If your new year’s resolution is to read more books, figuring out what books to read is the first step.

When you haven’t read for fun in a while, picking up a book can feel like a chore and watching endless recommendations on BookTok can be overwhelming. 

Re: News asked four book experts based in Wellington to share their recommendations for new and newly returning readers. 

Melissa Oliver recommends short books because they give you quicker gratification. 

Melissa has been a bookseller at Unity Books Wellington for four years. 

Melissa says both of her recommendations are quick reads that “make you feel accomplished” with prose that your mind can “glide through”.

“Don’t think you’ll immediately pick up a big [Haruki] Murakami or [Fyodor] Dostoevsky novel … be gentle with yourself,” Melissa says. 

Bookseller Melissa Oliver holding up copies of Tiny Moons and Foster. Photo credit: Janhavi Gosavi/Re: News

Foster by Claire Keegan

Set in Ireland in the 1980s, Foster is about a child who is sent off to live with a foster family because her own family is getting too big. 

It is a coming of age story that follows the unnamed main character as she connects with her new family and learns about love and loss. 

Melissa says Claire Keegan is a “wonderful Irish fiction author” who “manages to pack the most impact into the shortest story” – Foster is only 88 pages long. 

“It's beautiful and gut wrenching and you can read it in one sitting… I had to take a deep breath after I finished reading it because it was just so sweet.”

In 2022 Foster was adapted into the critically acclaimed Irish language film An Cailín Ciúin. 

Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai by Nina Mingya Powles 

Tiny Moons is a 90-page essay collection about food and belonging written by Aotearoa author Nina Mingya Powles. 

Melissa says Powles’ essays read more like stories, exploring connections between food, memory and whānau. 

“It made me so hungry, I had to order dumplings afterwards,” Melissa says. 

Tiny Moons also has small illustrations dotted throughout the essays which Melissa says she enjoys. 

Matt Morris recommends ‘trashy’ books that are ‘mindless fun’. 

Matt is a bookseller at Arty Bees Books and has 30 years of experience in the industry. 

He says new readers should read books in the summer that don’t involve too much thinking, so that they can curl up with something deep and philosophical when winter comes around. 

Bookseller Matt Morris with copies of the Wideacre trilogy and Lee Child’s novels. Photo credit: Janhavi Gosavi/Re: News

Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

British thriller novelist Lee Child is best known for writing over 25 books following the adventures of Jack Reacher, a former American military policeman. 

Jack Reacher spends every book walking across America by himself and beating up bad guys using extreme violence, Matt says. 

Matt says the series is action packed and full of “men doing manly things” but appeals to a wide readership. 

“There’s lots of good versus evil … It’s not too deep but great fun.” 

Matt’s favourite Lee Child books are The Killing Floor and The Visitor, and he recommends watching the television adaptation called Reacher. 

Wideacre trilogy by Philippa Gregory

Matt recommends this historical romance trilogy because it's “relaxing” and “competently written”. 

Wideacre, the first book in the trilogy, is about Beatrice Lacey's lifelong attempts at gaining control of the Wideacre estate she grew up on. The second and third books, The Favoured Child and Meridon, follow the lives of her daughter and granddaughter. 

Matt says Wideacre is good because it takes you to a different time and that English historical novelist Philippa Gregory “hasn’t written a bad book”. 

Joseph Robinson recommends a mix of Aotearoa books and translations of popular foreign titles. 

Joseph has spent six years working in libraries and is currently a librarian at Arapaki Manners Library. 

Librarian Joseph Robinson holding a copy of The Dharma Punks. Photo credit: Janhavi Gosavi/Re: News

The Dharma Punks by Ant Sang

Joseph describes The Dharma Punks as a “classic New Zealand graphic novel” set in “a narco-punk Auckland scene” in the 1990s. 

This coming of age story follows a group of anarchist friends as they plan on blowing up a fast-food restaurant on its opening day. 

Written and illustrated by acclaimed Aotearoa cartoonist Ant Sang, who also worked on the animated show Bro’Town, Joseph says the visuals for this book are “striking”. 

Like Sang, the main character is of Chinese descent and the story comments on race, punk rock, friendship and politics. 

It was originally self published in 2001 as an eight-issue comic book series which sold out quickly so Joseph recommends reading a copy of the collected works. 

Copies of What You Are Looking For Is in the Library. Photo credit: Janhavi Gosavi/Re: News

What You Are Looking For Is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama

The Japanese novel is about a magical librarian who senses the deepest needs of every character and makes specific book recommendations to help them help themselves. 

Multiple storylines intersect in the book, which Joseph says is “uplifting” and a reminder of how complex every person’s life is. 

This novel is so popular - Joseph says it has been translated in 15 languages and there are 60 people currently in queue to borrow from Wellington City Libraries. 

Along with some books, the magical librarian gives one of the characters a little soft toy to help them. 

As a librarian himself, Joseph says he wishes he could give every person he helps a little soft toy too. 

Sue Jane recommends books with existing adaptations.

Sue has worked with books for 20 years and currently works at the Johnsonville Library at Waitohi. 

She says the “multimedia element” of being able to read and watch the same story is a good hook for new readers. 

Librarian Sue Jane holding copies of Where the Crawdads Sing and Lessons in Chemistry. Photo credit: Janhavi Gosavi/Re: News

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens 

Set in the North Carolina everglades, Where the Crawdads sing is a coming of age murder mystery. 

The main character is a girl who grew up isolated in the marshes and is accused of murdering a popular local in a nearby town. 

Written by author and zoologist Delia Owens, Sue says she loved this book in part because of the conservation elements weaved into it. 

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus 

Set in South Carolina in the 1960s, Sue says Lessons in Chemistry is about “a very intelligent woman who was stifled by her time”. 

The main character becomes the host of a cooking show after getting fired as a chemist and becoming a single mother. 

The book explores sexism in the workplace, womens’ ambitions and the struggle for empowerment. 

Sue says readers should be aware this book discusses sexual assault, but that she still recommends it for its ability to say dark things in humorous ways. 

The Kurapae collection display in Johnsonville Library at Waitohi. Photo credit: Janhavi Gosavi/Re: News

Sue’s recommendations are all mainstream popular novels which can usually be hard to get a hold of. 

But they are all part of the Kurapae collection, a Wellington City Libraries initiative to help get popular books into the hands of more readers. 

The Kurapae collection is a display of popular books that can be borrowed off the shelf but cannot be reserved, and Sue recommends checking out your local library for similar initiatives. 

Tips to get into reading 

Sue says adults “shouldn’t be afraid to read young adult books because they cut to the chase and don’t mince words”. 

She also says new readers shouldn’t feel threatened coming into a library because “no question is a stupid question here.” 

If you don’t know what kind of books you would enjoy, Melissa Oliver from Unity Books recommends asking yourself what kinds of movies or tv shows you like to watch and going off of those genres. 

Melissa says you could also try re-reading a book you enjoyed as a child or browsing the ‘staff picks’ shelves in bookstores. 

Matt Morris from Arty Bees Books recommends new readers should spend time speaking to staff in bookstores instead of randomly picking up a book they might not enjoy.

More stories:

No one had ever spoken to me about miscarriage. I’m talking about mine

"The loss of a pregnancy is the loss of a dream," writes Ataria Sharman.

Health students don’t get paid on placement and it sucks

Students on clinical placements are paying bills from an empty bank account.

New year, new tenancy? What landlords can and can’t make you do

Here are a few things to be aware of when navigating a rental agreement.