Readers told me 3 books they loved, 1 book they hated, and what they’re reading right now. In turn, I’m recommending 3 books for each reader. (Or more, if I can’t help myself.)
This week we’re choosing books for Anna, who says, “I’m looking for more novel ideas because I’m 8 months pregnant and just cannot match speeds with my usual histories and biographies. But I’m super picky about novels. Maybe you can help.”
Anna’s books are:
Love: Emily of New Moon, Hannah Coulter, Crossing to Safety, Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym. (I like strong believable characters, a sense of place, and wit – they don’t have to be happy ever after)
Meh: The Secret Keeper (Sorry, I know you loved it – I just couldn’t fall in love with the characters and I don’t like historical fiction and am not fond of mystery either)
Recently: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (and I liked it – characters, sense of place, wit)
Anna has zoomed in on one of my favorite categories: the gorgeous novel with moving, lyrical, descriptive prose you want to read slowly so you can hang on every word.
(Although Where’d You Go, Bernadette threw me a little. It’s not a gorgeous novel by any means, but I’m noting Anna’s preference for wit, sense of place, and strong characterization.)
I’m starting Anna off with a few classics that have a similar feel to the books she loves. If she hasn’t read Wendell Berry’s whole Port William series (which includes Hannah Coulter), I recommend it. Jayber Crow is my favorite among them. (His nonfiction is also excellent, and witty with a sense of place. What Are People For? is a wonderful place to start.)
Brideshead Revisited meets Anna’s requirements, as do most of Dickens’ novels. Waugh and Dickens are both wickedly funny when they want to be.
I think it’s likely that Anna has read the classic works, so I’m recommending three newer selections. I wouldn’t describe Gilead or Peace Like a River as witty, but they have strong characters, are deeply rooted in place, and the writing is lovely. On the other hand, Kingsolver’s dry wit permeates The Poisonwood Bible.
As for offbeat selections, The Engagements is the closest book here to Where’d You Go, Bernadette, because of its unusual format and feisty characters. Father Melancholy’s Daughter is a gorgeous modern novel (light on wit), and Possession is a book that inspires hatred or devotion. Warning: I adored it the first time through, but was bored on the re-read. A. S. Byatt writes wonderful women characters.
I also wanted to throw in a few Wallace Stegner novels, because I am currently obsessed with Crossing to Safety myself. I just finished The Spectator Bird and am still trying to wrap my head around it. I also enjoyed Angle of Repose, but not as much as Crossing to Safety. And wow, it’s long. The Big Rock Candy Mountain is on my to-read list.
Please share YOUR favorite gorgeous novels—or any other book you think Anna might enjoy—in comments. Thank you!