I’m not often in a reading rut, but sometimes I too must dig myself out of that dark and bookless chasm. One foolproof reading rut remedy is to select read-alikes, or books that are tonally similar to ones I already love. Below, you’ll find a few well-known books with (slightly) lesser-known read-alikes. I wouldn’t wish a reading slump on anyone, but if you are there, I hope that these books reignite your bookish enthusiasm.

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If you enjoyed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, then I suspect you might also like The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez. In this sci-fi novel, Jimenez writes an intricately woven, character-driven story set in space and throughout time. Although it doesn’t have the same feel-good vibes as Chambers’s Wayfarers series, it does take the reader on a sweeping adventure during which you get to know a cast of characters living on a spaceship after having accepted a long-term job. Exploring themes like corporate greed and the meaning of family, The Vanished Birds will stick with you and makes for an intriguing Book Club pick.

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In 2013, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki was published to great fanfare and for good reason: It is a fantastic book. I’ve read a few of Ozeki’s works, and it is, by far, my favorite due to the way it marries her classic quirkiness with a haunting story that sticks to your soul. If you, like me, thoroughly enjoyed it, you may also like the slightly lesser-known classic of magical realism: Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson. Also set in British Columbia, Monkey Beach takes place on a reservation in Canada on the homeland of the Haisla people, where Lisamarie and her family have lived for generations. With atmospheric and poetic prose, Eden Robinson tells the story of a young Indigenous woman who has been haunted for her entire life by ghosts as she attempts to solve the mystery surrounding her brother’s tragic death.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi should be required reading. With a unique structure that follows two branches of a family tree throughout the generations, it tells both personal and political histories of the U.S., Ghana, and the African Diaspora. If you read Homegoing and want to read something with a similar feeling, then I suggest reading She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore. She Would Be King tells the story of the formation of Liberia from three characters’ perspectives. Moore uses magical realism to illustrate the tensions and complexities between settlers, Indigenous peoples, and enslaved peoples and how these different groups created what is modern-day Libera. I expect that you’ll be both swept away in the storytelling and more educated about the history of Liberia after reading this book.

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Yes, I have read Dune. I bet if you’re a hardcore sci-fi fan, you too have read the 1965 classic. Yes, the story is epic and it’s hard to put down. However, I think there is a lot to be criticized about the way that Frank Herbert writes about women and other groups of people. If you’re looking for an epic sci-fi classic that is less male-centric, then I suggest reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (if you haven’t already). Originally published in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness follows a human emissary as he attempts to get the alien inhabitants of a planet named Winter to join their intergalactic coalition. The thing about the beings on Winter, though, is that they can choose and change their sex and gender, making many binary human concepts completely alien to them. Le Guin’s book is both intellectually invigorating and also manages to take the reader on an exciting saga.

These read-alikes were all picked from my own reading journey; however, the Santa Barbara Public Library has a secret reading resource you might not know about: Novelist Plus. Novelist will help you channel your inner librarian by providing the tools to choose books based on feeling, pace, and tone instead of on plot. Navigate to the Resources & Collections panel at sbplibrary.org, input your library card’s bar code, and start messing around with the Appeal Mixer tool. Maybe you’re in the mood for something “Reflective and Leisurely Paced” (for which Novelist Plus recommends, among others, The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich  or The Friend by Sigrid Nunez). Or perhaps you want something “engaging and likeable” (a lot of Jasmine Guillory’s romance novels pop up with this combination). There are so many resources within the Novelist platform that it’s hard to list them all; just go ahead and play around. I bet you’ll love it!

Go forth, subscribers, and read renewed! 

If you are a local author, host book events in the Santa Barbara area, or have any other fun bookish tips for us, please send your recommendations for consideration to allbooked@independent.com.

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