15 Books from Ann Patchett’s Very Long List of Favorites

Ann Patchett is the award-winning author of BEL CANTO, THE MAGICIAN’S ASSISTANT, STATE OF WONDER, and more. Her latest novel, COMMONWEALTH, confirms once again her incredible literary talent. She also has incredible taste. As such, we’re so glad that Parade asked her to choose 75 of the most outstanding books from the past 75 years. Her picks date back to the 1950s and highlight some of the finest fiction and nonfiction of the past decades. So we just had to share some of our favorites from her “best of the best” list. Here they are in chronological order.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories
by Flannery O'Connor

In 1955, Flannery O’Connor established herself as one of the most original and provocative writers of her generation. Steeped in a Southern Gothic tradition, this story collection illuminates O’Connor’s grotesque view of life infused with religious symbolism, haunted by apocalyptic possibility, and sustained by the tragic comedy of human behavior.

Giovanni’s Room
by James Baldwin

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. James Baldwin’s now-classic novel creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

Silent Spring
by Rachel Carson

Originally published in 3 serialized excerpts in a 1962 issue of The New Yorker, SILENT SPRING spurred revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Rachel Carson’s iconic work alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides and still remains relevant today.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams

Seconds before the Earth is demolished, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend, Ford Prefect—a researcher for the revised edition of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Together this dynamic pair begin an exhilarating journey through space (the basis of the 2005 film starring Martin Freeman and Mos Def).

Housekeeping
by Marilynne Robinson

A modern classic, HOUSEKEEPING is the story of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille, who grow up haphazardly after their mother takes her own life. Ruth and Lucille struggle toward adulthood, weighing the price of loss, survival, and transience as they are passed from relative to relative until they finally come under the care of their eccentric aunt.

So Long, See You Tomorrow
by William Maxwell

Fifty years after a murder on a rural Illinois farm, a man tries to reconstruct the events and is inevitably drawn back to his childhood friend, whose father was the murderer. Out of memory and imagination, the surmises of children and the destructive passions of their parents, William Maxwell creates a luminous American classic of youth and loss.

The Things They Carried
by Tim O' Brien

A classic meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling as written by a Vietnam veteran, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED will open your eyes—as it has for students across America—to the nature of war in a way you’ll never forget.

All Over but the Shoutin’
by Rick Bragg

Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter Rick Bragg grew up dirt-poor in Alabama. ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN’ is his recollection of a life on the American margin and the story of the dedication and sacrifice of his mother, who inspired him to greatness.

The Stone Diaries
by Carol Shields

Carol Shields won the Pulitzer Prize for this subtle portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life. What transforms this seemingly ordinary tale is the richness of Daisy’s vividly described inner life—from her earliest memories of her adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death.

The Color of Water
by James McBride

James McBride—journalist, musician, and son—explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in his poignant and powerful memoir. THE COLOR OF WATER is a touching and vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.

Speak
by Laurie Halse Anderson

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful young adult novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. Melinda, a freshman, becomes an outcast after she calls the cops at a party. In her art class, she finds solace and the voice she needs to face what really happened to her at that terrible party.

What is the What
by Dave Eggers

WHAT IS THE WHAT is based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng, who, along with thousands of other children, is forced to leave his village in Sudan and trek hundreds of miles by foot while being pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals. When Deng finally resettles in the US, he finds a life full of promise and myriad new challenges.

Brother, I’m Dying
by Edwidge Danticat

BROTHER, I’M DYING is an astonishing true-life epic that follows Edwidge Danticat’s family from Haiti to New York City and chronicles the emotional effects of their emigration. While some family members were able to relocate to the U. S., they continued to fear for the safety of those they left in Haiti as the political climate deteriorated.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz

Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old-world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and finding love. But because of a curse that has haunted his family for generations, Oscar may never get what he wants.

My Name Is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout

As Lucy Barton recovers from an operation, her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Though gentle gossip seems to reconnect them, just below the surface Lucy recognizes a familiar tension and a longing to escape from her troubled family and become a writer.