I’ve watched with envy as my fellow D&Gers posted lists of recommended books and decided I wanted in on the action. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I got to thinking about books that I have come across that have truly made me thankful. Whether fluffy and fun, serious and academic, or just plain good reading, here is a short selection of books that I am thrilled to have had the chance to discover. The list is incomplete and in no particular order. Please feel free to add your own as well!
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
We’ve all heard of Slaughterhouse-Five, but this title by the recently deceased master of postmodern fiction is another must-read. The novel follows Walter F. Starbuck, a low level player in the Watergate scandal who has just been released into the corporate world from a minimum-security prison for his involvement in said scandal. In Vonnegut’s unique, brilliant and satiric style, he delivers a novel that is absurd, humorous, and smart and touches on a vein of truth about the American experience that resonates with us all.
I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
Begins with the protagonist Dominick Birdsey’s schizophrenic twin brother, Thomas, slicing off his hand. This thematically ambitious novel encompasses family history, dysfunction, mental illness, and the complication of family loyalty and responsibility and spans the length of three generations. Lamb pulls it all off and then some while still making it look easy.
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
The widely acclaimed Sedaris is a master of acerbic wit and this collection of autobiographical essays showcases his talents at their absolute best. His observations and stories about his family growing up in North Carolina and his time as an expat in Paris are by far among the funniest essays I have ever read. I laughed until I cried.
Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace
This Pulitzer Prize winning 1,000 + page tome may look daunting, but it will grab you at the very first page. The all-encompassing work (co-written by one of my former professors) is almost novelistic; peppered with stories of well known and lesser-known Gothamites that shaped this city, while still being so broad in scope as to be a definitive work of the history of New York from the Dutch settlers up until the end of the 19th century. If you read one book about New York, read this one.
There is just something about him. Bryson has the ability to find the humor in almost everything he writes about. And he brings that, along with a laid-back style, astute observations and genuine child-like curiosity to every one of his books. He primarily writes travelogues, but this smart and funny author can write about anything. Start with In a Sunburned Country and work your way up to A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I loved so much I put it in our staff recommendations.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
You might want to pick up a copy of this breathtaking novel before the movie comes out, as no movie can compare to McEwan’s stunning prose. The novel begins as 13-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses her sister, Cecelia, stripping out of her clothes and diving into a fountain on a scorching summer’s day in 1935. Beside Cecelia stands Robbie Turner, the housekeeper’s son and close friend. By the end of that day Briony will commit a crime that will change their lives forever. McEwan follows the characters and repercussions that the crime has had on their lives. McEwan is a true master of his craft and nothing could have prepared me for the novel’s ending, which takes place many years later in 1999.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Like many of Irving’s novels, this one, about a young boy and his strange friend, received mixed reviews. While the novel is, in fact, strange – Owen, the title character, is extremely small, has a distractingly high-pitched voice, and believes he is God’s vessel – it is one of the most touching and lovely books I have come across, and certainly one of Irving’s best.
And now, over to you…