Bookworm: SWF Seeks Romance, Murder, and Time Travel

Photo Source: http://lifeinahighschoolartroom.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html

Photo Source: http://lifeinahighschoolartroom.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html

There’s something I really love about passing around a reading list.  It’s like sharing a secret family recipe or reading an old love letter; it tells you so much about the author.  This is what my list will say about me: I love a good 19th century bodice-ripper, I go all Sherlock Holmes for mysteries, and I believe in time travel.  (I suspect right now you are feeling relieved that we are separated by the internet.)

So I present to you this Top 31 List! (My dad routinely quizzed me on prime numbers for his own amusement, so I don’t do Top 10 Lists.  It is you who will now suffer for it.)  These are the most mainstream books on my list – if you, dear readers, have a hunger for lesser known titles, I will follow up with another list some day soon.  Take a look, and PLEASE, post or send (thewonderistblog@gmail.com) your lists.  I have been in a bit of a reading slump lately and am looking for that special book that will keep me up all night (and asleep on my keyboard all day).

(Bookworm is a regular feature highlighting the literary arts.)

Happy Reading!

FICTION

The Book Thief – Zusak 
(The book jacket on this one totally misses the point, which is why I picked it up and put it down multiple times at the bookstore before finally reading it.  That and because I’m commitment-shy.  I’m sure we all feel we’ve read just about as many WWII novels as we can bear, but this one is so different, so beautiful.  More than anything, it’s an incredible story about humanity.  Top 5 books of all-time for me.)

Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay – Chabon
(Really unique book about 2 cousins growing up in NYC before/during/after WWII, who write and illustrate comic books together.  I can’t even describe this one – read the synopsis on Amazon.) =)

The Historian – Kostova
(Now, you don’t have to be part-Transylvanian, like I am, to like this book.  Long before there was Twilight and Vampire Diaries, there was “The Historian.”  This is a spellbinding book about Vlad the Impaler, whom many have come to think of as Dracula.  Great historical fiction.)

The Birth of Venus – Dunant
(Great historical fiction about a female (!) painter in the Medici era.)

The Imperfectionists – Rachman
(Book about journalists in Rome between 1940 and present day – the chapters alternate between the history of the newspaper they work for and profiles of the different paper employees.  An entertaining, quick read.  Makes you wonder about the private lives of your own coworkers!)

The Namesake – Lahiri
(At this point, I’m not even sure this is Lahiri’s most popular book, but it’s the only one I’ve read.  Great book about family and identity and better than the movie, as most books are.  This said by a film/tv producer.)

Love in the Time of Cholera – Marquez
(Might be one of my favorite love stories.  Reads much more easily than 100 Years of Solitude by Marquez, I think.)

Life of Pi – Martel 
(Charming book about a boy stranded in a boat with a tiger.  A little philosophical without banging you over the head with it.  Has a little something for everyone, I think.  Still so worth the read, even if you saw the movie.)

Middlesex – Eugenides
(Lots of riveting historical info about Detroit in the politically turbulent 1960s, mixed in with a story about a young, confused hermaphrodite.)

The Other Boleyn Girl – Gregory
(God help you if you suffered through the movie.  Gregory primarily writes about the British royal family – she has a lot of devotees, including my mother.  I’ve only read this one book, but I couldn’t put it down – intrigue, love, betrayal.  Basically a Danielle Steele novel, but classier. Great escapism. Perfect beach read.)

The Alienist – Carr
(I would put this in the same class as Devil in the White City below.  Super suspenseful novel about early psychology practices and how they were used to solve the case of an elusive serial murderer.)

Wicked – Maguire 
(I read this ages ago – before it was a Broadway show – which makes me sound very old.  Forever the sucker for an underdog story, I sort of loved looking at “The Wizard of Oz” through the Wicked Witch’s eyes.  Appealed to the 13 year-old in me.)

The Thirteenth Tale – Setterfield
(A book about books and writers.  And ghosts.  Good for book lovers.)

Kite Runner – Hosseini
(If you haven’t read it yet, who are you. Period.)

Forgotten Garden – Morton
(Sort of like Secret Garden but for grown women.  Story of a little girl who gets separated from her family on a boat journey from England to Australia…and how she and her granddaughter spend decades trying to find them.  A pretty magical book.)

Blindness – Saramago

(Haunting book about how society responds when masses of people are struck blind.)

AUTOBIOGRAPHY (I’ve chosen these because they just plain read like fiction.)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Eggers
(Eggers might be my favorite author.  In his subsequent books, including “What is the What” – also on this list – and “Zeitoun,” he tackles a lot of social issues.  But this is an autobiographical story about the death of his parents when he was very young and how he raised his even younger brother on his own.  Written stream-of-consciousness style – just to warn you – but I love his use of language.)

Open – Agassi
(If you were even peripherally aware of Agassi at all in the 80s/90s – if even just his crazy hair and foul mouth – this is a great read.  It’s not much about sports at all – it’s mostly about things we all feel – anxiety, expectations, love.  Happens to have been ghost-written by the author of The Tender Bar, also on this list.)

The Tender Bar – Moehringer
(Autobiography about a man who was, essentially, parentless and raised by a motley bunch of bartenders at the local townie bar.)

Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Bauby 

(I’m sure we all know the story and/or saw the movie, but this man dictated an entire book by blinking his eyelids in code when he lost the ability to speak and move anything but his left eyelid after a stroke.  It reads like poetry.)

My Life So Far – Jane Fonda
(C’mon, it’s Jane Fonda.  She’s had a fascinating life.)

Glass castle – Walls 
(Autobiography about Walls who grew up in extreme poverty in the Appalachians.)

NON-FICTION (that also reads like fiction)
What is the What – Eggers 
(Eggers wrote this book with one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” – alternates chapters between the boy’s long walk out of Sudan and his new life in Atlanta.  Moving and unforgettable.)

Devil in the White City – Larson
(Story of the 1893 World Expo in Chicago – alternates between the fascinating story of the architects behind it and the shocking tale of a man who was systematically murdering women during the expo.  Crazy suspenseful, yet also educational.  This is where the Wheaties were invented!)

TRAVEL LITERATURE (Good for fantasizing about living somewhere else.  Obviously I’m obsessed with France!)
River of Doubt – Millard 
(One of my top 5 books.  I have no idea what made me pick this up – a book about exploration and adventure is not exactly a natural fit for me.  This is the true story about Teddy Roosevelt’s exploration down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon River after he lost the election of 1912 – an incredibly risky undertaking.  Lots of suspense – there’s an actual murder, there are daring feats, there are crazy encounters with nature.  I loved it – educational but fascinating.  Learned a lot about Roosevelt.)

A Year in Provence – Mayles (This book is what inspired me to spend a summer in France writing 4 years ago.  And, by complete fluke, I ended up staying with very good friends of the author.  This is the kind of travel literature that makes you want to pick up and move and get fat on French food.)

My Life in France – Child (Great book for foodies.  Also inspiring tale of a woman who defied gender stereotypes – and her extraordinary, gentle marriage.)

Time Was Soft There – Mercer
(Really pleasant autobiography by a young writer who lived in the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore in Paris, which was home to many great authors – Hemingway and Ginsberg, etc., etc.  A place where starving artists were allowed to live for free, as long as they read voraciously and worked one shift a week in the store.  I actually visited this bookstore – it’s still there, and people still live in it – in Paris.  It’s pretty amazing.)

TIME TRAVEL (Just a disclaimer – these books are not really ABOUT time travel.  That would make me a total geek.  It’s mostly just a mechanism for bouncing back and forth between times, which I can sort of appreciate.  These books are wonderful for transporting the reader to another time and place.)

Time and Again – Finney
(One of my all-time favorite books.  Set in the late 1890s in NYC – it’s like reading a book that might as well be a painting – the picture he crafts of NYC in this era is so complete…you’ll never see Central Park the same.)

Forever – Hamill 
(Beautiful story about a man who can live forever – set mostly in Ireland and NYC – amazing to see the progress that’s been made across the centuries.)

Time Traveler’s Wife – Niffeneger 
(We’ve all probably read this and seen the movie, but if not, there’s a reason it’s so popular.  It’s about exactly what the title says.)

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8 Comments

  1. I love your lists. Here are a few I would add, gleaned from a Facebook challenge for 15 best books, completed 4 years ago. Since then I would add The Art of Racing in the Rain, but that’s all because I don’t want to spend any more sleepless nights coming up with a perfect 15.
    I also really love the picture of the 3 of you as children (yes, I’m calling your mother a child, way back then.)

    1. I am One of You Forever, Fred Chappell–fabulous! Get your hankie ready, though.

    2. The Floatplane Notebooks, Clyde Edgerton–everything he writes is a gem! Read them all!

    3. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving–I envy you if you haven’t read this, it’s so good!

    4. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen–beautiful writing, excellent story, great time structure

    5. The Kite Runner, Khaled Housseni–wonderful on many levels, but will also teach you about Eastern culture

    6. Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (nonfiction, are you surprised?), amazing story about the people on the edge of our society

    7. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver (nonfiction again, although I recommend any of her fiction, including Prodigal Summer). This one will convince you to eat local and in season.

    8. The Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (ok, we’re back to fiction)–this is a very funny book about a group of people you will really dislike. It’s fabulous!!!! It’s funny!!! I’ve taught it on the college and high school levels.

    9. The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy–I love all the old Conroy, don’t like the new, but this one is amazing.

    10. East of Eden, John Steinbeck–Amazing, very long novel about the recurring Cain and Abel story. You will love it! I tried to teach it in high school, but parents objected to the use of “goddamn,” although it turns out their children just didn’t want to read a long novel.

    11. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut. All the early books by Vonnegut are great, very funny, really interesting. Don’t bother with the last few. This one is about war.

    12. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris. I really love all his books, being a North Carolinian myself and loving humor, but this is my favorite. (No, Naked! No, Me Talk Pretty One Day!) Warning: Do not take one of his books on a plane because you will wet yourself laughing and snort Coca-Cola out of your nose.)

    13. Loss of the Ground Note, edited by Henlen Vozenilek. I tried not to include this one, but I felt I wasn’t being honest. This is a book of essays written by women about the loss of their mothers, and it was the only book that comforted me when my own mother was killed by a drunk driver 14 years ago. I give it to friends who have lost their mothers, and I recommend it.

    14. On Writing, Stephen King, (nonfiction) I didn’t like King for a long time (he scares me!), but when I read The Green Mile and Hearts in Atlantis I had to admit he is a great writer, and this one is about his craft.

    15. Hamlet, Shakespeare, the best piece of writing in the world. You knew it was coming, didn’t you?
    I have many more favorites on my mental list, but these are the 15 I choose.

    1. Thank you so much for this list, Lois – I loved your book descriptions (and how did you KNOW that I snort when I laugh?!) – I haven’t read quite a few on your list and look forward to getting started! And thank you for your kind words about the family photo – it’s one of my favorites even if it makes all 3 of us look ridiculous. PS – Have you read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 yet? I also wasn’t a huge fan of King before (murderous clowns? no thank you), but I devoured that book (about the Kennedy assassination).

      1. Oh, hell. ANOTHER great book to add to my scribbled list of your suggestions to take to the library today. What I don’t understand is how, with a family and big job, you have time to write such a detailed blog, complete with links (“Fix you breakfast, honey? No, I’m spending hours clicking on Wonderist’s links and snorting coffee through my nose. Get some cereal.”)
        I was in typing class when Kennedy was assassinated, and that day is imprinted on me (well, I also met my crush Artie Q. by the water fountain, but that’s probably not in the King book).
        I appreciate your detailed, long list, and the time I know it took to write it.

  2. I’d like to add a couple of titles to fiction. These are my favorites out of all I’ve read the past couple of years:
    What I Loved – Siri Hustvedt
    The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paulo Giordano
    A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines – Janna Levin
    A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Eagan

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