Vicious by V.E. Schwab — This book has: unconventional superheroes! Moral ambiguity! Resurrection! (*mild spoiler*) A dog that does not die in the end! Other stuff! This book does *not* have: two-dimensional characters! Tropes! A sequel! Though, really, it should.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab — An urban fantasy that has elements of both Neil Gaiman and China Mieville (who are two other authors you should obviously be reading). There’s a swashbuckling, gender-bending lady pirate, an inter-dimensional blood magician, AND A WHOLE LOT OF MAGIC. And queer characters. Winnnnnnn.
Seraphina & Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman — Dragons, mostly, with a Game-of-Thrones-esque attention to world building. The titular character here is a sassy flautist with psychic abilities and she COMPLETELY steals the show. Can I compare this series to Game of Thrones again? Fine, I think I will.
Shadow & Bone, Siege & Storm, Ruin & Rising (The Grisha Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo — More magic (are you sensing a theme here?). Elemental magicians, alchemists, and shadow- and light-wielders fight and flirt in this Russia-inspired trilogy about a nation divided by dark magic. The characters are basically sexy versions of Hogwarts students. So, yeah.
Railsea by China Mieville — A Moby-Dick retelling set in a vast desert instead of the open seas. Giant burrowing owls and massive moles terrorize anyone caught out in the sand. There’s also a legend about angelic trains that guard the railways and protect travelers from danger. Need I continue?
The Witches by Roald Dahl
This is a children’s story you must re-read as an adult! Supremely creepy.
The Complete Works of Poe by Edgar Allan Poe
I love the fact that there’s a section detailing Poe’s life and that his poetry is included. Poe is more than just The Tell-Tale Heart! Plus if you’ve never read The Bells out loud, you may want to get on that.
The Girl With All the Gifts by MR Carey
This is the absolute best zombie novel I have ever read! A wonderful story that delves into what it means to be human, what it takes to survive, and who one becomes in the face of destruction. Plus, the zombie virus in the novel is inspired by the fungus that infects ants in the Amazon commonly referred to as the “zombie fungus.” If you don’t know, the fungus eventually bursts forth from the ant’s head. Then, they die. Oh hey, this is also being turned into a movie!
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
One of my favorite characters of all time is the “whiskey priest.” He is flawed in many ways, but stays true his moral code. He doesn’t take any shit. He does what he wants. Like Eric Cartman.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Everytime I read this novel, I find more truth within it. Huxley’s writing style is lyrical and at times reads as philosophy. If you buy this book you will read it for years to come.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Maze-like murder mansion….need I say more? I’ve read a few books focusing on serial killers, but HH Holmes’ story is one of the most intriguing and bizarre. Also Leonardo Dicaprio is making this book into a movie. Win!
Budding Prospects by TC Boyle
This book is like if On the Road had any direction whatsoever. It’s a humorous novel and a great introduction to TC Boyle if you’re unfamiliar with his work.
1. Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons
Watchmen is, by far, my favorite graphic novel: it’s a captivating and twisted piece of literature PLUS an incredible work of art. The story begins in New York City in 1985, long after the government has forced superheroes and vigilantes to either retire or work for them exclusively. The United States believes that a nuclear war with the Soviet Union is unavoidable, and everyone seems to believe “the end is nigh.” And to make the future bleaker, there might be a supervillain targeting former heroes. What I truly love about Watchmen is that the heroes are more like antiheroes–they’re complex because the world is harsh, and they don’t necessarily do the right thing. After all, this isn’t a Superman comic. But if you need a list to convince you to read it, consider Time’s List of the 100 Best Novels. The Great Gatsby, which is at the end of this list, is on there too.
2. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
I had read one of the stories, “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” for a class in college; it’s about two former college roommates who reconnect and reflect on their lives over drinks. My professor had considered Salinger to be a master of short-story writing, and that Nine Stories should be on everyone’s reading list. The collection has Salinger’s signature wit and elegance, and contains one of his most famous short stories, “For Esmé–with Love and Squalor,” which is about an American soldier who promises to write a story for a loquacious young girl he meets abroad. Of all the novels on this list, this collection of short stories is among the lighter fare because it’s easy to read and pretty straight-forward.
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
You have to read each sentence slowly, savor it, and fully commit to this novel to get anything out of it. (I suggest researching Colombia’s history if you don’t want to miss a beat.) The novel’s genre is magical realism, and follows seven generations of the Buendía family and their lives in the fictional town of Macondo. Oh, and almost all of them have the same name, so don’t read this when you’re half asleep or on a crowded bus–for that you’ll be rewarded.
4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Don’t shy away from this novel because your high school English teacher(s) told you to read it. It’s largely considered one of the best twentieth century novels, and for good reason: it’s hilarious. It takes place during World War II and dominantly follows an American soldier named Yossarian and his quest to go home. But he can’t until he finishes his service in the army, and they keep raising his mission requirement. It’s a “Catch-22”: he’s considered insane if he continues to be involved in dangerous missions, but then sane if he formally requests leave on the basis of insanity. There’s no way to win, and it’s tragicomedy at its finest. And there’s a character named, Major Major Major Major! Yeah, you’re sold.
5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
It took me a while to pick up this novel; I had thought it was going to be bland and dense. What could possibly happen to four sisters during the American Civil War and beyond for 700+ pages? A LOT, of course. There’s death, disease, love, friendship, ambition, traveling, and fulfilling careers. Just ask Joey Tribbiani–the novel was an emotional journey for us both. Some further advice: Never read the sequels. They don’t have the same heart or excitement that Little Women has. Pretend they don’t exist, like The Last Airbender or Grease 2.
6. Dubliners by James Joyce
If you feel intimidated by Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, but want to get a taste of what he’s all about, read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, because it’s intelligent, witty, and hilarious. And then read Dubliners, his collection of short stories, out of order. Start with “The Dead,” which is arguably his most famous story in this collection, and one of my favorites (another being “Araby”). It’s a must-read for any writer or aspiring writer–Joyce is a master of structure, scene, and dialogue especially. The dialogue might seem simple, but I promise you there’s a reason for this exchange in “Araby”:
“O, I never said such a thing!”
“O, but you did!”
“O, but I didn’t!”
“Didn’t she say that?”
“Yes. I heard her.”
“O, there’s a… fib!”
7. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
This is a beautiful and disturbing collection of short stories. It is a lyrical reimagination of some of our classic fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast. My favorite short story is “The Bloody Chamber,” which is about a young woman who marries an old, wealthy man who turns out to be sexually violent and a mass murderer. But hey, it has a happy ending! “Puss-in-Boots” is another favorite, because who wouldn’t like a witty and horny con cat?
8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
You’ve probably seen Baz Luhrmann’s film, which is great, or maybe you were assigned to read this in high school and college and didn’t get what all the fuss was about. I’ve read this novel at least five times, and my love and respect for it has grown with each reading. If you’re a fan of symbolism, witty and ridiculous characters, the American Dream, and jazz culture, read this now.
Sabriel/Lirael/Abhorsen: I read these books once a year. The strength of Lirael to overcome her dark depression, and Sabriel’s fearlessness in the face of Evil gives me the strength to find lightness and good in the worst of situations. Bonus points for this one: The audio book is read by Tim Curry, and it is an entrancing experience.
American Gods: If you want to let literature breathe magic into the mundane again, this is a good choice. In this book you get to meet all the mysterious background gods of the world that inhabit the everyday world in strange ways. This book will make you think and question and regain your sense of wonder.
Left Hand of Darkness: If you claim to love sci fi, this book HAS to be on your Must-Read list. This classic dealt with issues far before their time, one of which is now highlighted by today’s events and cultural shift: the question of gender and sexuality!
The Golden Compass: The best part about this book is being able to live in a world, for just a moment, where everyone has their own forever best friend. I would give my left arm for a deamon. You have to check it out. (For more about why I love this book, check out my full review!)
The Name of the Wind: This book is heavy and big, but let me tell you, it was over FAR to quickly when I finally got around to reading it. Rothfuss pulls you through an epic tale, full of promises, and questions. You WILL love this book. I have no doubt. The only reason you won’t like it is because when you finish reading this and then the second book, you’ll be really quite mad that #3 isn’t done yet. Damn you Rothfuss.
Lucifer: I absolutely love this version of Lucifer’s story. Look, you need to read these, if only just because when the TV show comes out, you have to know the truth about Lucifer. The show will only tell you lies.
The Hero and the Crown: Some will try and tell you that this book isn’t as good as The Blue Sword, but it is still by far my favorite of the two. This is the story of a girl who absolutely refuses to be anything but a hero, and she will inspire you to live big and stay strong and never let your dragons talk you into giving up and letting go.
Food Rules by Michael Pollan & Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson
These books will change the way you look at food, grocery shopping, and produce FOREVER, in the best way. Food Rules gives you the reasons behind just exactly how our food is making us sick and fat, and then tells you how to change your shopping and eating habits to cut out preservatives, chemicals, and artificial flavors in your foods. If you’ve heard of clean eating, this is the bible. Eating on the Wild Side gives you the best advice on how to shop for produce. What variety of every vegetable is nutritionally best for you, how to tell if your carrots are fresh when you buy them, how to tell if that bag of grapes is a million years old or only a few weeks old, and so much more.
The Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver
You know how you pick up a book and start reading it in the store to see if you want to buy it and before you know it you’ve read 20 pages? This happened to me with the first book in this trilogy. I had to get it. I was immediately pulled in by the world Oliver has created. A world where there is no love, because it is the most dangerous disorder on earth, cured only by a procedure in the brain. You’ll feel all the feels as you follow Lena from ‘Ima-Get-My-Brain-Washed’ to ‘Now-Wait-Just-A-Damn-Minute’. The second and third books in this un-put-down-able series are Pandemonium and Requiem.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
Have you ever wondered what the world might look like if technology and social media started to infiltrate every aspect of our lives? I hadn’t really thought about it. Not until The Circle. As you watch Mae’s life go from boring cubicle job in the suburbs, to un-eraseable sex tape and CONSTANT sharing online in LA, you’ll find yourself wondering where the Internet will take us. In the words of The Circle, “Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is theft.” If that doesn’t sound like the most thought-provoking set of sentences, I don’t know what does. Pick up this book for an interesting look into a potential future of social media and an interesting storyline to boot.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
This is the chronological recounting of how Bernadette Fox went missing, and how she was found. Several story lines start separately and end twisted together, and almost all of the story is told through a paper trail of letters, e-mails, confidential FBI files, psychologists notes, handwritten notes, faxes, and IM chats compiled by Bernadette’s daughter Bee, after Bernadette mysteriously goes missing. Much of the book hinges on a promised trip to Antarctica which gets Bernadette into all sorts of trouble before she disappears. Her virtual assistant in India who is actually the Russian mob does not help appearances. This social satire had me turning the pages eagerly to find out where the eff Bernadette went and how she did it.
Redwall by Brian Jacques
This was one of my most favorite books when I was 10. It’s a classic tale of good versus evil as the peace-loving mice of Redwall take on the eeeeevil Cluny the Scourge. This book written for children but enjoyable for anyone will have you rooting for the underdog, and pining for Cluny’s demise.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I’ve NEVER been so mentally effed up by a book. I thought about this book for WEEKS after I was finished with it. It gets into your brain and you just can’t get it out. It’s the perfect amount of sick, twisted, and yet… totally understandable. The levels of cray cray in this book are unparalleled, and it will make you want to take a shower and then read it all over again.
1. The Outsiders :
The Outsiders holds a pretty big place in my heart when it comes to books. Read at the age of 12, I was angsty and pissed off. I loved to read, but hated being told what to read by my school (mostly because they had terrible taste). That was until I was assigned The Outsiders. Filled with characters striving for a purpose in their life, playing with the cards they were dealt, and making the best of bad situations, I connected to these characters on a deeper level than I thought I could at 12. My co-workers can’t get me to shut up about this book and I recommend it to anyone who loves books, hates books, old or young, I’ve never met a human yet who hasn’t loved this book.
2. The Dharma Bums:
Most people are familiar with Jack Kerouac’s work, On The Road. Most people are not as familiar with his work, The Dharma Bums. It’s a fantastic counter balance to Kerouac’s other works showing another side of the beat generation. The book deals much more with spirituality, and communing with nature than the fast and fiery lifestyles in On the Road. I’ve always recommended this work to anyone who’s never read Kerouac as I find it a more accessible read than On the Road. Plus it’ll make you want to do nothing except go camping. Bonus!
3. Night Shift:
Night Shift is a collection of some of King’s most terrifying, heart-thumping, and spine tingling tales packed into one, light easy read (well, maybe not for the faint of heart). Seriously, try picking this one up and looking at a laundry press or a closet the same way again. Even readers who aren’t big on horror can sink their teeth into this one. With nail-biting suspense and writing like lightning, you won’t be able to put it down.
4. Good Omens:
I love Good Omens. Love it. It’s such a great summer read. It’s like an 80’s Spielberg movie had a baby with, I don’t know, The Apocalypse. Yeah. Let that sink in, and when it does I’ll tell you something else, the TWO authors of this book happen to be Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Mind blown yet? Why isn’t this book in your hand! With a host a lovably crazy characters trying to prevent the end of days, this one is sure to put a smile on your face.
5. Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings:
I’m a big fan of author, Christopher Moore, and I’m also a big fan of suggesting his work to everyone. No one writes funny with a giant heart quite like Moore, and Fluke is no exception. Filled to the brim with laugh out loud humor, and sprinkled with lovable characters you’ll cheer for until the end, Fluke may not be Moore’s most famous work, but he certainly gives himself a run for his money.
From the warped mind of Chuck Palanihuk (author of Fight Club), comes Rant. This book is cool. That’s really the best way to describe it. I couldn’t give you a good summary if I tried, so I’ll say this. Read this book. Then, when your mind melts out of your ears when you finish it, read it again, and you’ll love it even more. Time traveling, poisonous snakes, crashing cars, and murder are just the tip of the iceberg for this wild ride. Buckle up and hit the gas!
7. The Beach
This book, has over time, become one of my favorites. It’s not an ordinary read, but it is a seemingly important one. Dealing with youth and angst is nothing new to novels, but the way in which this book handles the generation of youth raised on video games and Xanax is something special. It also asks the question, what is paradise and what will we do to attain and keep it? For a summer read spiked with some bite, check out this read which I can only describe as Lord of the Flies meets Hunter S. Thompson. Hold on.
8. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Okay, so this is the one book this list I haven’t read. But, it’s there for that reason, because I plan on indulging myself with this read ASAP. I have friends who don’t read (yes, these people exist), I have friends who don’t even like the idea of reading, and I have friends who read everything under the sun. What they share in common is a love for this particular book. I don’t know what it is that draws people in and makes them give nothing but praise for this read, but I’m eager to find out. Join me.
9. Dark Places
Gone Girl. It’s a pretty good book. This one is better.
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.
Hey Bingo Players! We know choosing which book to read is sometimes super hard. That’s why we are recommending these books to you! Each cluster of books will cross off the listed square. Have more suggestions? Make sure to share them on our facebook page!