The following books have relatively little in common with one another with regard to plot, setting, writing style, or really any literary criterion. Some are short, some long, some sweet, some grave, most are fiction, one isn’t. One thing common to all of them is that I am absolutely in love with them. I could pick up any of these books at the drop of a hat and not stir until I had finished it. They are some of my very favorite things to read and I hope you’ll enjoy them if you try any.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: I read this book in a post-modern literature class in college. I went into the class not really like post-modern lit. I found it overwrought and vacuous and largely completely uninteresting. There were several books over the course of the class that changed my mind and this was one of the first and best. If you like stories of freak shows and weird cults, this book is definitely for you.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I had never heard of Donna Tartt before a good friend Jody handed me this book, told me that it was one of her favorite things she’d ever read, and told me to read it. This book interested me from the outset because the main character goes to college and majors in Classics and if a book about a Classics major in college sounds boring to you, just trust me that the tip of this iceberg does not begin to do justice to the remainder. This piece by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Goldfinch is absolutely a must read.
The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book were originally published separately, but are frequently printed and sold as one volume now. This is one of those books that no film adaptation has ever even come close to touching, so if you’ve seen any or many of the myriad film versions of Kipling’s classic work(s), just completely forget about them and pick up the book. It’s fun, a great story to share with kids, and one of the most surprisingly emotional stories I’ve ever read. As an added bonus, the book is actually a collection of short stories, which makes it perfect as a bedtime story option or commute book!
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: It is (hopefully) glaringly obvious to anyone who’s read this blog even a bit (or talked to me in person) that I absolutely love Tolkien. He is basically a deity to me. The Hobbit is a great Summer Reading option because it’s light and fun and about a trip, which makes it the perfect vacation book! Plus when the vacationing is done and you’re ready for something with a little more gravitas you can graduate to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, or even Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth!
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl: First of all, everyone should have at least one Dahl book under their belt. He’s a classic children’s/young adult author for a reason, folks. Fantastic Mr. Fox is my favorite Roald Dahl book because stories about crafty animals outsmarting humans are pretty much my life blood. Plus, one of the characters subsists on nothing but hard cider, which is how I aspire to live my life.
The Widow Clicquot by Tilar Mazzeo: I’m not a huge oenophile (though I like wine a lot) nor am I an especially eager reader of non-fiction, but this book hooked me. The story of how Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin not only handled her husband’s company like a boss after he died but also completely revolutionized the champagne business, ran blockades to sell her luxury wine, and basically was an all-around hero for, like 60 years until Death finally showed up and was like, “Come on, lady, you’re making me look bad here,” is one that I can read over and over again. She was OG, man.
Little, Big by John Crowley: The novel picked for the inaugural meeting of the KU Book Club (and also the second meeting when we showed up and discovered that none of us had finished it) has stuck with me in a huge way since then. This book got me into reading tarot cards. It also uses the ubiquitous idea of Faerie in a supremely fascinating way and basically is everything you could possibly want in a book. I’ve never really been able to verbalize this until right now, but you know what Little, Big is? It’s a Neil Gaiman novel from before Neil Gaiman was writing novels. I don’t know if Gaiman was directly influenced by Crowley’s book, but I have to say, I’d kinda bet on it.
I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle: I’ll be honest with you, I read this book because I saw the movie and really liked it. I saw the movie because Hayden Panettiere was in it and I really like her. My motivations notwithstanding, though, this book is excellent. Anyone who has ever gone to high school will find something to relate to here. It’s funny, heartfelt, and makes you glad you graduated years and years ago.