This week we’re talking about books that influenced us—as writers, of course—but I was a reader long before I had the idea that I could write a book of my own. Here is a list of must-read books on my shelf, many of them I’ve read over and over again.
I read a lot. A LOT. Probably a couple hundred books a year. Reading takes up about 90% of my non-working and non-writing time. (I’d say “non-parenting” time too, except I spend a lot of time modeling “positive reading behaviors” for my kids, which I also sometimes call “teaching them to be independent”).
I mostly prefer realistic and historical fiction, though every now and then I’ll dip into magical realism. I’m not a huge fan of fantasy—I have a hard time keeping track of all the worlds and invented terminology. For the most part, I like my stories to be based in the familiar.
The first book to have a huge impact on me was Blubber, by Judy Blume. I remember the moment I finished reading it, because it was the very first time I flipped back to the beginning of a book to read the whole thing again. Forty years later, I’m still handing out Judy Blume books to fifth graders like they’re crack cocaine. (Disclaimer: I do not give them actual crack cocaine. Just the Judy Blume books). But those books are a sure thing, and once a kid reads one, they have to read them all.
Another huge influence on my reading life was the Anne of Green Gables series. I’ve sorted the world into two categories: People who love Anne, and people who don’t. I try not to have too much interaction with the latter.
Because I read all the time, my list of adult favorites is constantly shifting and changing. But the following are books that have a permanent spot on the list:
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. The execution of this book is flawless. I absolutely love the idea of time travel, and the way Niffenegger crafts a love story around one time traveler and one non-time traveler is brilliant. Clare Abshire and Henry DeTamble are enchanting and tragic and if you haven’t read it, you must.
I try to read everything by Anna Quindlen and Barbara Kingsolver. Both of these authors were writing “upmarket” fiction long before upmarket was a thing. They combine beautiful—at times haunting—prose with a character-driven plot. If you must start somewhere, I suggest One True Thing by Anna Quindlen, and Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver.
Anne Tyler is another of those authors, and her book, Ladder of Years, is one of my all-time favorites. It’s the story of an under-appreciated mother and wife who reaches her limit on a family vacation and simply walks away. Who can’t relate?
I love historical fiction, and for me, the true sign of a well-written historical fiction book is whether I’m sent running to Google afterwards (or during if it’s really well-executed). Some of my favorites are:
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. I adore this author, and have read pretty much everything she’s written. She writes both historical and contemporary, which means there are more books to love.
Victoria by Daisy Goodwin. I will read pretty much anything and everything about the British monarchy (including People Magazine and UsWeekly).
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I generally prefer my historical fiction to take place between the 18th and 20th centuries, but this book broke through my parameters in a big way. This is another book I try to re-read every few years.
Under the “Unadulterated Fun” category, I have several favorites:
The Discovery of Witches All Souls trilogy. This is the Twilight series for discerning adults who want their vampire/witch fiction to be well-written AND addicting. It’s the perfect blend of magical realism and historical fiction, and I will read anything Deborah Harkness puts on the page.
Liane Moriarty—Everyone’s talking about Big Little Lies, but truthfully, I think her best book is What Alice Forgot. Liane writes with humor and suspense, which propels you to read forward at an alarming rate. Be ready to tear through her books in a matter of hours or days.
Michael Connelly: His books got me through my cancer treatments in 2015. They’re well-written and expertly paced with characters who consistently have bigger problems than I did. Chemotherapy is scary, but not nearly as scary as being chased down Mullholland Drive in the middle of a night by a gun-wielding murderer.
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, though I really enjoyed The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Even though it’s about the University of Washington crew team, it was also filled with people and names from the University of California, Berkeley, which dominated my life between 1994-1998 when I worked in the Cal athletic department (Go Bears). It made real for me names I’d only heard as endowments, scholarships or boat houses. And it’s so well-written that I had to Google in the middle of the book because even though I knew UW won the gold medal in the 1936 Olympics, as a reader I was so invested that I worried maybe everyone had gotten it wrong.
I have to stop here, though I could probably keep going for days. Let me know what your favorites are…or if you loved any of these!
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