Personalized Book Recommendations From Our Editors

Sarah Harrison Smith on December 14, 2017
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Not sure what to read next, or what book to give a friend or relative at the holidays? The Amazon Book Editors are happy to help, and you can write to us at AskTheEditors@Amazon.com.

Below, we have some suggestions for a reader whose mother has very particular preferences in fiction.

I’m looking for a book recommendation for my mother. She enjoys mostly realistic fiction. – no fantasy or magical realism for her. The last novel she says she really liked was Go Set a Watchman. She grew up in the rural South and often enjoys books set in rural America or anywhere with a strong sense of place. If books were movies, I think she’d mostly be interested in PG or PG-13 ratings – she doesn’t want to read too much about sex, violence or murder. Any suggestions?

Mark, Roslindale MA

What a great question! There are a lot of readers like your mother, and picking books for them can be difficult. You want to give her a book she’ll love, that will be worth reading, but won’t contain graphic sex or violence. Short of you flipping through a novel page by page, like a teenager skimming for the naughty bits, it’s hard to be certain that the book you choose will fit her criteria. But we’re here to help.

Starting with books with a strong sense of place and a love of the rural South: for a reader who didn’t mind a bit more grit, the book I’d recommend would be Sing, Unburied Sing, Jesmyn Ward’s shatteringly good, deeply felt road-trip novel set in Mississippi. This National Book Award winner is embued with a very culturally specific sense of landscape and voice. But the drug abuse and brutality Ward describes might be too much for reader who wants a smoother ride, though I’d argue that the rewards of reading this novel far outweigh the heartbreak along the way.

If your mother’s bookshelves aren’t already bending under the weight of fiction by the great women writers of the Southern literary tradition, an ideal gift might be a hardcover edition of something by Eudora Welty (from Jackson, Mississippi), Elizabeth Spencer (born in Carrollton, Mississippi), Flannery O’Conner (of Savannah, Georgia) or Carson McCullers (of Columbus, Georgia). Everyone should read McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter at least once in their lives – the scope of her compassion for her odd, isolated characters is extraordinary, and she was only 23 when it came out.

More recently, Gail Godwin (who hails from Birmingham, Alabama) published Flora, set in the mountains of North Carolina during the Second World War. Like Scout in Harper Lee’s first book, To Kill a Mockingbird, Helen, the 10-year old protagonist of this book, is motherless, and has an intense relationship with the woman hired to care for her, as Scout does with Calpurnia. Thematically, this book might appeal to your mother, and the writing is superb.

Leaving the South behind, there are some excellent recent novels that have a very specific sense of place, without explicit sex or violence. The aristocratic hero of Amor Towles’s bestseller, A Gentleman In Moscow, moves into the historic Metropol hotel, opposite the Kremlin in 1922, and stays there, under house arrest for… quite some time. Now that’s a sense of place. And though “the age of the nobility” may have “given way to the age of the common man,” Towles’s gentleman remains just that, which is probably why this novel has been such a reader favorite.

Closer to home, Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng, is the Amazon Editor’s top fiction pick for 2017. (We like her work so much that we chose her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, as the Best Book of the Year in 2014.) In Little Fires Everywhere, Ng writes about what happens when an artist and her daughter move into the picture-perfect planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio. Ng is deeply concerned, among other things, with issues of identity and motherhood, which might make it a great choice for your mother.

Happy holidays!

We hope these suggestions help you find a great book. Please write to us at AskTheEditors@Amazon.com if you have a book question we may be able to answer.


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