31 Books I Highly Recommend

I haven’t stopped thinking about these since I read them.

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Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead

Ballet, Cold War, doomed love, lovely writing

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Subtle, heartbreaking, complex psychology, dysfunctional family.

We Sinners, by Hanna Pylvainen

In this linked short story collection, members of a large, very religious family each figure out whether to stay in the cult or leave it. It’s excellent, and deserves to be better known.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

A charming epistolary novel.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

He is always leaving her to go to the past or the future. If you like your love stories with good writing and a dose of heartbreak, this one’s for you.

One Day, by David Nicholls

Will they? Won’t they? We check in with Emma and Dexter on 15th July every year for 20 years. Not just a great love story — also social commentary. I related to Emma on a deep level.

Come to the Edge, by Christina Haag

An achingly beautiful memoir of Christina’s time with JFK Jr, first as friends and then as more.

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

The story of an American missionary family in the mid twentieth century. Each of them has a very distinct voice. It’s utterly absorbing.

Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Chiaraipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

The meanest of mean girls at an elite ballet school. Who says fiction about teens is only for teens?

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, by Adelle Waldman

I always suspected the inside of a young, commitment-phobic man’s brain was a scary place. This book skilfully confirms it.

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

A long-term view of a group of friends who meet as teenagers at an arty summer camp.

The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma

More ballet, but also prison and maybe murder and maybe ghosts. Way darker than my usual reads but the ballet theme got me and I’m so glad. The writing is fantastic, too.

We the Animals, by Justin Torres

The coming of age of three brothers, told in prose that is also poetry.

The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg

Edie loves food. She loves it much too much. And each member of her family grapples with it in her own way.

Tenth of December, by George Saunders

A collection of short stories for people who don’t like short stories. Sometimes weird, sometimes whacky, often heartbreaking, always artfully written.

The Song Is You, by Arthur Phillips

This author makes poetry out of everyday things like the clicking of iPod wheels. Grief, obsession, love, marriage: it’s all here.

The Hours, by Michael Cunningham

An imagining of the life of Virginia Woolf, beautifully told.

Jazz, by Toni Morrison

Just: wow.

The Cranes Dance, by Meg Howrey

The acerbic voice of the bitter ballerina narrator made this unputdownable.

Dept of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

An unconventional meditation on life, marriage, and motherhood.

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

The beauty of this writing made me gasp. I loved the skillful way he interweaves the lives of very different New Yorkers in the 1970s.

Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer

They meet at a writers’ colony and exchange letters for years. They’re kindred spirits — maybe more.

One More Thing, by BJ Novak

This collection of short stories and flash fiction is by turns funny, insightful, and moving.

The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka

The poetry of this book changed my writing forever.

American Rust, by Phillip Meyer

Echoes of Steinbeck for the modern age.

The Rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton

Drama — real and on stage. The writing is gorgeous.

Everything Everything, by Nicola Yoon

Maddy is 18. She’s sick so she’s not allowed to leave the house — ever. But then Olly moves into her street… We should all read YA once in a while. It’s good for the soul.

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

The portrait of a complicated marriage between a genius (?) playwright and his even smarter wife.

Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

A charmingly British epistolary memoir of a nanny writing home in 1980s London.

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

I loved this depiction of a church community and three young people at the heart of it.

The Nest, by Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney

Money: what happens to a family when they thought they had it and then one of them squanders it?

Editor of WALK WITH US: How the West Wing Changed Our Lives; author of the novel UNSCRIPTED and of CONQUERING BABEL: a Practical Guide to Learning a Language.

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