BY ALLYSON MORIN
I read a lot of books. I read books from every genre and every level of difficulty. I love books that make me think but I also love books I can stick on the back of the toilet for a laugh. If you’re looking for the next book to read, try out one of these. These are ten books I’ve read and re-read many times over (in no particular order).
If you like my list, I can go more in-depth with analysis on these books or provide more recommendations. Books for when you want to laugh, books for when you’re sad, specific genres, best books of this year… I have thousands and thousands to choose from.
1. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakaur, a journalist, walks us through the tragic Everest disaster of May 10, 1998. From the start, the story unfolds like a building nightmare. Krakaur chronicles every step and mis-step that led to the expedition’s deadly conclusion. Krakaur’s climbing companions are three dimensional and his descriptions of the mountain are breathtaking. When I finally closed its pages it refused to leave my mind… I spent the whole night researching the people involved with the story, Everest lore, and climbing disasters. Throughout this novel I found myself gasping for air alongside the climbing party.
2. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
This was one of my favorite books as a kid and was one of the first serious books I read. I picked up a copy from this little independent bookstore–I basically walked in and asked the woman behind the counter to find me something I would like. I think you’ll like it too. It made me smile, it made me think, and it made me want to sit down and write.
3. The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker
Hands down one of my favorite books of all time. From a plot perspective, this book is about an author who is struggling to finish the forward to his anthology of poetry. As he procrastinates finishing his book he discusses his love for poems with four beats per line, language, and his love for rhyme. This book put me on a poetry kick that high school and college classes failed to do. I re-read this book at least once every few months.
4. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
Augusten Burroughs is my favorite author of all time. He grew up in the Western Massachusetts area so many of the places he points to in his stories are places that I am familiar with. Heads up: his books deal with adult subjects and themes. A Wolf at the Table outlines the horrific abuse he suffered at the hands of his father as a young child. I remember my mother hiding this book and three more of his works from me when she thought I was too young to read them. After she left for work I would tear apart the house looking for them to read in secret… they were usually hidden in the back of drawers or under the Christmas bins in the basement. Burroughs’ story shocked me but I couldn’t take my eyes away from the pages, and his dry sense of humor and compelling writing style held me captive.
5. Sellevison by Augusten Burroughs
Another Augusten Burroughs–this one is a fiction piece. A shopping network host is fired after accidentally exposing himself on live television. More adult humor, more adult themes, but Burroughs’ unique sense of humor is front and center. It is unapologetic, witty, and surprisingly insightful. Great book.
6. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Here’s a bit of a wildcard. I picked this book out of the bargain bin at a university book sale. I think it cost me $3. It was $3 well-spent. Jenny Lawson writes about mostly-true stories from her childhood and early adult life–the wild animals that lived in her house, her father’s affinity for taxidermy hand-puppets, and her goth phase in a small agricultural town. It’s the kind of humor you feel like you’ll go to hell for laughing at (my personal sense of humor) but you laugh anyway. The book has some raw and personal moments, Lawson touches on her struggles with anxiety, eating disorder, and miscarriage. It’s a great book to stick on the back of the toilet or read during your work break in retail as a pick-me up.
7. Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin
The classic story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is retold through the eyes of a compelling young servant girl, Mary Reilly. I personally love the re-telling of classic stories through a different perspective. I recently finished a book called Longbourn by Jo Baker, a book which re-told the story of Pride and Prejudice through the servant perspective. If you like that kind of thing, this book is for you. I prefer Mary Reilly for it’s eerie Gothic horror and dark tones… and the things that go bump in the night. It’s a good read–definitely to be read with the lights off.
8. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
This was one of those books I watched the movie for before reading the novel. I was clicking through the TV channels one night when I stumbled upon the movie adaptation of this book. It was already half-way through, but I watched anyway and quickly found myself fascinated by the interesting story as well as the ritual and costume of the Geisha. The novel takes place during World War era Japan. As the book progresses, western culture begins to shape and re-form the characters and landscape due to the presence of American soldiers. Arthur Golden is a fantastic storyteller. As someone who is into makeup and fashion, after reading this story I fell down a rabbit hole researching Geisha makeup ritual and costume. This is a good book for someone who enjoys historical fiction.
9. The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Another book that takes place during WWII, this book was actually required reading for one of my college courses. What’s special about this Pulitzer-prize winning graphic novel is the beautiful illustration and heartbreaking story of Art’s father during the horrors of the holocaust. The story moves forward and backwards in time to the events in question and to present day as the author speaks to and write down his father’s story as he tells it. The trials his father faced are etched into his present day person–he is deeply affected by the loss of his first wife and is unable to through objects he deems useful away. This book, with its non-human characters, provides a human perspective to a sad time in world history.
10. Burnt Tongues: An Anthology of Transgressive Stories edited by Chuck Palahniuk
The last, but certainly not least on this list is a collection of short stories that make me deeply uncomfortable. Luckily, the point of this book is to make the reader deeply uncomfortable by examining and challenging taboo subjects. These short stories are written by a variety of talented authors. The story I was most deeply touched by was the first in the anthology, about a animal shelter veterinarian who comes into contact with a horrifically abused cat that causes him to reflect upon the feline he harmed as a young child. These are stories that make you think, feel, and confront difficult subject matters head on.
Like these stories? Have you read any of the novels on this list? Do you have a book recommendation for me? Please comment down below.