There’s no need to fret if you’re feeling behind. In fact, there is no such thing as being behind because here at Modern Mrs. Darcy, we care about quality way more than we care about quantity. We also believe that your reading life should serve you well—and for many of us, that means what we’re choosing to read these days is looking quite different from what we imagined we’d be reading right now. I, for one, have a beautiful stack of hard-hitting literary fiction by my bed, queued up and ready to go, but all I want to read these days is light-hearted, feel-good stories. I know it’s not just me.
Checking the boxes on your reading challenge list isn’t about the accomplishment itself; it’s about helping you get more out of your reading life. (Though I realize that for some of you, it IS all about checking the boxes, and I respect your achievement-driven ways. But don’t let it get you down, okay?)
Our reading challenge categories are meant to inspire, motivate, and enhance your book selection process, and we’ve deliberately chosen categories that we know steer readers towards new favorite titles. One such category is “a book published the decade you were born.” I shared what I plan to read for my own challenge—including books for this category—here. I love the freedom this category allows, but I also know an open-ended prompt such as this may be tricky for some readers.
(1961) I probably wasn't old enough to appreciate this instant classic when I first read it as a child, but that didn't stop me. (Thank goodness.) 10-year-old Milo comes home from school one day to find a tollbooth sitting in his bedroom. Since he doesn't have anything better to do, he pays the toll and drives through–and embarks on a strange journey into a fanciful world where he encounters all sorts of strange characters. A satisfying and delightfully nerdy book that will engage both kids and adults, albeit on different levels. For fans of Greenglass House and The Mysterious Benedict Society. More info →
(1938) This 1930s Gothic classic is an un-put-down-able, curl-up-by-the-fire mystery. Suspenseful, and it holds its tension on a re-reading: a sure sign of a well-crafted thriller. Because the young unnamed wife doesn't understand what's going on for a long time, neither does the reader. Don't be put off by its age: this thrilling novel feels surprisingly current (and Mrs Danvers is as creepy as ever). More info →
(1943) I loved this story from page 1, and totally get why it makes so many readers' "lifetime favorites" lists. If you're new to this novel, brace yourself: Francie Nolan is about to win you over. Her Irish Catholic family is struggling to stay afloat in the Brooklyn slums, in the midst of great change at the turn of the century, while her charismatic but doomed father is literally drinking himself to death. But Francie is young, sensitive, imaginative, and determined to make a life for herself. A moving story of unlikely beauty and resilience, wistful, satisfying, and heart-wrenching. More info →
(1940) This gritty novel wrecked me when I first read it in high school: Wright's story is raw, violent, emotionally wrenching, and utterly unforgettable. Through the eyes of Bigger Thomas, a twenty-year-old black man living in Chicago in the 1930s, we see the extreme racial inequalities his family experiences— and how they first harden, and then desensitize Bigger. This was Wright's first novel, and on its publication in 1940, it became one of the fastest-selling novels in America's history, and remains incredibly timely today. More info →
(2001) This is my favorite Patchett novel and a book I find myself recommending all the time. Japanese businessman and opera buff Katsumi Hosokawa is celebrating his birthday in an unnamed South American country, in the company of diplomats, government officials, and businessman. Mr. Hosokawa knows he's being shaken down for a large donation, but he can't resist attending, because the South Americans have secured a performance by legendary soprano Roxanne Coss. The country's president is unable to attend (he's much too interested in what happens on his favorite soap opera on Tuesday nights), and his fixation spares him from being taken hostage when the militant group La Familia storms the gathering. Intriguing, highly readable, and loosely based on a true story. More info →
(1974) When I first read Pilgrim as a college freshman, I'd never encountered anything like Dillard’s genre-defying reflections on the changing seasons in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. (I talked about this as a life-changing book in the Ask Anne Anything episode of What Should I Read Next.) It is still one of my all-time favorites. More info →
(1969) In her debut, the first of six autobiographies, Angelou tells the haunting story of her childhood in the American South in the 1930s. The prose is incredible, and the story is by turns heartwarming ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") and utterly heartbreaking. If this is one you've been meaning to read, give the audio version a try: Angelou's lilting voice brings her powerful, touching story to life. More info →
(1958) This modern classic, set in a small Nigerian village, made the list of the top 100 in PBS's The Great American Read. I spent years meaning to read this book; don't make the mistake of putting it off like I did. In intertwined stories, the reader witnesses first an individual life fall to pieces, and then the society he belongs to. The title comes from the Yeats poem "A Second Coming." More info →
(1937) This atmospheric story about expectations, marriage, and unexpected love is richly atmospheric, set in the deep South's Florida Everglades in the 1920s. Hurston's classic is written in dialect, which is tricky for some readers (unless they choose the audio version). A classic for a reason, with well-developed characters and a thought-provoking story line. More info →
(1952) This story has it all: love, poverty, wealth, war, betrayal, abandonment, murder. An epic tale of the Trasks and Hamiltons, two families doomed to reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel’s rivalry across generations. Steinbeck examines class, identity, and what happens when we are denied love. Grounded thoroughly in its California setting, Steinbeck's magnum opus feels tragic, yet hopeful. This is Steinbeck's most ambitious novel, and in his opinion, his finest work. ("I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.") More info →
(1985) I read this for my 2016 Reading Challenge and LOVED it, even though I initially thought it didn't sound like the right book for me. It's not the kind of book I expected to love: the story revolves around a 3000 mile cattle drive from a dusty Texas border town to the unsettled lands of Montana in the 1880s, and features a motley cast of characters including illustrious captains, notorious outlaws, ex-slaves, Texas Rangers, sheriffs, and more. Yet I enjoyed it sooo much—all 36 hours and 11 minutes of the audiobook. More info →
(2005) I talked about my love for this one in Volume III of One Great Book . Haunting and atmospheric, with a sad truth that dawns on you gradually. Ishiguro slowly introduces the reader to three teens in a 1990s British boarding school. His prose says so much while revealing so little, as it slowly dawns on the reader what is not-quite-right about these children's lives. More info →
(1999) I love Lahiri; this slim volume of short stories was breathtaking. The first story, A Temporary Matter, is my favorite. Lahiri's characters tenuously navigate the divide between their old world and their new, and taken together, the collection highlights myriad aspects of the immigrant experience. Evocative, bittersweet, and lyrical. I listened to the audio version and loved it. More info →
(1929) I highly recommend listening to this one on audiobook. You've probably encountered snippets of this compilation somewhere along the way; in less than two hours you can hear the complete work. If you have a creative bone in your body, it's well worth the time to give this a listen at least once, especially because it's read by Dan Stevens. More info →
(1970) Morrison takes her title from her dark-skinned protagonist's deep desire to have blue eyes, because that is the standard of beauty in the 1941 Midwest. Through the eyes of this girl, Morrison explores the ideas of beauty, love, and what it does to a person to internalize hate. Remarkably, this was Morrison's first novel (her work spans five decades, and any of her books would be a great choice for this challenge). More info →
(1984) This modern classic is a coming-of-age almost-memoir of a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, who is inventing the woman she will grow up to be. The story unfolds as a series of vignettes—some joyful, some heartbreaking—that draw the reader deep into her Hispanic Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza's observations feel at once highly specific and incredibly universal, as she reflects on growing up on Mango Street, and how she eventually wants to leave. More info →
(1998) I love Kingsolver; this is one of her best (I've read it several times). Southern Baptist Missionary Nathan Price heads off to the African Congo with his wife and 4 daughters in 1959, and nothing goes as planned. Though they bring with them everything they think they will need from their home in Bethlehem, Georgia—right down to the Betty Crocker cake mixes—the Prices are woefully unprepared for their new life among the Congolese, and they all pay the price. More info →
What do you plan on reading in this category? Do you have a favorite book from the last few decades? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.