With the season of summer reading upon us, I’ve been noticing the way different people in my life get their book recommendations. Some of my relatives who are the most avid readers tend to pick up a slightly different pile of books than I do because they’re going to the New Yorker and the Times’ Sunday Book Review for their recommendations, while I am more likely scouring websites, blogs, Tumblr and even Instagram. My life partner, meanwhile, loves to walk into a bookstore, read the blurbs and descriptions on the back of books, and take a risk that way, usually finding books that are either a giant hit or a total miss. Then there are readers who rely on word of mouth, on what “everyone is reading” or what’s selling really well at their local or chain bookstore.
Combining this fascination with how we choose what we read and my other recent obsession — personality tests — along with common debates about whether plot matters more than prose style and whether novels should be uplifting or depressing led me to come up with a simple, thoroughly unscientific quiz to diagnose eight readerly personalities. Answer the following questions, then move forward to find your books.
1. Do you get take book recommendations from critics (C) vs. or audiences (A)?
Are you scouring the literary reviews or polling your pals and bookstore clerks?
2. Do you prefer your fiction uplifting (U) or depressing (D)?
Do you like your endings Jane Austen style or Hemingway-esque? Do you want to feel beautiful sorrow or triumphant hope as you close a book?
3. Are you more interested in a gripping story (S) or inventive prose (P)?
Does a Joycean sentence make up for a pedestrian plot? Or would you prefer the twists and turns of a Dickens novel and happily ignore the workmanlike sentences?
Put your answers together, find your three-letter combination, and then find your book!
You are searching for that Holy Grail, the wise story that leaves you feeling better about yourself and the world. There is no one for you like the cozy writers from across the pond. You demand a glowing feeling and an entertaining ride, but also a voice you can respect. This summer, you want to pick up one of the late, great Irish writer Maeve Binchy’s most critically beloved novels, probably Tara Road, Circle of Friends, or Scarlet Feather.
You’re an unusual bird, wanting both a soaring ride and the kind of writing that contains phrases you’ll never forget. While it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, you can’t deny the affirming power of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. If you haven’t read this masterpiece, now is the time.
You love a story that breaks your heart and slays you, so you cannot forget the reading experience. This isn’t exactly hard to find in our bleak era, but try Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake for clear, almost invisible writing and a 100 percent guarantee of weeping.
You prefer to get your elevation from unusual twists and turns of language, not from everything coming up roses for your character. If you haven’t read Ann Patchett’s best, beloved novel, Bel Canto, it will blow your mind with its beauty.
Caitlin Moran is popular for a reason. Though in her nonfiction and social media posts she sometimes sticks her foot firmly in her mouth, her warm understanding of flawed characters makes her an ideal comic novelist. Get ready to laugh, cry, and shake your head as you read about sexual, musical, and family fumblings in How to Build a Girl.
Elizabeth Gilbert was a talented novelist long before the guru days of Eat, Pray, Love. Her historical novel The Signature of All Things contains remarkable writing and an unforgettable narrative voice, in a surprise-filled story that follows decades in the life of a brilliant family of botanists.
You think life is dark, so books should be too. But at the very least, you want revelations, suspense, and shocks to keep you reading. If you haven’t checked out George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, now is clearly the time to do so.
You love to be part of the literary conversation, but you’re not interested in reading anything that sounds clunky. Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel’s dark and inventively styled story of intrigues in the court of Henry VIII is a perfect fit for your exacting demands.