I’m always on the lookout for new sources of book recommendations. It’s hard to know when to believe the hype—to trust that you’re seeing a book come up again and again on social media or in listicles and conversation because it genuinely is that wonderful, rather than because literary publicity, both official and unofficial, is a bit of an ouroboros. On the other end of the spectrum, going in without research and scanning by cover is proverbially dangerous, of course. A related hazard: I used to work in trade publishing, and it’s alarming how often I find myself drawn to a particular spine while scanning the library shelves, convinced I’ve “heard great things,” only to realize that it was in production while I was at the company—a year ago at the least—and though I’ve heard nothing since, I’m still conditioned to respond to its cover.
I seek out winners and finalists for past years’ major awards—which of course is a useful filter, but sometimes it seems that more than anything else it just teaches you the “house style” preferred by each prize. And of course it narrows each year down to just a few titles, and puts you perennially in the past.
In my experience, The Center for Fiction’s Debut Novel Prize (particularly the longlist) is a great way to find truly new fiction that you wouldn’t necessarily have encountered otherwise. In general, there might just be no substitute for voracious-reader friends you trust to steer you right. As of this month, thanks to a Christmas gift from my partner, I’m also enrolled in Greenlight Bookstore’s First Editions Club—a kind of book-of-the-month club that delivers signed copies of bookseller-selected new fiction. My first title was Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves—a book that was lovely and new, rough around the edges in a way that made me think about writing, fascinating—and also a book I would not have found my way to otherwise. Lately I’ve been concerned that the last several books I’ve read have blurred together, even in their excellence—I’ve been in a rut of style and theme, accidentally reading what felt like clone (or at least sibling) novels. I’m looking forward to injecting a more eclectic mix with advice from the Greenlight FEC.