12 of the best books to read if you don’t know what to read
It happens to even the fondest of readers. Despite knowing that you want to read something, you just don’t know what… so you end up reading nothing.
Reading can and should be about nurturing ourselves. Even with no one watching, even with no goals achieved, reading can soothe us, inspire us, and heal us.
To help you get back into reading, here are some of the best books if you don’t know what to read right now.
I’ve included some bestselling newcomers, a handful of my old favourites, and some of the most popular recommendations I’ve shared here on Tolstoy Therapy.
The best books to read if you don’t know what to read now
1. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow for… creativity, video games, and nerdiness in Goodreads Fiction Book of the Year 2022.
I’ve recommended Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow to so many people: it’s one of the most wonderfully creative and gripping books I’ve read in a long time.
This fiction bestseller is the story of two nerdy kids who meet in a hospital, bond over video games, and years later start their own game company. This brings them money and fame, but also tragedy they never could have seen coming.
2. These Tangled Vines by Julianne MacLean
Read These Tangled Vines for… a romantic multi-generation story of an American mother and daughter who, years apart, find themselves at a winery in Tuscany.
These Tangled Vines feels like a vacation in a book. Amidst the lush vineyards and sun-kissed hills of Italy, romance author Julianne MacLean weaves a tale of love, loss, and the power of family ties.
It’s the story of Fiona, who travels to Italy after unexpectedly being named in her biological father’s will. She didn’t know anything about him until now, and the uncovered secrets from 1986 threaten to bring enormous riches but also unravel everything.
3. Fairy Tale by Stephen King
Read Fairy Tale for… the latest bestseller from Stephen King, in which the storytelling master digs deep into his imagination to create a world that blurs the boundaries between magic and reality.
Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid. But when he accidentally inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, he realises that the stakes couldn’t be higher.
4. The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller
Read The Song of Achilles for… an utterly captivating retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War from the author of Circe.
I often talk about how much I love Circe, Madeline Miller’s first book, but The Song of Achilles is another magically beautiful book to pick up when you don’t know what to read.
This thrilling retelling of the legend of Achilles is a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of gods, kings, love, and the desire for immortal fame.
5. On a Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass
Read On a Quiet Street for… a twisting and gripping thriller in idyllic suburbia from professor and playwright-in-residence at the University of Texas, Seraphina Nova Glass.
Suspecting her husband of infidelity, Cora is determined to catch him in the act. Her neighbor Paige, who tragically lost her son in a hit-and-run accident last year, agrees to help. Meanwhile, their new young neighbor Georgia seems to be concealing something.
Brighton Hills on the coast of Oregon offers an unparalleled blend of luxury and natural beauty. The residents of the community look out for each other, but perhaps a little too attentively… and that means that secrets will never stay hidden for long.
6. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
Read The Marriage Portrait for… an engrossing historical fiction novel about the suspicious death of fifteen-year-old Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici, just a year after her marriage.
Right from the start of this spellbinding book, we know that the main character is going to die. The official cause of death was ‘putrid fever’, but rumour had it that she had been murdered by her husband. This masterful historical fiction novel by the author of Hamnet explores what really happened.
7. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Read Pachinko for… a five-hundred-page multi-generational epic about a poor Korean immigrant family.
Pachinko is so raw and compulsively readable. This is one of my best recommendations to help you fall back in love with reading, about the changing fortunes of a family and the repercussions of a single decision over multiple generations.
8. The It Girl by Ruth Ware
Read The It Girl for… a gripping murder mystery set in the hallowed halls of academia by the bestselling author of The Woman in Cabin 10.
April Coutts-Cliveden is vivacious, bright, and the ultimate It Girl. She’s the first person Hannah Jones meets at Oxford, and soon they’re inseparable. But by the end of the second term, April is dead.
In this 2022 bestselling thriller by Ruth Ware, a woman searches for answers a decade after her friend’s murder.
9. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Read Cutting for Stone for… the enthralling story of Marion and Shiva Stone, twin brothers born of a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon in Ethiopia.
When I worked in my village bookshop as a teenager, Cutting for Stone was the book that the shop owner recommended to everyone who didn’t know what to read.
Bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, this is the timeless story of twins coming of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.
10. Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Daniel Silva
Read Portrait of an Unknown Woman for… a thrilling high-stakes search for the greatest art forger who ever lived by bestselling author Daniel Silva. This is Book 22 in the Gabriel Allon series, but you can also read it as a standalone.
In this suspense thriller, renowned spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon has settled into his quiet retirement in Venice.
However, when London art dealer Julian Isherwood requests his help in investigating the origins of a lucrative sale of a supposedly centuries-old painting, Gabriel is pulled into a dangerous and elaborate game.
11. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Read War and Peace for… a book about life, death, love, loss – everything, really. I love getting lost in the worlds of the characters and following their right and wrong turns in life.
If you don’t know what to read right now, how about making it the time you try War and Peace?
War and Peace is a book that’s helped me through so much over the last few years. I first read it when I was about fifteen years old and really struggling with anxiety. Unexpectedly, the enormous Russian tome became a balm for my soul.
To help you get started, here’s my guide to reading War and Peace (and actually maybe enjoying it). I’ve also shared my comparison of the best translations. I love this clothbound hardcover edition of the Anthony Briggs translation.
12. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Read Cloud Cuckoo Land for… an ambitious novel that masterfully toes the line between historical fiction and speculative fiction, crafting a tale of children on the cusp of adulthood who find resilience and hope in worlds in peril.
In this incredible novel from Anthony Doerr, travel between Constantinople in the 15th century to a library in present-day Idaho and the interstellar ship Argos in a not-so-distant future.
The result is a dazzlingly imaginative story about common ground, the power of books, and dreamers and outsiders.
For more ideas of what to read next, here’s where I find good books to read. You might also like my collections of the best books for 2023 and the top recommendations from Tolstoy Therapy readers.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.