THE BLOG

Strand Bookstore Employees Share The Titles They Always Recommend

02/20/2015 09:18 am ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015

As booksellers, we know you don't always know what you're looking for. Some customers arrive absolutely sure of the book they want, others will ask for "that new book with the blue cover," and we can (mostly) take care of them with ease. But more than occasionally, readers need a little more direction in their search. 18 Miles of Books is a little overwhelming and we take pride in acting as divining rods for the bibliophiles of New York. Here are a few of our go-to picks for the curious reader journeying for new finds!

Chris J., Mainfloor Manager Whenever a customer asks me for a great sci-fi read, I grab Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. Bacigalupi's "eco-punk" novel examines our crippling dependence on fossil fuels and the potentially disastrous results of gene modification, while weaving an exciting tale out of the lives of several residents of Bangkok's future.

Aaron J., Director of Visual Merchandise The Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. A fantastic collection of poetry by a master of words. Every house should have a copy of this book, no library is complete without it.

Brianne S., Marketing Manager I always recommend My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante to anyone, regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation. Elena Ferrante is the kind of writer that understands the female psyche and is one who anyone with a sister, mother, aunt, or female friend should read. Plus, her writing is truly magnificent and this is easily one of the best translated books I have ever read. It may not always be the easiest handsell, but it's certainly my go-to.

Charlie R., Art Dept. Manager Saul Leiter's Early Color is a classic photo book. Trained as a painter and then employed as a commercial photographer in the fifties and sixties, Leiter continued to create an enormous body of personal work: incredibly composed street photography as well as very personal shots of lovers, models and friends. A true flaneur, he lived only blocks from the Strand and shopped here for over forty years.

Colleen C., Second Floor Bookseller I love recommending Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when someone is looking for something to challenge them and nourish their spiritual curiosity. Its not really about Buddhism, or really about motorcycles, either. Instead, this book explores the philosophical idea of quality: what makes something "good"? And in the process touches on the philosophy of knowledge structures, science, and ethics as well. It was a book that changed the way I looked at things and reminded me how awesome books can be.

Emily S., Events Director The pieces in Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz all revolve around this dreamy, flux version of Drogobych, Poland, with characters whose personalities and lives insist beyond the page. Schulz's masterful storytelling may as well have lent DNA to the aura of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Macondo.

Gary B., Visual Merchandise Albert Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus is without a doubt the number one book I hand sell whenever I encounter a customer interested in "something smart and new". Philosophy is supposed by many to be just a blather of arguments which have no real bearing on our lives (see for example Neil deGrasse-Tyson's statements on philosophy as "a waste of brain power"), but Camus puts the problem of existence clearly into focus as both a modern and ancient concern about how we reconcile the contradictions between our thoughts and our actions, making them one effort. It is essential reading from one of the last century's greatest authors and I can say it changed my entire outlook on life.

Jane K., Rare Book Room Manager I always recommend Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. It's a good "starter" novel for readers interested in Joyce's work: a bigger bite than Dubliners, his short story collection, but not quite Ulysses. His famous stream of consciousness style is evident in this bildungsroman but isn't overwhelming for the uninitiated.

Justin B., Visual Merchandise I always tell the story of how I didn't read Lois Lowry's The Giver until I was an adult, and it was ruined because I'd read this first. Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed explores many of the same themes, but does so for an older audience, and the result is much richer: more complex, more ambiguous, and ultimately more human. Le Guin's world-building is masterful, her prose is effortless, and this is a great gateway into an author's fandom I wish more people were a part of.

Mark G., Web Designer I read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami this back when I was a freshman in college; it was fantastic. Two alternate worlds, light science fiction and a dash of noir thrown in, the story drifts back and forth from the end of the world and present day Japan. If you're into all of those, it's a great blend and leaves you wanting more!

Maya S., Second Floor Bookseller When recommending children's books I always recommend books that have a strangeness and lightness all their own. Often I recommend Maira Kalman's new book Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag, a book that understands the magic playfulness of being a child.

My favorite comic to recommend is Greg Farrell's On The Books. Farrell has a voice that speaks to power without pulling punches.

Michael C., Events Assistant When I'm asked for a recommendation I obviously have to take a lot into account about who the person is and what they're looking for, but if I get the sense that they'd be into it I recommend You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem. It's a lot of people's least favorite Lethem novel (I'm also a big fan of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), but when I was a young, overworked undergrad with way too much coursework, I came across You Don't Love Me Yet by chance in my university's library and I enjoyed it so much on the sentence level that it reawakened my thirst for the novel. If you hate Los Angeles, look elsewhere -- much of the novel's stylistic nuance comes from its setting's reckless nature, which some mistake as immaturity, but thoughtful readers will inevitably relish in the irreverence, in the bad decisions and their non-consequences, and hopefully be as enlivened as I was.

Charlie R., Art Dept. Manager Rinko Kawauchi burst onto Japan's photography scene around 2001 and has been gaining acclaim around the world ever since. When a publisher came upon her work he published her first three publications simultaneously and one, Utatane, is included in Parr/Badger's Photobook II. I have turned many customers to her work by showing them her first American publication, Aperture's Illuminance. She has a unique eye and the book serves her work fantastically. One is immediately struck by her mastery of color and light but in terms of subject matter, she explores humanity with curiosity and without sentimentality.

Sky F., Mainfloor Bookseller When I'm recommending middle grade books to parents or kids, I always go with The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. It's the start of a beautifully written fantasy series with some Game of Thrones-caliber world-building. The books get more and more complex and dark as the series goes on, Harry Potter style, but the first one is a gem on its own.

Cale H., Mainfloor Manager The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury is one of the many books I always recommend. A spare, dry, melancholy, yet very funny meditation on life in the middle of the country. Readers of all stripes can find something wonderful about this book.