100 books like James Merrill

By Langdon Hammer,

Here are 100 books that James Merrill fans have personally recommended if you like James Merrill. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

Alice Robinson Author Of If You Go

From my list on women in the chaos of midlife.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always tried to find books that explain and explore my life stage. When I was a young mother of little babies, I read many books about early motherhood. When I was studying and travelling and working as a waitress, those topics were represented in my reading too. Now that I’m a woman writer in midlife, with growing children and an art practice, I’m keen to read books by and about women writers who evoke the joys and struggles of this period: aging, the tensions between freedom and responsibility, marriage and separation, ambition and desire. 

Alice's book list on women in the chaos of midlife

Alice Robinson Why did Alice love this book?

I was absolutely riveted by this huge doorstop of a biography exploring the life of Sylvia Plath. I’m not a diehard Plath fan per se, but I am always drawn to books about writers’ lives.

The intersection of Plath’s death with her experiences of motherhood, her writing life, and the failure of her marriage also brings this story firmly into my wheelhouse. (While Plath might not technically have been in midlife, I would argue that she was already precociously facing many of its common pitfalls when she died.)

This book is meticulously researched and includes new archival evidence. I loved it so much that after I finished its 600-something pages, I wanted to start over immediately.

By Heather Clark,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Red Comet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first biography of this great and tragic poet that takes advantage of a wealth of new material, this is an unusually balanced, comprehensive and definitive life of Sylvia Plath.

'Surely the final, the definitive, biography of Sylvia Plath' Ali Smith

*WINNER OF THE SLIGHTLY FOXED PRIZE 2021*
*A BOOK OF THE YEAR IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH AND THE TIMES*
*FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE IN BIOGRAPHY 2021*

Drawing on a wealth of new material, Heather Clark brings to life the great and tragic poet, Sylvia Plath. Refusing to read Plath's work as if her every act was a harbinger…


Book cover of The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets: Cowley. Denham. Milton. Butler. Rochester. Roscommon. Otway. Waller. Pomfret. Dorset. Stepney. J. Philips. Walsh. Dryden

Willard Spiegelman Author Of Nothing Stays Put: The Life and Poetry of Amy Clampitt

From my list on the lives and works of English and American poets.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my life both in the classroom (as a university professor) and out of it as a passionate, committed reader, for whom books are as necessary as food and drink. My interest in poetry dates back to junior high school, when I was learning foreign languages (first French and Latin, and then, later, Italian, German, and ancient Greek) and realized that language is humankind’s most astonishing invention. I’ve been at it ever since. It used to be thought that a writer’s life was of little consequence to an understanding of his or her work. We now think otherwise. Thank goodness.

Willard's book list on the lives and works of English and American poets

Willard Spiegelman Why did Willard love this book?

This is where it all started. The beginning of modern criticism.


Samuel Johnson was the first and greatest English literary critic, whose life and work were memorably recorded by his friend James Boswell.
Johnson himself, an exemplary, even obsessive, man of letters, wrote these 52 short biographies of figures, many still canonized today (John Milton, John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, William Congreve, but no women, alas) and he shows with sympathy and good sense how an understanding of a writer’s life helps us to understand his work as well.

Johnson was luminous. His prose is dazzling. He was a prodigious writer and thinker.

By Samuel Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.


Book cover of John Keats

Willard Spiegelman Author Of Nothing Stays Put: The Life and Poetry of Amy Clampitt

From my list on the lives and works of English and American poets.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my life both in the classroom (as a university professor) and out of it as a passionate, committed reader, for whom books are as necessary as food and drink. My interest in poetry dates back to junior high school, when I was learning foreign languages (first French and Latin, and then, later, Italian, German, and ancient Greek) and realized that language is humankind’s most astonishing invention. I’ve been at it ever since. It used to be thought that a writer’s life was of little consequence to an understanding of his or her work. We now think otherwise. Thank goodness.

Willard's book list on the lives and works of English and American poets

Willard Spiegelman Why did Willard love this book?

Keats, beloved of English majors and ordinary readers everywhere, died at 25.

No other writer – not Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, George Eliot, Jane Austen – would be remembered today if he or she had died at that age.

W.J. Bate was a magisterial Harvard scholar. His two sympathetic biographies, of Keats, and of Samuel Johnson, both won Pulitzer prizes and are still readable and important. They breathe life into their subjects and deeply humanize them.

You will weep with sympathy and understanding.

By Walter Jackson Bate,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked John Keats as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The life of Keats provides a unique opportunity for the study of literary greatness and of what permits or encourages its development. Its interest is deeply human and moral, in the most capacious sense of the words. In this authoritative biography--the first full-length life of Keats in almost forty years--the man and the poet are portrayed with rare insight and sympathy. In spite of a scarcity of factual data for his early years, the materials for Keats's life are nevertheless unusually full. Since most of his early poetry has survived, his artistic development can be observed more closely than is…


Book cover of T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life

Willard Spiegelman Author Of Nothing Stays Put: The Life and Poetry of Amy Clampitt

From my list on the lives and works of English and American poets.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my life both in the classroom (as a university professor) and out of it as a passionate, committed reader, for whom books are as necessary as food and drink. My interest in poetry dates back to junior high school, when I was learning foreign languages (first French and Latin, and then, later, Italian, German, and ancient Greek) and realized that language is humankind’s most astonishing invention. I’ve been at it ever since. It used to be thought that a writer’s life was of little consequence to an understanding of his or her work. We now think otherwise. Thank goodness.

Willard's book list on the lives and works of English and American poets

Willard Spiegelman Why did Willard love this book?

Every English major in the 20th century (maybe even in the 21st!) came to grips with T.S. Eliot. 

People remember J. Alfred Prufrock and his love song. And The Waste Land has just passed its 100th birthday and readers are still scratching their heads over it.

T. S. Eliot was the man—along with several others—who made modern poetry “hard” and complicated, and he was quite a complicated figure himself.

Lyndall Gordon gives us Eliot in all his complexities and shows how he became our age’s Dr. Johnson.

By Lyndall Gordon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked T.S. Eliot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this "nuanced, discerning account of a life famously flawed in its search for perfection" (The New Yorker), Gordon captures Eliot's "complex spiritual and artistic history . . . with tact, diligence, and subtlety" (Boston Globe). Drawing on recently discovered letters, she addresses in full the issue of Eliot's anti-Semitism as well as the less-noted issue of his misogyny. Her account "rescues both the poet and the man from the simplifying abstractions that have always been applied to him" (The New York Times), and is "definitive but not dogmatic, sympathetic without taking sides. . . . Its voice rings with…


Book cover of One Hot Summer in St. Petersburg

Catriona Kelly Author Of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

From my list on modern St Petersburg.

Why am I passionate about this?

I particularly enjoyed writing this book about a city that I love and have visited many times (starting in the late 1970s, when I was a student), and whose history I know well too. Most books, by foreigners anyway, talk about the city from a distance; I wanted to write something visceral, about sounds and smells as well as sights, and above all, how locals themselves think about their city, the way in which its intense and in some respects oppressive past shapes St Petersburg’s life today – yet all the same, never gets taken too seriously. Readers seem to agree: as well as an appreciative letter from Jan Morris, whose travel writing I’ve always admired, I treasure an email message from someone who followed my advice and tramped far and wide – before ending up in the room for prisoners’ relatives to drop off parcels at Kresty (the main city prison) when he wrongly assumed he was using an entrance to the (in fact non-existent) museum.

Catriona's book list on modern St Petersburg

Catriona Kelly Why did Catriona love this book?

An extraordinary, high-pitched, Munchausenesque account of a visit to only-just-post-Soviet Leningrad during an especially overheated period of recent history. Not at all like the genteel memories of champagne receptions at the Mariinsky Theatre followed by strolls down the Moika during the White Nights that one gets in other travelogues.

By Duncan Fallowell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Hot Summer in St. Petersburg as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An account of Fallowell's time spent in St Petersburg during the summer of 1992. He was there to write a novel, but was seduced away from his work by the world of clubs, bars and restaurants, and the extraordinary architecture. He also fell in love with Dima, a 17-year-old naval cadet.


Book cover of Your Lonely Nights Are Over

Aaron H. Aceves Author Of This Is Why They Hate Us

From my list on books about queer boys written by queer men.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up, I never saw myself fully represented in fiction. I only glimpsed pieces of my younger self reflected in novels about queer or queer-coded characters, and so I made it my life’s mission to give teenage me exactly what he wanted. As a YA author whose queer male readers are not always young adults, the message I get the most is, “I wish I had this as a teen.” While I often feel this way as well, I still know that reading the five books I recommended (as well as my own) at any age is life-affirming for queer men like myself. 

Aaron's book list on books about queer boys written by queer men

Aaron H. Aceves Why did Aaron love this book?

Sass’s first novel, Surrender Your Sons, is a favorite of mine, so it’s no surprise that this book, a queer horror novel reminiscent of Scream, is a riot and an absolute page-turner.

It contains all the best elements of slasher movies and teen comedies alike, and unabashedly gay characters with wit and sharp edges kept me invested all the way until the story’s climactic ending. 

By Adam Sass,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Your Lonely Nights Are Over as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Scream meets Clueless in this YA horror from Adam Sass in which two gay teen BFFs find their friendship tested when a serial killer starts targeting their school’s Queer Club.

Dearie and Cole are inseparable, unlikeable, and (in bad luck for them) totally unbelievable.

From the day they met, Dearie and Cole have been two against the world. But whenever something bad happens at Stone Grove High School, they get blamed. Why? They’re beautiful, flirtatious, dangerously clever queen bees, and they’re always ready to call out their fellow students. But they’ve never faced a bigger threat than surviving senior year,…


Book cover of Hither, Page

E.H. Lupton Author Of Dionysus in Wisconsin

From my list on queer historical romances with way too much plot.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a long-time writer who recently published my first two books in a genre I’ll call urban fantasy/queer historical romance. I also co-host a history podcast. It’s made me much more interested in how time and place figure into fiction! I also love a good love story, but after devouring a ton of romance novels, I realized I want a good plot to go along with the googly eyes and tender declarations of eternal devotion.

E.H.'s book list on queer historical romances with way too much plot

E.H. Lupton Why did E.H. love this book?

The tagline for this book is “Agatha Christie but make it gay.” But Cat Sebastian does something better than that; although like Christie, everyone is concealing a secret, in Hither, Page almost everyone’s secret is being kept for a good reason—to prevent hurting someone they care about. In this book, Leo, a jaded, world-weary spy, is sent to investigate a murder in a small village. It's just after the end of WWII, and everyone is exhausted and wishes life would just get back to normal already, none more so than James, a local doctor with a touch of PTSD who needs nothing less than to get involved with espionage and smuggling. And then he meets Leo. (Spoiler: things go better than you'd think for the two of them.)

Reading this book is like someone you care about bringing you a bowl of tomato soup on a rainy day.

By Cat Sebastian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hither, Page as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A jaded spy and a shell-shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn't help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.…


Book cover of Yesterday Will Make You Cry

James Hannaham Author Of Didn't Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta

From my list on books for and about convicts and ex-convicts.

Why am I passionate about this?

Incarceration is a gigantic problem in the US, especially because of its connection to racial injustice. I have no firsthand experience with prison or the system, and yet it looms large in my imagination and my deepest fears. That should not be the case merely because I’m a Black gay American, but here we are. I feel that with the help of my mother and others, I have managed to sidestep a lot of the potential pitfalls of people’s misguided perception of my identity, but I have an active, paranoid imagination and profound survivor guilt, so I gravitate toward stories about people at who are odds with our society in ways that reflect that precarious status which allows me to explore a wide range of human experiences.

James' book list on books for and about convicts and ex-convicts

James Hannaham Why did James love this book?

This book has a provenance that’s almost like a prison sentence: released in 1953 under the title Cast the First Stone, it would have been Himes’ first novel, but its frankness about homosexual relationships in prison and the fact that a Black writer had written white main characters, made publishers shit their pants and doctor the life out of it to make it conform to 50s market expectations. Of course, in the process, they ruined it.

But in 1998, Old School Books released Himes’ "director’s cut,” a much different, more beautiful, raw, and thoughtful book that’s as much about prison life as it is about the prison of masculinity. Paradoxically, prison seems to be a place where people indulge homosexual desires, though the atmosphere somehow remains homophobic.

Reading this book could foster more compassion for queer desires, whether those of prisoners who identify as LGBTQIA+, or those who claim…

By Chester Himes, Marc Gerald (editor), Samuel Blumenfeld (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Yesterday Will Make You Cry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A classic restored-the complete and unexpurgated text of a great African-American writer's brutal and lyrical novel of prison life. First published in reduced and bowdlerized form in 1952 as Cast the First Stone, Yesterday Will Make You Cry was Chester Himes's first, most powerful, and autobiographical novel. This Old School Books edition presents it for the first time precisely as Himes wrote it, a sardonic masterpiece of debasement and transfiguration in an American penitentiary and one of his most enduring literary achievements.


Book cover of Best Men

KC Carmichael Author Of Boystown Heartbreakers

From my list on lighthearted gay romance books about men in their thirties.

Why am I passionate about this?

On paper, it would be easy to think I’m the wrong person to recommend these books and write my own, which would fit easily onto this list. But as a lover of love and someone who has always enjoyed the company of men, particularly gay men, this is an area I have passion for - seeing hopeful and authentic love stories written for the masses. 

KC's book list on lighthearted gay romance books about men in their thirties

KC Carmichael Why did KC love this book?

I loved this book from page one because I instantly wanted to be the main character, Max Moody’s, friend. He’s incredibly relatable and has impeccable taste in music.

His love interest, Chasten, was charming and sweet, and the combination of their personalities made them easy to root for. Plus, I laughed out loud and smiled all the way through their love story. 

By Sidney Karger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Best Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Bursting with laughs and so much love, Sidney Karger's debut novel delivers a truly refreshing spin on the romantic comedy…A big-hearted, feel-good summer escape."—Anderson Cooper, #1 New York Times bestselling author and journalist

When two best men in a wedding party fall for each other, they realize love isn’t a piece of cake in this hilarious and heartfelt romantic comedy debut by screenwriter Sidney Karger.

Max Moody thought he had everything figured out. He’s trying to live his best life in New York City and has the best friend a gay guy could ask for: Paige. She and Max grew…


Book cover of The Gay Best Friend

KC Carmichael Author Of Boystown Heartbreakers

From my list on lighthearted gay romance books about men in their thirties.

Why am I passionate about this?

On paper, it would be easy to think I’m the wrong person to recommend these books and write my own, which would fit easily onto this list. But as a lover of love and someone who has always enjoyed the company of men, particularly gay men, this is an area I have passion for - seeing hopeful and authentic love stories written for the masses. 

KC's book list on lighthearted gay romance books about men in their thirties

KC Carmichael Why did KC love this book?

This is another book with a very relatable main character. I’ve been in Dom’s shoes, trying to navigate complicated friendships while also dealing with my own life struggles and insecurities.

Being able to connect with the main character so deeply made the payoff at the end incredibly satisfying. And his love interest, Bucky, was truly swoon-worthy. 

By Nicolas DiDomizio,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gay Best Friend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

He's always been the token gay best friend. Now, stuck between a warring bride and groom hurtling toward their one perfect day, he's finally ready to focus on something new: himself.

Domenic Marino has become an expert at code-switching between the hypermasculine and ultrafeminine worlds of his two soon-to-be-wed best friends. But this summer-reeling from his own failed engagement and tasked with attending their bachelor and bachelorette parties-he's anxious over having to play both sides.

The pressure is on. The bride wants Dom to keep things clean. The groom wants Dom to "let loose" with the guys. And Dom just…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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