Classics/Award Winners

An Enchanting Story of a Modern-Day Invisible Man

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I recently revisited Aravind Adiga’s THE WHITE TIGER to discern what about it so riveted and enchanted me when I first read it in college. I figured it had to be the first sentence. This was a book that enraptured me with its utterly distinct and unrelenting voice, and I thought it must have been the first sentence where I got a glimpse of that.

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A Life in Waves

I am not a surfer. I have never spent a day on big, rough waves in Hawaii or on small but perfect waves in Tonga. I am, however, a rubbernecker. If there’s a stretch of beach where I can watch surfers bob up and down in wetsuits waiting for a break, I’m there. William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, BARBARIAN DAYS: A SURFING LIFE, is the literary equivalent of sitting on the beach on a day with good breaks.

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An Otherworldly Love Story of Magic and Danger

I know there are some snobby über-literary types out there who scoff when they’re told that one of the best—if not the best—writer about writing is Stephen King. I know, because I probably used to be one of them. Sure, back in the day I might have granted that his memoir ON WRITING is really useful and brilliant when it comes to learning the craft of writing. But what about the art of it? What can a super-commercial novelist like that teach me about my creative demons?

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A Stephen King Collection Awash in Twisted Hope and Wonder

At a wedding I attended years ago, the father of the bride said something that’s stayed with me. He talked about growing old, and losing the wonder and hope we were flush with as kids. Careers, marriages, and children occupy all our time. They begin to chip away at our hope and innocence. Whether it’s the manic excitement of a sleepover with friends, the endless promise of your first love, or summer days that seem to last forever, those feeling are never as pure or as acute as they were when we were young. He stressed that as we aged, it takes work to preserve those feelings, to even have the capacity to experience hope and wonder.

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A Modern Classic About Friendship Formed Over Vodka and Tang

On my Goodreads shelf, you can pretty distinctly divide the books I’ve read into three categories. The first is the classics (Austen & Co.). The second, contemporary hits (yay, publishing!) that I’ve got to stay on top of to know what’s what. The third is a bit harder to define: they’re the ones published in the last fifty years or so by masters like Junot Díaz, Jay McInerney, Joan Didion, and Toni Morrison. They’re books that have lasted, but we can’t yet predict where they’ll be in a century (though if they’re not on our bookshelves, we’ve done something terribly wrong). I call them “the modern classics,” and one of my favorites is Meg Wolitzer’s THE INTERESTINGS.

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The Remarkable Story of an Ordinary Man

As evidenced by my reviews of/obsession with EMPIRE FALLS and & SONS, stories about small towns and big families just hook me. I can’t really explain it—there’s just something about people and drama stuck in a contained space that’s guaranteed to please every single time.

Which is why, when I first heard of Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning novel THE SHIPPING NEWS, I knew it was probably for me.

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A Miserable Childhood, A Transcendent Tale

One day in the spring of 1995, when Frank McCourt was sixty-four years old, I received a box from literary agent Molly Friedrich, containing the first 159 pages of the memoir ANGELA’S ASHES. Several of us read the pages, as Frank would say, with alacrity. And loved them, swiftly seduced by the opening sentences: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived it all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood; the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.”

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One Woman’s Terrifying Maternal Dilemma

I picked up Doris Lessing’s novel THE FIFTH CHILD while six months pregnant. I had long admired Lessing’s unapologetically bold fiction and was unable to resist a tale about a child who is, even before birth, a very bad baby. The novel did not disappoint—it is an exercise in vicarious chills and creepy voyeurism until a deeper truth emerges: creating life means surrendering to forces beyond our control.

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