The Reluctant Reader's Book List

I love books. I know I'm not alone in that, so I'm not going to pretend that's some great, big, bold claim. But I know there are also plenty out there who have just never really enjoyed reading. And I have to be honest...that breaks my heart. (I'll leave it to Kristen to explain what's so good about the damn things anyway.)

I've been a reader pretty much my whole life, but there always arise periods of time where I just can't settle into a book. Usually this is when work is overwhelming or when I'm feeling really out of touch with myself. When I feel like I need to be brought back into the ring, I can rely on a few favorite titles to remind me of why I love so few things in this life more than settling in with a book.
Here are some of my favorite books that will reach out to even the most reluctant reader and give her a page to call home:

The Jessica Darling Series — There isn't a girl or woman alive who won't find a piece of herself in these novels. Whether Jess is your spirit animal (she has been mine since I first met her when I was 13, but I'll share) or you find yourself in just a few of her ideas or you wish you had a BFF like her or you know you're such a Hope, reading these books is like spending the day in the comfort of a well-worn in friendship. Megan McCafferty writes your witty, snarky, clever, and surprisingly sensitive BFF or alter ego just as you would. And with five novels in the original series, plus two (soon-to-be three) in the prequel series, and an additional short story, your Jess fix will take a while to run out.

Bossypants & Yes Please — Yes, these are two separate and completely distinct titles, but having read both (and having spent the last decade wishing I was this duo's third BFF), I think they work well when read closely to one another. Both are clearly written in the genius and hilarious voices of their authors, both of whom you need only glimpse to admire. They spin the tales we thought we knew with raw and emotional honesty while striking every funny note they possibly can. These memoirs will leave you inspired and hungry, yet satisfied and secure within yourself.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower — If you're a Millennial (or a person who associates with any of them on social media, I'd wager), you've likely heard more lines quoted from this book than you realize. (And in that moment I swear we were infinite.) Its unique (for its genre, for the time—1999) epistolary style serves to sort of mask the narrator, a device that works so well when speaking to a YA audience. But make no mistake: Simply because it's heralded as a YA beacon (and it so is) doesn't mean there isn't something in here for all-grown-up Millennials today. Read it.

My Sister's Keeper — I doubt a lifestyle blogger exists who hasn't heard of Jodi Picoult. Her books are downright incredible, not to mention numerous, and I think everyone I know who enjoys reading has read at least one of hers. My Sister's Keeper is the first one I read and, though not my favorite of all the titles to choose from, it's still wonderful and an easy segue into Jodi's style. You will cry, by the way. Oh and whatever you do, don't watch the Cameron Diaz film "adaptation."

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass — You know the story—right? But maybe not as well as you think. It's a story we've seen reimagined time and time again, but that's part of the fun, I think, of reading the original work. You'll be surprised and delighted (and at points shocked and awed) at the details that inspire characters that you've come to find beloved, and find yourself down a rabbit hole yourself. It's not a child's tale. It's a tale for the ages, and a story for the readers, thinkers, wonderers and dreamers.

Less Than Zero — I'll be straight-up with you: This is not a "feel-good story" or an uplifting read. It's depressing and mind-bending and trippy and scary, in some ways. (Not "boo" scary, but like...existentially scary.) BUT. I think Bret Easton Ellis is a genius, and if you are a fan of American Psycho or The Rules of Attraction, you will too, since he wrote the books that would become those screenplays. The narrative is gripping in its drama, and though you never really catch a moment to settle down, you can disappear here. (Let me know if you get that shameless pun after you read it.)

On the Road — The ultimate for the wanderlusters, the idealists, the admirers of the beats. One of my favorite, favorite, favorite passages of all time (and the only customized bit of information about me on my FB and blogger profiles from, like, five years ago?) is from this text: "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like a fabulous yellow Roman Candle exploding like spiders across the stars..." The story of Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise (and Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and William S. Burroughs, if you prefer) and the Beats will make you yearn for life in a way you haven't before.

Go Ask Alice — It's not an easy read. But it's enthralling. And if nothing else, you'll need to read something uplifting and cheery to pull you out of the emotional pit you'll have spiraled down into by the time you finish reading this, so it'll set you on a reading kick. Okay, that doesn't sound like a glowing review. But each time I've read this book, it's taken me less than two days because it's just too real, raw, and emotional to put away. If this book doesn't make you feel every single bit of what it feels to be human, I don't know what does.

It would be great if I weren't leaving you on such a bummer note, wouldn't it? But I don't want to over-promise. These are titles I truly, truly believe will enthrall even a reluctant reader. And as we're approaching sitting-in-the-sun weather (at least I seriously hope we are...), there's no better time to create—or fall back into—the habit.

What are the books you find yourself recommending to friends? I can always use more recommendations so please share! 


  1. Can you believe Jessica Darling is the only thing I've read on this list! Though I did read like half of Bossypants, but never finished it so it doesn't count & I think I read Go Ask Alice when I was younger but I'm not remembering it. I finally added my first Jodi Picoult novel to my library list, after so many people kept recommending it (Leaving Time). I've had a hard time reading lately, I think it was when you read two really good books in a row, then the next one you try and read just seems kind of boring.

  2. I came in expecting really light, floofy reads, and these aren't that at all! (Well, maybe the comedian bios) Alice in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass), was definitely interesting to see how drastically different the original was from the Disney adaptation. But I think when I'm having trouble getting into something, I tend to go much more in the light-hearted, easy-to-read direction. None of these silly emotions, please!

  3. I don't read because I don't make time for it. Not because I don't *have* time ("I don't have time" is pet peeve of mine), but because I only have so much time in a day and I usually choose to spend it doing something else. I do like to read, though, and have read or at least started to read about half of this list. I started On the Road last year but didn't get very far. I'd like to pick it up again.
    The might sound weird but the only books or stories I've ever truly loved (maybe because they're the only ones I've really had to pick apart and examine each individual words) are ones I've read in Latin. It's an amazingly complex language and so different from English, mainly because there is no syntax so a sentence could be written in any number of combinations using the same words. It's fascinating to analyze the author's word choices and placement.

  4. I haven't read ANY of these...clearly I have some catching up to do!! xo, Biana - BlovedBoston

  5. Love this list! I sure hope you're right about that sun-shiney weather on the way... le sigh

  6. Some great choices on here! The Jessica Darling series is so much fun, and of course Bossypants is amazing (though how have I still not read Yes Please yet? I need to get on that!)

  7. There isn't a girl or woman alive who won't find a piece of herself in these novels. <--- I love this so much.
    Can you believe I have never read the Perks of Being a Wallflower? it's on my list. I've also never read Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass - not even as a child. Added to my list. Less than zero does sound scary. I've also never read On the Road.
    I love this post! Thanks for the shout out :) It breaks my heart when people say they don't like to read.. I agree with Tracy though, people saying they 'don't have time' annoys me to no end.
    Sometimes I get in a rut and I don't want to read anything. Not even P&P. Sometimes it lasts a day, a week, a few months. Sometimes I finish a book so good nothing else sounds even remotely appealing.
    Have you read the book thief???


  8. the only one I have read is 'On The Road', not one of my favorites, but far better than his other works ('Big Sur' just really irked me the whole time I read it).
    I just read Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects and it was beyond fantastic I recommend it. I also just read a couple of books Chuck Palahniuk, 'Damned' and 'Doomed', both good books, but if there is one book by him I recommend it is 'Invisible Monsters'.
    I just started reading 'We Need to Talk About Kevin', so I'll let you know how that is.

  9. I can't believe I've never read any of these books! I actually own On the Road so I'll probably start there. I'm not a fan of super sad stories, so I may skip some of these. I also really want to read Little Women. I usually recommend The Kite Runner, The Glass Castle, and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn if they're into mystery/thrillers.

  10. I've read none of these. It looks like I'm about to have a busy summer! :)

  11. I started listening to Bossypants just because I love to hear comedians read their own books! Jotting down the ones I haven't read yet because your recommendations are always on point!

  12. I'm in the middle of the 1st Jessica Darling book and the struggle is real. I've almost put it down so many times because I can't handle much more whining. This book probably would have appealed to teenage me though, because Teenage Megan was FULL of drama.
    My Sister's Keeper broke my heart and I haven't had the nerve to read any of her other books because from what I've heard she's a formula writer and her formula breaks my tender heart.
    I'm not a huge Alice and Wonderland fan (I'm pretty sure my parents purposely left that movie out of our Disney VHS collection, but I'm not aware of such reason) so I've not read either of those books. I know that Disney skews the classics REALLY bad, but I still love them and I can't help it. All the pretty colors and songs!
    I'm very affected by what I read and watch, so I tend to lean towards uplifting stuff just so I'm not depressed for days on end after I finish watching/reading something. A sad episode of Grey's Anatomy can leave me in a funk for days. #imightbetoosensitive

  13. I never read the Jessica Darling Series but I have heard lots of great things about it. Maybe I need to give it a go! My Sister's Keeper broke my heart. I have had Bossypants and Yes Please on the list for ever!!! I will get to those eventually.

    My favorite books are Where the Heart Is, anything Nicholas Sparks, Attachments, the Stephanie Plum Series, Tuesdays with Morrie, and my current read is The Beach House by Jane Green which I am very much enjoying.

  14. Totally saving this list! Not like my to-read list isn't already a mile long ;) My sister's keeper -THE BOOK- is amazing and the only one on your list I've read already!

  15. Ok, seriously, I love you. You have literally given me a load of books to immediately add to my to-read list! I lovveeee to read. It's such a wonderful little world to get into, isn't it?!

  16. Every single one of these!!!! All of them! My sister's keeper has to be one of the most touching books ever. Can I just say that its so refreshing to find so many people who love books. Its actually not that common. This post made me smile and gave me the happies but what post of yours doesn't!

  17. okay don't hate me but i really didn't like on the road. i just wasn't impressed with it. one of my must reads is To Kill a Mockingbird. That book really got to me. and also...

    wtf HARRY POTTER!!!

  18. I always recommend The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Pact and/or Nineteen Minutes, and a few others, depending on who I'm talking to.

    I've never read Less Than Zero but the movie is actually quite good. Bossypants and Yes Please are great suggestions, too.


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