Book Recommendations

Top Ten

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

This is a fun read, especially if you enjoy reading about myths. I can't remember the year I first read this, but I've read it a total of four times I think. As my familiarity with myths increases, I enjoy the book more upon each reread. Plus, this just hits the sweet spot in terms of tone for me.

Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt

A harrowing and hilarious recount of Frank McCourt's childhood in the slums of Ireland. This book is an old friend.

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

Many readers may only know Shirley Jackson from English class, where her short story "The Lottery" is ubiquitous. At the time, her writing didn't do anything for me (I suspect because of edits made in textbooks). Later I read her collection of short stories—which includes "The Lottery"—and devoured them. She was and is an underrated writer, and her The Haunting of Hill House is the absolute pinnacle of the American haunted house genre. I've read this a half a dozen times, at least.

The Moor's Last Sigh - Salman Rushdie

Many people may not consider this Rushdie's greatest work. Indeed, I have only read this and his Satanic Verses—which pales in comparison to this novel (for me). This is strictly a personal preference, I think, and has nothing to do with the merits of either work. The characters in this one stand out a little more. Well, a lot more, actually.

No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy

Accessible. That's what this one is called, at least by the snobs. McCarthy doesn't try to do anything new with this piece, but Anton Chigurh is one of literature's scariest villains.

On Writing - Stephen King

This is a terrific work, even if you're not a writer. You get a glimpse into King's making as a writer and as a person. He doesn't shy away from his mistakes, and he's generous in his advice to newbies. Pick it up even if you don't consider yourself a writer. King will make you want to try your hand at it.

The Shining - Stephen King

I'm not saying this is King's best work (I think Full Dark, No Stars is some of his best work yet), but this is a personal fave. A five-year-old psychic, due to family circumstances, is forced to move to a creepy hotel out in the middle of nowhere. We're due for another screen adaptation of this, in my opinion.

Smoke and Mirrors - Neil Gaiman

Not all the stories in this collection are total hits for me, but Gaiman really outdoes himself with "The Price." Also worth a read is his other short story collection, Fragile Things.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

A story of racism as told through a child's eyes. I wonder if this would be on my top ten if I had been introduced to it in English class.

Up in the Old Hotel - Joseph Mitchell

I've read this a good twenty times. Maybe more. My copy is so dogeared I have Scotch tape running down the spine to keep the cover on. Personal faves are the essay about gypsy women, and the one about the rats. This book is another old friend.

Picks for 2011

Most of these books were not published in 2011, but what I read in 2011. I'm not writing these in any particular order because I loved them all. Some were not given five stars, but I recommend them all the same for how they resonated with me.

The Breach/Patrick Lee - This one kept me up past my bedtime. Truly a page turner. If you like science fiction mixed in with your thrills, this is the book for you. 

Drood/Dan Simmons - The protagonist is Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of Charles Dickens. They worked together for many years over the course of their lives, and though Collins was one of the most highly paid novelists of his time, Dickens was more famous. This book chronicles what could have been their relationship. What's chilling about the book is that Collins is a wholly unreliable narrator; he was a notorious laudanum addict. Furthermore, he believed he had a doppelganger, whom he dubbed the Other Wilkie. Using the mysterious character Drood of Dickens final, unfinished novel, Simmons weaves a fantastic tale of murder and intrigue. (Yes, I just used that cliché.)

Full Dark, No Stars/Stephen King - At the end of this collection of novellas, King tells us these stories are harsh. It's true. Yet this is some of his best and most tightly edited work in a long time. I raced through these, unable to put the book down. I'll probably read these stories again and again. 

In a Sunburned Country/Bill Bryson - Oh, read him. It really doesn't matter which book you pick, I don't think. Read this if you're thinking about going to Australia. Bryson makes what might otherwise be dry facts come completely alive. After reading this, you'll be as curious as he is. A highly entertaining writer. 

Killing Floor/Lee Child - First of the Jack Reacher novels. I read it and fell in love with Child's writing. Can't wait to read more of him. 

Notes on a Scandal/Patrick Marber - This is the script, not the novel version. I list it here because a) I read it and b) because I think Patrick Marber really nails the essence of the characters. Sheba is a sweet self-liar and Barbara, while sympathetic, is truly diabolical. There's some English class issue that, as an American, I'm not sure I fully grasped, but I think America does has its equivalents. Also a good study on how loneliness can drive people to do mad, mad things. Really well-written piece. See the movie, too. And read the novel by Zoe Heller.

Pretty Monsters/Kelly Link - Link is what I think of as "literary horror." Her work is very hard to describe, but she's a master at what she does ... whatever it is she does. She weaves spells, I guess. And whenever I read her I am under one of her spells. Weird and wonderful stuff.

Stories/Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio, editors - This collection of short stories uses only one question: " ... and then what happened?" Each story really will keep you asking that. This is a real page-turner.

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie/Alan Bradley - I'm not usually big on cozies, but Flavia de Luce is a terrific character. An eleven year-old sleuth who does not get along with her sisters, she specializes in poisons and has her own lab on her father's English estate. There are three more books (I think) in this series, and I intend to read them all. 

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