Wednesday, June 16, 2010

BOOKS: My stamp of approval.

{okay, this ended up taking me forever to do, so humor me and actually read my recommendations, and also, please don't judge me for all the times I say that I cried during or after reading these books}

Last May, I posted a list of books I planned to read last summer, a list I had gathered from a bunch of different sources, including some magazine book lists.  Well, it turns out there were a bunch of really sappy, dumb books on that list. (There were some good ones too, but mostly bad).  My poor friend Sarah made it about half way through my list before she started emailing me saying:  "Um... well.... Emilie?  These books really suck!"    I don't know if any of the rest of you chose books off of that list, but if you did, I'm sorry. 

I'm here to regain my credibility!  Here is a long list of books that I have read, mostly more than once, and I adore.  Most of them are a few years old now, because that's how it is for me; I don't get to the best sellers right away because I don't have time to read like I used to. (Plus, I have this weird thing where I refuse to read the books that everyone is talking about, The Twilight series, etc.)   Later, I will post (with a disclaimer) the books I currently have on my summer list, because I think I found some great ones, but for now, the following books (though you've probably read most of them already) are definitely must-reads. 

Here we go!

The God of Animals: A NovelThe God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
Damn, this was a beautiful book.  The protagonist is a middle-school age girl and the story is about her dysfunctional family that owns a horse farm.  The writing is exquisite.  The plot is messy and unapologetically so.  I couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks after I finished it. 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
I stole this review from Amazon, because I couldn't have said it better:  "The book is also the story of a multi-generational family curse that courses through the book, leaving troubles and tragedy in its wake. This was the most dynamic, entertaining, and achingly heartfelt novel I've read in a long time. My head is still buzzing with the memory of dozens of killer passages that I dog-eared throughout the book."  Yes!  Me too!

Middlesex: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club)Middlesex, by Geoffrey Eugenides
Have you not yet read this great book?  The main character, Cal, is intersex (which is the correct term for hermaphrodite); the back story is about the older generation leaving Greece for America, and the story takes place in Detroit.  Gorgeous writing, and the kind of main character you ache for after you finish reading. 

Water for Elephants: A NovelWater for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
Nothing too earth shaking, just a great page-turner and mystery and sultry love story about a guy who travels with The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Mark Haddon
A first person narrative about a 15-year old boy in England with Asperger's syndrome.  Totally endearing, quirky, smart writing.

Out Stealing Horses: A NovelOut Stealing Horses, Per Peterson
 I already wrote about this one here.

The Syringa Tree: A NovelThe Syringa Tree, Pamela Gien
A gorgeous coming of age story in the midst of Apartheid South Africa.  Very lyrical writing and a compelling story.  Grab your tissues.

Bel CantoBell Canto, Ann Patchet
A famous opera singer is held hostage at a party in South America (of course!), and the story that unfolds totally grabbed me.  I read this years ago and I still think about it. Probably the most surprising love story I've ever read.

Tortilla CurtainTortilla Curtain, TC Boyle
I dare you to think about immigration laws the same after reading this story of a Mexican couple in Malibu, CA.  In my opinion, this should be required reading for all Americans.

AtonementAtonement, Ian McEwan
There is one word in this book that kept me from being able to teach it to my honors British Lit kids.  Aren't you curious?  This book is in my top 10 faves of all time.   The movie was beautiful too, but the book blows it out of the water.  Holy character development!  Gorgeous writing.

The Namesake : A NovelThe Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
A family from Calcutta, India settles in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It's a story about the immigrant's dilemma of being caught between two worlds, also a lovely love story.  I'm excited that I will be teaching this book next year in 12th grade world lit.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt
A group of 6 students in an elite Vermont college become involved in a murder, and this book allows you to watch it unfold in a really painful/ page-turner/ suspenseful/ beautiful way.

Angle of ReposeAngle of Reposeby Wallace Stegner
The narrator of this novel is an old man, but he tells the story of his frontier-era parents by piecing together letters between his mother and her best friend.  It is my favorite story of female friendship.  I've recommended this book to hundreds of people of all ages since I read it after college.  I could cry right now thinking about this book.  Stunning!

Crossing to Safety (Modern Library Classics)Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Same author as above, this book is about two couples, looking back on their lives when they were young and vibrant (great dinner parties, young love, university life), and then as they age, what happens to them.  You wouldn't think that when I read this at age 25-ish, I would have been so taken by these characters at a very different stage of their lives, but yes, I was, and I still think about it to this day. 

The Devil In The White City - Murder, Magic, And Madness At The Fair That Changed AmericaDevil in the White City, by Erik Larson
Crazy true story!  This book weaves together the stories of the man who was the architect/ mastermind behind the Chicago Worlds Fair, and the man who was known as "America's first serial killer" because the events were happening simultaneously in Chicago.  Total page turner.

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War IIShadow Divers, by Robert Kurson
If you were to ever tell me that I would stay up all night to read a (non-fiction) book about wreck divers in the Atlantic who uncover a German submarine from WWII, I wouldn't have believed you.  But I did.  And Sam and I somehow had two copies of this book at the same time and we were both reading it in disbelief.   I read this entire book in about 15 hours, hardly stopping at all.  If you like anything about history, danger, and adventure, you will love this book. 

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and IndonesiaEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Have you seriously not read this yet!????

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with MarriageCommited, by Elizabeth Gilbert
I read this book with much anticipation, because I love Elizabeth Gilbert and because I was interested to hear about her marriage after reading Eat, Pray, Love.  While there were some sections that I found to be a little slow, this memoir is a must-read for anyone who is married or committed.  Elizabeth Gilbert talks to people about marriage from all different cultures, and writes about partnership in a way that made me think about my own marriage to Sam in new ways.  I finished the book on the airplane on the way home from Utah and I was crying my eyes out (joyful tears) for the last 20 pages.  

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A MemoirAn Exact Replica  of a Figment of my Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken

Okay, I need to tread lightly with this one.  Recommending this book to you is sort of like recommending that you let me punch you in the stomach and then you will spend an entire day curled up in the fetal position under your bed crying.  But I'm going to recommend it anyway.  This is the memoir of Elizabeth McCracken who carried her first child to full term and then he was still born.   You need to know that going into it.  She is blunt, honest, brave, even funny(!) and vulnerable throughout the story.  I don't want to lose my credibility by saying this too often, but when I closed the book, I sat on my bed and sobbed.  SOBBED.  And then I crawled in bed with each of my sleeping children for a few minutes.  The writing is some of the best I've read in years.  If you can handle the subject matter (it was hard for me, but I'm better for reading it), then you need to read this book.  You should also know that she went on to have a healthy child the next year, so that definitely helps. 

I'll let you know what I'm reading this summer soon, and I'd love to hear if you have something that should be on my must-read list.  HOORAY FOR SUMMER AND BOOKS!  (It's my last day of school today!)


Angela said...

You read my mind!! I was just thinking yesterday I needed to ask around for some great summer reads....

Thanks and congrats on the new pup!! Fun Fun Fun!

lee@In My Tummy said...

I've read about half of these and enjoyed them. Thanks for the recommendations.

Joanne said...

I was just just at the library yesterday too while my son was in a story/craft time. I was wandering the fiction thinking what the H am I to pick from these spines staring at me? There were binders of suggested titles - but I didn't look - waiting for inspiration perhaps and this list shows up! I don't usually take a lot of time away from children's books and activities in my life to read too much fiction - though I want to - (nonfiction yes, on all things).
Thanks for the list.
Perhaps you can do a children's story list - and we can add to it. Although, there are a ton!

Sarah said...

emilie, I have read about 1/2 of these and LOVED THEM ALL! So i shall read the rest of your posted books. Also on there should be these three:
-The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry (one of the best written books I've read in a long time. The author's use of language is divine.)
-The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
-Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. (The author also wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a remarkable book about a boy who lost his father in 9-11). THIS BOOK IS A MUST READ FOR ALL OF YOU OMNIVORES out there. I am not a vegetarian, but I am a human being with a soul, and this book (way more than anything written by Michael Pollan) has made me really feel like a crusader.
thanks for the recommendations, love you as always

Kirsten said...

I've read and enjoyed some of these books on your list quite a bit--ok loved them--but sometimes feel I say that about too many things :-). Anyway, I have been stuck in non-fiction world for a while now and am looking forward to trying on some of these for the summer! Thanks for the tips--

Erin and Robert said...

While suspense/crime novels aren't my typical choice, I just finished "Dark Places" by Gillian Flynn and could NOT put it down. It's one of the best books I've read in long time. I love the author's writing style, and the plot was very unique. When I read the dust jacket at the library I wondered why it was even on my to-read list, but took it home anyway and have since recommended it to everyone I know. It's a perfect read for summer nights.

Karen said...

Oh thank you! I love getting book recommendations and I have the same "thing" about reading books everyone is talking about!! When I worked at a bookstore in college I couldn't read Harry Potter! Now I have my own kids to read it with (soon!) and am excited...

Now, you should definitely put this near (very near) the TOP of your list to read: "Peace Like a River" by Leif Enger. Fantastic writing. And there is a quote on the cover about this book being a reminder of why we read fiction.... totally true. LOVED it!!

Michelle said...

I'm dying to know... what is the ONE word?
No matter I'll get to it soon and figure it out :)