'Sure bets' according to librarian Joyce Saricks in her 'At Leisure' column in the December 1, 2012 Booklist are,
'titles and sometimes authors that appeal to a wide range of readers, that fly off displays, and that we turn to when our minds go blank and we can't think of anything to suggest to a waiting reader. These aren't current best-sellers but, rather, older titles we treasure.'
However you define it, every reference librarian likes to have certain books to recommend for each type of reader that will be available on the shelf. That's why bestsellers don't fit into this category very well. If a patron NEEDS a book to read RIGHT NOW, recommending a book with a weeks-long waiting list is probably not a helpful suggestion.
Of the books and authors Ms. Saricks recommends, I agree that for fun non-fiction, Mary Roach and Bill Bryson might work for readers who like science (Roach's 'Packing for Mars' is very funny and informative) and who like just plain laugh-out-loud writing (Bryson's 'A Walk in the Woods' has been very well-received by many patrons I have recommended it to.)
Here are some 'sure bets' I have recommended and heard back from readers who enjoyed them:
For readers who want an action/adventure type of mystery, Stuard Woods' Florida-based mysteries deliver a good page-turning experience with a tough-guy edge and a little sex but not too much gore.
For readers who like dark mysteries, try Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch police procedurals set in Los Angeles. Readers who liked the TV series 'The Wire' would be a good fit for this author.
For readers who want cozy, reassuring, character-based novels, our Library Director has had success recommending Mary Ann Shaffer's 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel pie Society'. Unfortunately the author died before the book was published so this is a stand-alone title. But if readers like this historical cozy, they might enjoy Adriana Trigiani's 'Big Stone Gap' series based in West Virginia.
Trigiani falls almost in the 'chic lit' category but without the shopping aspect. For more good writing in the chic lit genre, try anything by Jennifer Weiner.
Some readers are WWII fans, for them recommend 'Unbroken, a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption' by Lauren Hillenbrand.
My favorite genre is cozy mystery, so if I find a fellow cozy fan who has not yet discovered Alexander McCall Smith's 'Number One Ladies Detective Agency' series, I can feel confident that reader is going to have a lot of good reading ahead of her.
Putting the right book in the right hands at the right time that suits the reader's mood just that that moment is a great feeling. What are some of your sure bets?