125 Books We Love: 5 Books That Are Hidden Gems Ready to Be Discovered

By Lynn Lobash, Associate Director, Readers Services
February 14, 2020

You read. A lot. You keep up with new releases. You're on a first name basis with your local librarian. You faithfully attend your book club. You happily stay home on a Saturday night to finish those last few chapters. If this sounds like you, finding the time or motivation to read isn't your problem. But finding new books to excite you may be. We've just released our 125 Books We Love list and we hope you'll take a look. We've pulled out these five titles below especially for you. We consider them hidden gems on our list—flying just a bit below many readers' radar. But gems they are. 

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson's Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the 20th century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainier struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this novella by the National Book Award–winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

 

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

In a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters—beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the neighborhood boys—commit suicide one by one over the course of a single year. As the boys observe them from afar, transfixed, they piece together the mystery of the family's fatal melancholy in this hypnotic and unforgettable novel of adolescent love, disquiet, and death. Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the emotions of youth with haunting sensitivity and dark humor and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time. 

 

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of "autotheory" offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. It binds an account of Nelson's relationship with her partner and a journey to and through a pregnancy to a rigorous exploration of sexuality, gender, and "family." An insistence on radical individual freedom and the value of caretaking become the rallying cries for this thoughtful, unabashed, uncompromising book.

Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories by Joseph Mitchell

Saloon-keepers and street preachers, gypsies and steel-walking Mohawks, a bearded lady and a 93-year-old “seafoodetarian” who believes his specialized diet will keep him alive for another two decades. These are among the people that Joseph Mitchell immortalized in his reportage for The New Yorker and in four books—McSorley's Wonderful SaloonOld Mr. FloodThe Bottom of the Harbor, and Joe Gould's Secret—that are still renowned for their precise, respectful observation, their graveyard humor, and their offhand perfection of style. These masterpieces (along with several previously uncollected stories) are available in one volume, which presents an indelible collective portrait of an unexpected New York and its odder citizens—as depicted by one of the great writers of this or any time.

Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse by Anne Carson

The award-winning poet reinvents a genre in a stunning work that is both a novel and a poem, both an unconventional re-creation of an ancient Greek myth and a wholly original coming-of-age story set in the present. Geryon, a young boy who is also a winged red monster, reveals the volcanic terrain of his fragile, tormented soul in an autobiography he begins at the age of five. As he grows older, Geryon escapes his abusive brother and affectionate but ineffectual mother, finding solace behind the lens of his camera and in the arms of a young man named Herakles, a cavalier drifter who leaves him at the peak of infatuation. When Herakles reappears years later, Geryon confronts again the pain of his desire and embarks on a journey that will unleash his creative imagination to its fullest extent. 

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Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.