NPR’s Best Book Recommendations

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On the hunt for your next book to dive into but fresh out of recommendations? Enter NPR’s Book Concierge. NPR’s yearly Book Concierge webpage narrows down the hundreds of books released in 2020 to about 400 books selected by NPR critics and staff. Using smart filters, you can find a new book that matches your tastes and interests.

How to Use NPR’s Book Concierge

Find a book that matches your interests using the filters on the sidebar. You can mix and match filters like Young Adult, Funny Stuff, and Nonfiction; you can even sort the books by length. The page will automatically sort out the best book recommendations for you.

screenshot of NPRs book concierge website

What’s This Got to do with the ACT/SAT?

At Olive Book we love encouraging reading because (aside from reading’s many other benefits) reading regularly helps you perform well on the Reading and English sections of the ACT or SAT!

Regular, high-quality reading introduces you to new vocabulary, helps you become familiarized with proper grammar, and builds your ability to read complex texts. So next time you just can’t do one more Reading passage, pick up a good book instead and know you’re still preparing for the test!

Summer 2020 Reading List

Notable Picks from NPR’s 2020 Book Concierge

Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi

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“Gifty is a Ghanian American neuroscientist at Stanford, studying the behavior of mice, but she yearns to understand the behavior of humans. As Gifty looks to science to shed light on the addiction and mental health struggles within her own family, she feels drawn to the evangelical faith in which she was raised.”

— Jessica Reedy

Caste: The Origins Of Our Discontents – Isabel Wilkerson

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“Isabel Wilkerson…draws parallels between the American racial hierarchy, the anti-Semitic regime of the Nazis and India’s highly complex caste system. She moves between her own experiences with casteism as a highly educated and upwardly mobile Black woman, and vignettes about the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Einstein.”

— Anya Kamenetz

Interior Chinatown – Charles Yu

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“Interior Chinatown is written partly like a screenplay and takes the idea that we’re all at the center of our own movie literally. You’re never quite sure whether Willis Wu really works as an actor playing “Generic Asian man,” but it ultimately doesn’t matter. Charles Yu plays with how we internalize stereotypes in the movies in this sometimes devastating, sometimes hilarious, but always captivating novel.”

— Meghan Keane

Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story Of Loss, Love, And The Hidden Order Of Life – Lulu Miller

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“Lulu Miller, founder and former host of NPR’s Invisibilia podcast, weaves together personal memoir and scientific history to ask questions about how we maintain optimism in the face of adversity and find order amid chaos. If that sounds weighty, let me reassure you – the book is surprising and delightful, with one unexpected turn after another. There’s a murder mystery … and also fish. Actually, there aren’t fish. Y’know what? Just read the book.”

— Ari Shapiro

Beowulf: A New Translation – Maria Dahvana Headley

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“This might be the best thing you read all year. It will absolutely be the weirdest. The most exuberant. The bro-iest literary sensation of the age. No matter how you think you feel about the source material – if you loved it/hated it, if it traumatized you, if it ruined and/or energized the English language for you or whatever – Headley’s Beowulf is something different entirely. Yes, it tells the story of Beowulf and Hrothgar and Grendel and Grendel’s mom and the dragon and Wiglaf and everything. Only here, in Headley’s version, Beowulf becomes its truest self: an epic poem made to be shouted over the howls of mead-drunk Spear-Danes as they toast the fallen and lovingly punch each other to sleep. It is thousand-year-old slam poetry full of blood and honor, rap battles, sea monsters and treasure hoards. And if you don’t love it, you’re gonna absolutely despise it, because with Headley’s Beowulf, there is no middle ground.”

— Jason Sheehan

You can find more book recommendations, from novels, to science writing, to comedy and history, at NPR’s Book Concierge website.

Need Help on the ACT and SAT Reading Section?

Reading for fun will help you prepare for reading the passages on the ACT or SAT, but it’s still important to practice answering questions about a passage and familiarizing yourself with the styles of the tests. For this kind of practice, you need real ACT or SAT style Reading passages and questions. Olive Book’s online ACT and SAT courses contain multiple reading passages with questions and full, detailed explanations for each question. The courses also include videos to teach you how to approach and think through Reading questions. You can learn more about the courses here.

Further Reading

How to Find Time to Read for Fun
SAT/ACT Book Recommendations

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