I made this list of favorite books for a friend and I thought I’d share it because it took me an eternity to compile. This was a huge undertaking because I have a crapload of books and I have been using Goodreads since 2008 to catalog everything I read. I went through my Goodreads and pulled out the books I loved the most/rated highest on there, then cross-checked them against my friend’s Goodreads account to make sure she hadn’t already read them. A great many favorites are not on this list for this reason. Then, I broke them down into categories because I am nothing if not organized, but put them into no particular order otherwise because I am bad at making decisions.
Blanket endorsement: Everything Shirley Jackson ever wrote.
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck. Read this first, it is the greatest and I loved it so much.
1984 – George Orwell. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’ve read it at least twice, and I think I’m going to just go ahead and read it again next year.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver. I’m calling this a classic, because it is. Short stories. Awesome.
Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor. This book made me LOL so many times and also cry just as much.
The Cider House Rules – John Irving. I have turned into a sap and love John Irving now. In fact, my sweet Homer is named after a character in this book. Truly great. I was #blessed to never see the Tobey McGuire movie which I am sure is terrible.
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving. I loved this book so much. An Irving classic!
Ask the Dust – John Fante.
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner. In case you feel like breaking your brain. Worth it.
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner. This is my fave Faulkner. I have reread it at least twice. It is the BEST.
Cannery Row – John Steinbeck. I still scream “BEER MILKSHAKE” in Matt’s face at least once a month.
Beloved – Toni Morrison. Amazing.
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston. Awesome characters!
The Heart is Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers. Beautiful but bleak AF.
Contemporary fiction (novels):
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz. I do not remember the plot of this one super well, but I remember loving it.
The Shadow of the Window – Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Charming and lovely Dickensian Spanish novel. It’s a book about books. I love those.
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami. I remember this being totally enchanting.
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami. I wish I could read this for the first time again.
Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami. I mean, most of his books are great. This one is very nostalgic and much less surreal than the others I’m recommending.
The First Bad Man – Miranda July. This is one weird ass book, and I think you will either love it or completely hate it. I loved it a lot.
The Road – Cormac McCarthy. I am probably a loser for liking this so much. Oh well.
The Secret History – Donna Tartt. I think you will like this one a lot — it’s about classics majors who lose their damn minds. Basically.
Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout. I’m considering this a novel, it’s linked stories. Really good.
We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver. Dark dark dark, sad, but really good.
The Beach – Alex Garland. This is a great fast read where you can get wrapped up in the world really quickly.
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen. Only Franzen I’ve read; it is excellent. [Since compiling the list, I have read a second Franzen. Don’t bother with Freedom, it is hot garbage.]
Please Look After Mom – Kyung-sook Shin. South Korean novel of a woman lost in a Seoul train station. It is sad as hell.
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell. Interconnected-ish craziness that spans time and the world.. It’s a lot to tackle but well worth it in my opinion.
What You See in the Dark – Manuel Muñoz. Haunting story of the loneliness of small town life with a Hitchcock tie-in.
The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker. What if the earth’s rotation started slowing, progressively? I still think about this book a lot.
Fun Home – Alison Bechdel. Awesome graphic novel.
The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson. Engrossing novel about life in North Korea.
A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki. I loved this book so much. It’s about a young Japanese girl whose journal washes up in Vancouver around the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Through dual perspectives, you hear from Nao as she narrates her life and that of her kickass Zen Buddhist monk grandma, and also Ruth, who found her journal.
Contemporary fiction (short stories):
Drown – Junot Diaz
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – ZZ Packer
Birds of America – Lorrie Moore
No One Belongs Here More Than You – Miranda July
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline – George Saunders
Baby – Paula Bomer
Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding – Rebecca Mead. All about the wedding-industrial complex. I still think about this book all the time.
The Devil in the White City – Eric Larson. Weaves together a compelling narrative of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair & an insane serial killer running amok in town at the same time. Super readable and interesting.
The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-city Neighborhood – David Simon & Ed Burns. This book covers a lot of the same ground as the TV show “The Wire” (and is written by the same dudes) except it’s all true.
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade – Ann Fessler. This book is incredibly sad and super important.
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present – Gail Collins. Do you like Gail Collins? I happen to love her. This book is great. Yay, women!
My Life in France – Julia Child. Ahhh I loved this so much. What a kickass lady.
Escape – Carolyn Jessop. I went through a phase where I read like, 6 different books about Mormons and FLDS craziness. This is a true account of one woman’s brave escape from FLDS. It was great!
Brother, I’m Dying – Edwidge Danticat. Sad and beautiful memoir about a Haitian family resettling in NYC and the family they left behind.
Generation Kill – Evan Wright. Embedded during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This book is way funnier than it has any right to be. Eye-opening and hilarious. And sad, too.
Random Family – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Follows a poor Bronx family through heartbreak, prison, and in some cases, redemption. I loved this book. I still think about this family all the time.
Just Kids – Patti Smith. You will LOVE this.