My top three:
(Curses! All by men and mostly about men. See below if you are looking for books by women about women)
The Art of Fielding
It is new. It is about college baseball, but you should read it anyway, even if you find baseball the most boring thing in the world. The reason you should read it is that Harback is amazing at creating characters you instantly care about after only three pages and his syntax is delightful. I copied 12 separate passages from the book into my “quotes” feature on Goodreads. Mike Schwartz will forever live in my heart.
A very good premise in the book realm that was (sadly) made into a so-so movie. Check in with the two main characters on the same day in July for twenty years, from their early twenties to their early forties. Funny, and packed with astute observations about life’s passages during those twenty years.
Freddy & Fredericka
This will be a book I recommend to many people and no one will read it because it is very thick and the author is very wordy and spends five pages setting up a joke. Why do I think you should read it? Because the jokes are very funny and so you are happy at the massive set up. Because it is fun to see the USA through the eyes of an exiled English Crown Prince and his wife. Because it is about the honor you find in labor. Because I still choke up thinking about different parts of the novel. It is summer. You have time to read a long novel. Invest in this one.
You’ve been meaning to check out this “YA” thing?
YA Series Recommendations
The Hunger Games (Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay)
It is a big hit movie, before that it was a big hit book series. The hero is a heroine and she’s flawed and confused and muddling her way through a fabulous plot. There are tons of parallels to our modern lives. It is good reading and there are two more movies coming, so you might as well read the books now.
YA Series that is not the Hunger Games
Graceling, Fire, Bitterblue
This is another series with strong heroines. I recommend this with the caveat that it took about 150 pages of Graceling for everything to click, but then I was all-in, in that “avoid chores” way. Also, just for fun, it is interesting to read reviews of these books on Goodreads because a lot of people are offended by the (very mild and uncontroversial, in my opinion) sex. Should people be that scandalized? You will have to read the series to give an opinion.
Have you not read anything by John Green?
An Abundance of Katherines
The Fault in Our Stars
John Green, as you might know, is one-half of the Vlogbrothers who make being smart incredibly cool. John Green also happens to be quite talented at writing YA novels. Abundance has Math! And footnotes! And is funny! TFIOS is the funniest cancer book I’ve ever read.
Feeling Sorry for Celia
Are you looking for a loosely connected series about girls who attend a girls’ high school in Australia? Do you like books made up of letters? This here is the series for you. Cecila is the first book, but if you are going to just read one of the four, my favorite was the third one: The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
Book that you need not actually read:
Pictures! So fascinating! The photographer took pictures of fans at different concerts and then knit 10 representative samples into one big photo. It’s incredibly fun to page through this book. In the back he has a short paragraph about each concert which makes the photos even more interesting. And you can open the book to random pages and ask someone what concert they think the fans are attending. It's a book and a game!
Just read this. Don’t question me:
The Elegence of the Hedgehog
When I talk about this book people become uninterested so I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. I can tell you it’s translated from the French, has two women—really one girl and one woman—that I loved and that everyone in book group related to this book, even the men. It was a big hit at book group and you should just read it. Note that I did not like the last chapter AT ALL, but until then I loved it.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
This was one of my top favorites last year. I loved the magical realism of this novel and I still think about the main character now and then. What if you could taste what people were feeling when they made you the food you were eating?
There are a lot of Chuck Klosterman haters out there and let me say that I’m not one of them. I love his nonfiction and I found a lot to like in this novel about a small town in North Dakota. I was not prepared for the ending, which left my face twisted a bit into a skeptical look, but until then I was delighted because Chuck Klosterman is a funny man with a unique way of looking at the world.
Three Girls and their Brother
This was such a delight and is a perfect summer read. Three sisters become “it” girls and this book follows each one of them—and their brother—in turn. This book features great commentary about our tabloid society and wonderful voices and characters.
I read a lot of historical fiction because it feeds my history major “needs” without making me work through informative nonfiction tomes. Ps. I'm a nerd! I put them in order chronologically for you.
Early Oregon history with former mountain man turned restless settler setting out from too-crowded Astoria with two Native Americans in tow to explore the Killamook country. This is slow to start, but then whips into an action-packed frenzy. It’s also beautifully written.
(Note that in one overly complex sentence up there I used “too” “two” and “to.” Get me to an editor, STAT!)
Becky: The Lives and Loves of Becky Thatcher
Have you wondered what Becky Thatcher has to say about the whole Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn thing? She’s quite a spunky narrator and I greatly enjoyed this book.
So you’re a slave and then suddenly you are not. What exactly do you do next? It’s not like you’re getting any 40 acres and mule. This was some very interesting historical fiction about the Reconstruction era, based on Walker’s research about her own family. It gets a bit wordy near the end, and some people in book group had trouble with the dialect (though I was not one of them) but it is worth the read.
The Given Day:
A sweeping tale set in Boston just after World War I it includes Babe Ruth as a minor character, a lot of reasons to support your local union and also the great Molasses Flood. And there’s some NAACP stuff in there too. There is a lot going on in this novel and it is very interesting. Also, no author living does star-crossed love better than Dennis Lahane. No one.
Maybe, like me, you are kind of done with World War II novels. Maybe, like me, you should make an exception and read this one about the occupation of France. The novel itself is amazing. While you are still reeling from how amazing it is, you read the author’s own story and everything just takes on a whole level of wow.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows.
Okay, so maybe also you should read this World War II novel because 1)You learn all about the occupied island of Guernsey which you probably didn’t know was interesting or perhaps even where it is. Also 2)It is in “correspondence” format and that is always fun.
Soon I will be Invincible
Do you want to read about Super Heroes and Super Villains and you don’t want to read a graphic novel, but instead a novel? This is your book! Do you not want to read about either of those things? It might be worth checking this book out anyway, as it is quite fun.
Manhood for Amateurs
Unlike his very wordy and lengthy novels (which I also recommend) these are short essays that are amazing. I wanted to read them out loud to whoever happened to be passing by at the moment. Usually that was Matt. I think I managed to restrain myself and read him only two, although his life would have been enriched if I had read them all to him. Just go read this. Chabon is a fabulous writer and funny.
Detective Series I always recommend:
So, in general, I’m not a fan of the mystery as a genre. It tends to have dead people and isn’t known for carefully crafted prose and I’m also quite lame at solving them on my own so I always feel a sense of inferiority when I finish. But if you are looking for a fun way to spend your summer, spend it with Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. The novels are mostly set in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester and begin in the late 1980s. Patrick Kenzie is a smart-mouthed detective. Angie Gennaro is his tough-as-nails partner. At some point in the series I realized I wanted to marry both of them, I loved them that much. Lehane has a good bead on characters and the books are very engrossing. Also, this is the same guy who wrote the The Given Day and see above about what I said about star-crossed love. The series is done now, so you can read straight through. If you are like me, you will read straight through and then start again at the very beginning.
A Drink Before the War
Darkness Take my Hand
Gone, Baby, Gone
Prayers for Rain
Good books I just tend to recommend:
Another book I absolutely adored and can’t get anyone to read. Won’t you please read it so we can discuss it? This is a novel about a woman whose life follows a path that will be very familiar to anyone who knows the basics of Laura Bush’s biography. Why should you read a novel about the wife of a president of which you perhaps were not a fan? Because Sittenfeld is a good writer and she writes a very good story. I read this book a few years ago and still think about it.
For anyone who loves music and relationships. I’ve been recommending this since the 90s. A lot of people have read this, and they aren’t sad they have read it. I can also recommend the movie adapted from the book, which is a big rarity.
This is my favorite “thick” Kingsolver book (Animal Dreams is my favorite “thin” one.) I fell in love with the characters and the landscape is lush. It’s also a nicely woven tale, though it doesn’t seem so at first.
The Brothers K
David James Duncan
It’s about baseball, but it’s about so much more. It’s big and dense and sweeping and funny and sad and tragic and moving and chock-full of amazing words. Every person who has read this book speaks of it fondly after they have finished it, even people who don't like baseball. It’s also set in Camas, so has a local flavor for people familiar with Portland.