reading, here are some of the best books if you don’t know what to read right now. I’ve included some popular newcomers, a handful of my old favourites, and some of the most popular recommendations I’ve shared here on Tolstoy Therapy.

The best books to read if you don’t know what to read right now

1. Fairy Tale by Stephen King

In this new book from Stephen King for September 2022, the storytelling master digs deep into his imagination to create a world that blurs the boundaries between magic and reality.

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid. But when he accidentally inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, he realises that the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Early on in the pandemic, King asked himself: “What could you write that would make you happy?” This book is the answer.

2. The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller

Madeleine Miller’s writing is a real gift for bookworms. I often talk about how much I love Circe, Miller’s first book, but Song of Achilles is another magically beautiful book to pick up when you don’t know what to read. (Even bestselling author of The Goldfinch Donna Tartt has described it as “a hard book to put down”.)

This thrilling and utterly captivating retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War is a tale of gods, kings, love, and the desire for immortal fame.

3. Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid has written some of the best books to binge-read from the last few years. I first read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and loved and hated the characters in equal measure. I loved the themes of family and self-discovery in Malibu Rising. I listened to the full-cast audiobook of Daisy Jones & the Six and it was fantastic.

Now in 2022, Taylor Jenkins has published Carrie Soto is Back, her story of a tennis legend supposedly past her prime at thirty-seven, brought back to the tennis court for one more grand slam. Carrie Soto sacrificed everything to become the best, and now she needs to give everything she’s got to defend her record.

4. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

After years of trying, I’ve finally convinced my husband to read Pachinko… mostly because I really wanted to watch the TV adaptation that came out earlier this year, but also because I know he’d love it. (He’s nearly finished with it, and has a lot of good things to say.)

Pachinko is a five-hundred-page epic about a poor Korean immigrant family covering ground in their homeland, Japan, and the US. It’s compulsively readable. I just re-read it and found so much to fall in love with all over again.

5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

When I worked in my village bookshop growing up, Cutting for Stone was the book that the shop owner recommended to everyone who didn’t know what to read. I was so glad I finally picked it up. It was incredible.

It’s the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, twin brothers born of a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon in Ethiopia. Bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving between Addis Ababa and New York City, Cutting for Stone is a great book to read if you’ve already read and enjoyed Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

“Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted…”

6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

If you don’t know what to read right now, how about making it the time you try War and Peace?

War and Peace is a book that’s helped me through so much over the last few years. I first read it when I was about fifteen years old and really struggling with anxiety. Unexpectedly, the enormous Russian tome became a balm for my soul.

It’s a book about life, death, love, loss… everything, really. I loved getting lost in the worlds of the characters and following their right and wrong turns in life.

“Here I am alive, and it’s not my fault, so I have to try and get by as best I can without hurting anybody until death takes over.”

To help you get started, here’s my guide to reading War and Peace (and actually maybe enjoying it). I’ve also shared my comparison of the best translations. I love this clothbound hardcover edition of the Anthony Briggs translation.

7. From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

From a Low and Quiet Sea really hit me hard. Starting in Syria and crossing the water to reach Ireland, this story of three men is one of the most quietly emotional books I’ve read. I love author Rachel Joyce’s review: “It’s a beautiful, luminous kind of piece – full of mystery, compassion, woven with such skill; heartbreaking and restorative. I will carry these splintered men around with me for a long time, along with the women who have loved them.”

“Trees live, like you and me, long lives, and they know things. They know the rule, the only one that’s real and must be kept. What’s the rule? You know. I’ve told you lots of times before. Be kind.”

8. A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

I’ve recommended A Whole Life many times on the blog before, and it also features in my memoir of my time living in the Swiss Alps. In this novel, Robert Seethaler gently shares the story of one man’s quiet life in the Austrian mountains in which not much happens and yet everything happens. It’s a quietly earth-shattering book.

“You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment. That’s the way it is.”


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