Your Next Best Book

One of the great delights about book signings is talking to fellow readers. Sounds simple enough, but with the right crowd and in the right atmosphere, it can take unexpected turns.

So it was that I found myself one early April evening in rural Alabama, half an hour from home in the oasis of a public library. This was a return engagement, having spoken there two years before. Now with the release of Control Group, I jumped at the invitation to return.

The pleasantries and prepared remarks were familiar enough. Afterward, though, we sat around plates of homemade pimento cheese sandwiches liberated from their crusts and talked about our favorite books. We listed our favorite authors. Neil Diamond’s book came up. So did the Lee Childs series. Someone asked me to recommend their “next best book”.

The question didn’t catch me off guard. I’ve had a steady intake of two-dozen books a year for almost a decade. There are plenty of to choose from. I’ve also encountered amazing books over the last year: beautifully crafted, lyrically written, creatively executed, and downright entertaining. I’ve also read some real duds, but why dwell on those. Nobody likes a hater.

Here is my own “Top 10” Reading list over the last year, listed in no particular order and summarized at a glance:



Exit West by Mohsin Hamid : a contemporary novel about refugees and migration from the war-torn middle east as seen through the eyes of young lovers.

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George : a coming-of-age novel about two teenaged boys growing up in small town Maine. Painted against a backdrop of pain and loss, this book sings.

Commonwealth by Anne Patchett : an epic tale of the impact on two families lives after an affair at a christening. Patchett could’ve been a therapist with her insight and ability to parse out emotions and serve them up to make readers blush with recognition.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley : a tale of loss and redemption after a plane crash, told in revere chronologic order. How can you know the ending 5 pages in and stay up late to find out how it all happened? Hawley is a master at suspense.

The Whites by Richard Price : hard-boiled detective novel, with a twist. Trust no one.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin : a delightfully gossipy novel looking at Truman Capote’s social life in Manhattan.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld : a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, with a wickedly funny twist. Having lived for 8 years in Cincinnati certainly helped enjoy this eminently readable tale.



Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates : National Book Award-winning essay on race relations in America told by a journalist for The Atlantic. Empathetic and a painful look a the bias of “those who consider themselves white.” Powerfully influential for today’s culture.

American Lion by Jon Meacham : Award-winning biography of Andrew Jackson, beautifully detailed. Anyone who can infuse life into a lithograph has a gift for story telling. That it can inform our present day politics makes it all the more relevant.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi : a mid-life memoir by a neurosurgeon cut-down at the dawn of his career by cancer. While all the more powerful because he died, there are gems of language that sparkle under Kalaithi’s care. Echoes of Atul’s Gawande’s genius in medical memoir.


No time to read? Listening to some of these on or iTunes can be equally amazing. Mohsin Hamid reads his own word with a terrific voice; Ari Fliakos brings a gritty reality to The Whites.

What’s your next best book?