Books I Love: A Brief Meltdown

Pretty! As long as you never need to find another specific book again. Christopher Cobb bookshelf, photo from

This week we talk about our book loves, about the books we wish we’d written.

Uh, all of them?

Also, the one I’m still writing?

OK, I’ll play the game. Wait, this is a trick. You’re just trying to get me to say what my favorite books are, which is an impossible question. Impossible.

Fine. This is a very finely edited list, which will balloon out at the end when I get desperate to include as many favorites as possible. It’s like I’m packing for a deserted island. You’re forcing me to make Sophie’s choice! I can’t leave any of my babies!


The Shipping News by Annie Proulx: My favorite book of all time. There’s a bit of a mystery in it, but it is mostly about lumpy people finding themselves worthy of love. The biggest mystery.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett: Perhaps my favorite crime book of all time, but not because of the crime. I love Nick and Nora and their sloshy love story. Proving once again that it’s about characters more than anything else.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Well, who doesn’t wish they’d written a book this good? It’s just so delightful and funny. Again: characters. Elizabeth Bennett rules all.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: One of the best unreliable narrators, ever. More love, the unrequited kind. Even unreliable characters can make you want to hang out near them.

The Likeness by Tana French: So good. Her entire series is good, but this is the best one. Dark and twisty police procedural, with police procedure off the rails. Also: Ireland. I think I would like Ireland very much if I ever got to go. I’m not sure I would want to meet any of these characters, if I did, but this book proves that characters don’t have to be likeable. They just have to be interesting.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon: Dense historical fiction with everything a nerd girl could want in a novel, including superheroes and the lowly Clark Kents who created them.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl‘s older sister-book, and one of the books that helped me write THE BLACK HOUR, by showing me the tone I could strike. Lots of unlikeable characters here, but the first chapter of DARK PLACES is a textbook example of how to put the reader on the side of the unlikeable narrator.

And Then There Were None, The Murder of Roger Akroyd, and Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie: The three great books by the mistress of mystery. Reading these three was a class in mystery plotting. Throw in Murder at the Vicarage, too, where we first meet Miss Marple, just a nosy, too-smart neighbor.

And everything by Louise Penny and Catriona McPherson. It’s a new Golden Age of mystery writing, and these two are taking us there with professional detectives (Gamache, from Penny’s series) and amateur-turned-pro (Dandy, in McPherson’s) with whom you want to spend as much time as possible.

Also The Little House on the Prairie series and anything Lois Duncan published in the 80s and the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series andβ€”

And. And. And. I told you this was impossible. I’m just going to cut myself off now.

So what did we learn? it’s all about characters I wish I’d created. Who did I miss? Who are your all-time favorite characters?


Author: Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

13 Replies to “Books I Love: A Brief Meltdown”

  1. I’m predicting there will be some long posts this week. πŸ™‚

    It is funny (and in a way kind of sad) that The Thin Man is still the gold standard for that kind of writing, isn’t it? When Robert Downey Jr. insisted that Gwyneth Paltrow had to be in the Avengers movie, Joss Whedon said that he wasn’t about to complain: “I got to have Gwyneth Paltrow in my movie, and I got to write three minutes of The Thin Man.”

    Favorite characters? Off the top of my head: Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, and associates. Lisbeth Salander (and I wish she’d been invented by a better writer πŸ™‚ ). Nick and Nora. The characters of the TV show Firefly.

    Oh, heck. I confess — I’m a proud and prejudiced parent. My favorites are the ones I write about, a couple of whom I’ve been writing about for nearly 45 years.

  2. Lori, THE SHIPPING NEWS is on my all-time list too! I read it when I was just taking my fiction seriously, and I was floored by her writing style. For the longest time I tried to mimic her. (Didn’t work so well … πŸ™‚

    1. EEEEEEEE! I LOVE THIS BOOK. I re-read it after I got my MFA and before I started I was so concerned that the MFA would have ruined it for me. Not true. I just love it and the characters so much.

  3. I actually have Dark Places waiting for me on my nightstand…as soon as I finish the Harry Potter series. I loved Gone Girl but I’ve found that usually when I like an author’s “big, breakout” book…I usually like the ones they wrote before that one even more.

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