Librarians and booksellers handle an astonishing variety of titles in their daily work, and they talk—daily—with the people who read them. They’re a fount of information. This category will push you to take advantage of it.
I fervently hope you have a local bookstore or library you can turn to for recommendations—but if you don’t, you can borrow my list.
I picked this up from my local bookstore's "blind date with a book" shelf: the bookseller had described it as "a masterpiece you probably haven’t read yet. Rich, intense, beautiful." This is the first installment (published in 2011) of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet: the final novel was published last September. The quartet revolves around the friendship between Elena and Lila; My Brilliant Friend begins when the girls are in first grade and carries them through adolescence. Thought-provoking, beautifully written, realistic enough to be quite difficult in places. More info →
This is one of my favorite Patchett novels, and it's been on my mind because of the terrific story about it in Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. In this tense adventure story, a staid Minnesota researcher travels into the heart of the Amazon to find out how her colleague died while checking in on their pharmaceutical company's top secret research project in the jungle. Patchett combines big business, fertility, conspiracy, and anacondas to fascinating ends. More info →
In this nonfiction work, Klosterman examines our cultural attitudes towards villains: why do we disdain Machiavelli but root for Batman? Why do kids love Luke Skywalker while adults secretly root for Darth Vader? Along the way Klosterman touches on a wide variety of cultural figures: Kanye West, the Eagles, Tiger Woods, O.J. Simpson, Bill Clinton, NWA, Chevy Chase. Packed with pithy one-liners, and loved and recommended by an astonishing variety of readers. My husband and I both loved this, for different reasons. More info →
Imagine a modern-day Narnia, from the frontman for indie folk rock band The Decemberists. Twelve-year-old Prue McKeel is forced to embark on her adventure when crows snatch her baby brother and carry him into the Impassable Wilderness at the heart of Portland, Oregon. Meloy combines adventure, fantasy, environmentalism, and a touch of satire to create an engaging middle grade novel. More info →
Part love story, part murder mystery, pure Southern fiction. After spending ten years in Chicago, hiding from her past, Arlene returns home to face a secret she's been hiding since she fled town after high school, and introduce her black boyfriend to her racist mother. Football, dysfunctional families, and colorful characters landed this one on the staff picks shelf. More info →
Forget everything you've heard about this being an "important" book, and if you're not the poetry type, pretend you don't know this is a memoir-in-verse. All you need to know is this story is fantastic. Woodson tells the story of her childhood, moving with her family (or part of it) from South Carolina to New York City and back again, sharing her observations through a young girl's eyes with a writer's sensibility. If you don't think it's for you, read the first two pages—and then decide. National Book Award winner.
This memoir from a Cambridge professor landed on more than 25 "best of the year" lists. After her father dies, McDonald stumbles upon a unique way to assuage her grief: she purchases and attempts to train an English goshawk with the deceptively quaint name Mabel. McDonald had been a falconer since she was a child, but her hawk is wild, unpredictable, irascible—as is her grief. Part memoir, part nature story: her tale is moving, poignant, and surprising.