Those of us who have experience with dating apps know that a date with a good book might be a hell of a lot better than a date with a real person, who might engage in all sorts of appealing behaviors like (1) talking about their exes or (2) stiffing the waiter on the tip. Unfortunately, sometimes dates with a book can be a little like meeting up with that Tinder match: you judge based on appearance; you’re disinterested; you get turned off quickly, sometimes for arbitrary reasons. To ensure that this Valentine’s Day you fall in love with a new story, let’s play a little game. (Normally, you won’t want your new suitor to play games with you. This time, you can make an exception.)
Here are the rules: this article will list ten incredible books WITHOUT using their title, author, or official blurb. The choices are varied in terms of genre, length, and writing style, so there’s something for everyone—even you! Each description will conclude with a link to purchase the secret book, and, although you’ll meet your date face-to-face when you click on the link, try not to judge a book by its cover! While you might be tempted to change your mind, just remember… nobody likes a cheater!
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This harrowing memoir offers a raw depiction of addiction and chronic illness, told in straightforward language with frequent, striking insights. You’ll want the narrator to make ‘better’ choices—the two of you will have that in common. Chapters aren’t numbered but are instead titled after the place the author was when the following events took place. The only constant setting is the author’s body—a grim landscape, always unfamiliar terrain. This is a rare story of recovery that doesn’t promise a neat ending: as is the nature of chronic illness, the author is still sick. The memoir confronts the assumptions of what a sick person is supposed to look and act like. With its honest, almost painfully vulnerable voice and tone, it explores how illness works when the end goal isn’t wellness but life itself. Interested?
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Ever wanted to feel warm and cozy AND intensely creeped out—all without attending a family reunion? This work of genre fiction takes place in a reality only slightly different from our own, not so much an alternate universe as a universe adjacent. The fun parts of this novel feel like the warm shelter of the fictional island in which this story takes place, full of cinnamon twists and rich tea and wool scarves. The terrifying parts of this novel are also the fun parts. Plot points include: a deadly race, a slow-burn romance, delicious pastries, organs strewn across the roadway. The language is as witty as it is poetic, with snappy dialogue and a rich sense of place. If it’s relevant, the ending made me cry both happy and sad tears. Swipe right?
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This one’s for the coldhearted realists out there—tense, dark, and short as life. Here’s the thing about this one: everyone dies at the end. That’s not so much a spoiler as it is most of the plot. Our setting is the passenger seat of a car—you’ll never leave, and neither will they. The language is succinct and the structure creative; since the book takes place over about the course of an hour, it should take you about as much time to read the novella as it does for the characters to meet their grisly, unstoppable fate. Can it really be called a murder mystery if you know exactly what’s coming? This is an intelligent literary exploration of sexuality, violence, and control with the rapid heartbeat of a paperback crime novel. Read for fast cars, dark roads, and bad men. Is it a date?
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Magical realism meets immigration, xenophobia, global conflict, and human rights in this expansive literary novel. The story takes place on multiple continents as our displaced narrators travel the world searching for a home that may always be further and further behind them. The book explores what brings people together and what drives them apart, filled with love that’s sometimes stronger for places than for other people. Generally, the language is direct with little stylistic flourishes—not exactly blunt and to the point but not filled with metaphors either. Since the whole thing is probably a metaphor, your thirst for literary beauty (as well a close examination of the technical consequences of the story’s magical element) will still be sated. It’s international, somewhat intergenerational, highly relevant, and certainly gorgeous. Curious?
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If you’re a fan of downward spirals, misanthropic female narrators, and the idea of New York more than the place itself, you’re about to have an excellent book date. The novel explores escapism, isolation, and self-involvement as the narrator slips further and further away from herself and the few people who remain in her life. Strange, pessimistic, and often completely merciless, this novel presents us with a somewhat despicable narrator who, although she is rife with privilege, goes to extremes to relieve her alienation from society. If you want an unflinching look at human grossness, look here. Though the language is often confrontational, it’s equally clear that the author has a strong grasp of her characters, voice, and tone. Bonus: the author is actually aware of her character’s shortcomings and advantages. Wanna try?
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This Lovecraftian horror-comedy attempts to solve several mysteries at once: that’s both the classic haunted-house caper turned a whole lot more sinister and the mystery of how these once-promising detectives got so messed up over the years. Read on if you’re a fan of elaborate traps; bizarre monsters; sleepy towns where strange things happen; and a lovable cast of characters, all of whom adds something fun to the story’s dynamic. Ridiculously witty and filled with jaw-dropping plot twists, this is a fun and mostly lighthearted read that will thrill you in every possible sense of the word. This might be a quick and easy read, but it’ll certainly stick with you long after you’ve finished. Like what you see?
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Like books that are highly satirical and absurd without being deliberately, self-assuredly edgy at the same time? This book explores consumerism, beauty standards, and our cultural obsession with perfection at the expense of our own identities. Told through the perspective of an unnamed narrator, the novel chronicles the disappearance of a missing person through the eyes of that missing person. And, although she hasn’t always been gone, she hasn’t been quite there, either. The language is unique and regularly incisive, its imagery so vivid it borders on the grotesque. Your reaction may vary, but one thing is guaranteed: you will not be bored while reading this. This tale of cults, conspiracies, and processed food is as engaging as it is completely unnerving. Is it a match?
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Ever fall in love with a book that’s so incredibly absurd you can’t believe it actually works? This is one of those—a poignant and surprising YA sci-fi that avoids tropes of its genre with creative choices and a believable narrator. Note that in this case, ‘absurd’ does not mean ‘nihilistic.’ This is a story of (1) bisexual teen angst, (2) rural Americana, (3) apocalypse bunkers, (4) strip malls, and (5) one sci-fi element you have definitely not encountered anywhere else. The linguistic style is a delightful juxtaposition of poetic imagery about history and the legacy we leave behind with blunt, often crass, hilarity. Example: chapter titles include “The Right Kind of Cigarettes to Smoke Before You Kill Something.” This novel is as insightful as it is strange—and it’s really, really strange. Is this happening?
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Tell me what you think these things have in common: Millennial office culture, life as a child of immigrants, the warmth and emptiness of nostalgia, meaningless routine, a desire for human connection, and an unobtrusive genre element. If you said the answer was ‘your life,’ you might be correct. It’s also this book—an exploration of the places we look for meaning and the places we actually find it. This is a read for the overly ambitious and the underpaid. If you’ve got high hopes, a low salary, and a feeling of disconnection from your personal and cultural identity (so, if you’re alive), you’ll enjoy this creative and personal take on some light apocalyptic fiction with a defined sense of place. Hitting it off yet?
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You might not expect to laugh or cry at this memoir—but chances are, you’ll do both. What begins as a humorous character study of a larger-than-life father figure becomes an insightful, often astounding, look into the beauty and pain inherent in religion. The story explores gender roles in family dynamics, and how the patriarchy of religion and society can enter into a traditional nuclear family. Filled with witty anecdotes and a feisty narrator, the book may appear to be yet another romp through a whacky childhood. And it is that—but it’s also an exploration of feminism, sexual assault, the writer’s struggles, power dynamics, and the respective settings of both rural Kansas and the Catholic church. Written by a poet (I didn’t use the author’s name!) the language is unique, immersive, and mesmerizing. Going for it?
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