11 Books That Remind Us There’s No Place Like Home

March 3 2017
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As Off the Shelf writers, and book lovers, we spend a lot of time immersed in fictional worlds. But every once in a while we’ll finish reading a book and then long for a more familiar place—our hometowns. Whether we were born and raised there, or took such a liking that we chose to call it our second home later on in life, these 11 books are set in the many places that we call home.

The Bastard of Istanbul
by Elif Shafak

Complex and vivid, I feel at home in Istanbul, in all the good ways of that word: warm, content, and comforted. In Elif Shafak’s equally complex and vivid THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL, my adopted hometown is as important as the foibles of the human characters. When it was published, Shafak’s portrayal of the Armenian genocide prompted her arrest for “public denigration of Turkishness.” This is an enlightening, yet entertaining, read. —Allison (Istanbul, Turkey)

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The Bastard of Istanbul
Elif Shafak

Complex and vivid, I feel at home in Istanbul, in all the good ways of that word: warm, content, and comforted. In Elif Shafak’s equally complex and vivid THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL, my adopted hometown is as important as the foibles of the human characters. When it was published, Shafak’s portrayal of the Armenian genocide prompted her arrest for “public denigration of Turkishness.” This is an enlightening, yet entertaining, read. —Allison (Istanbul, Turkey)

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Commencement
by J. Courtney Sullivan

This debut novel from fellow Smithie alumna, J. Courtney Sullivan, was a comfort when I was struck with post-grad homesickness for hallowed halls, late-night riot grrrl discussions, and classrooms filled with bright, challenging women (and usually a nose ring or five). COMMENCEMENT follows four women as they bond through their unique Smith experiences and tracks their changing friendships, loyalty, and deep secrets as their lives progress. —Elizabeth (Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts)

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Commencement
J. Courtney Sullivan

In this touching and witty debut, four college roommates must grapple with how the ideals of feminism they learned at Smith College apply to their real lives in matters of love, work, family, and sex. More than a chronicle of college friendship, it is a candid examination of the tangled and contradictory world that today’s young women live in.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Close
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

For most, THE GREAT GATSBY calls to mind the mansions of Long Island—but for me, Fitzgerald’s masterpiece brings me to my hometown of Astoria, New York. Whether he’s racing over the Queensboro Bridge or weaving between the girders of the elevated subway, Nick views Astoria as a dreamlike world between Long Island and Manhattan. —Kerry (Astoria, New York)

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The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Some consider it “the great American novel.” The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his powerful love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan is an exquisitely crafted tale that has been essential reading since it was published.

Read the full review here.

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The Secret History
by Donna Tartt

Though I grew up in New York, I spent a lot of time (and still do) in the Green Mountain State. Donna Tartt’s campus classic, THE SECRET HISTORY, is set at an elite New England school, where a group of friends meet and, under the questionable influence of their charismatic professor, begin to misbehave. If you’re in the mood for a darker DEAD POETS SOCIETY, this one is for you. —Julianna (Vermont)

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The Secret History
Donna Tartt

If your favorite character is Jonathan Byers

The misunderstood, unhappy kid who yearns for an East Coast college where he can forget his modest upbringing and meet sufficiently interesting friends? Sounds like Richard Papen, the narrator of Donna Tartt’s first novel, THE SECRET HISTORY.

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Empire Falls
by Richard Russo

I will never not recommend this book, and what a perfect excuse again! The winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, Richard Russo’s novel EMPIRE FALLS follows Miles Roby (the owner of the Empire Grill), his family, and his friends in the small, blue-collar, and slowly bankrupting titular Maine town. —Julianna (Maine)

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Empire Falls
Richard Russo

I will never not recommend this book, and what a perfect excuse again! The winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, Richard Russo’s novel EMPIRE FALLS follows Miles Roby (the owner of the Empire Grill), his family, and his friends in the small, blue-collar, and slowly bankrupting titular Maine town. —Julianna (Maine)

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Brain on Fire
by Susannah Cahalan

My hometown of Summit, NJ, is shared by author Susannah Cahalan, who spends time there during the harrowing medical ordeal detailed in her memoir. In a swift and breathtaking narrative, she tells the true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. —Sarah Jane (Summit, New Jersey)

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Brain on Fire
Susannah Cahalan

Susannah Cahalan awakes in a hospital room, strapped to the bed. Crazy? Psychotic? Mental breakdown? BRAIN ON FIRE is her story of a devastating autoimmune disease misdiagnosed over and over—all while it appears she is losing her mind.

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Election
by Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta’s first novel, which is also a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick, is set in my home state of New Jersey and revolves around a high school student election. In my high school government class I was elected president on a platform of stopping the rise of machines, and I lifted my speech from the first Terminator film. Somehow, I was able to get a key demographic—the pity vote. —Chris (New Jersey)

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Election
Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta’s novel is an exciting and hilarious read about a student election—meant to be an educational tool—gone awry due to smear campaigns, sex scandals, and other unpleasant matters. The 1999 adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick became a bona fide cult classic.

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The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

Finding the great Phoenix novel appears to be an impossible task, but I can’t really complain, considering we can claim Jeannette Walls as our own. This memoir of Jeannette’s unconventional childhood takes place in various Southwest desert towns, but for a time, the Walls family resides in a house on North 3rd Street in Phoenix before moving to West Virginia. While the heart of this story lies in Jeannette’s eccentric parents and her determination to find a successful life for herself, it also provides a complete portrait of 1960s and 1970s Arizona. —Erin (Phoenix, Arizona)

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The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose stubborn nonconformity was both their curse and their salvation. In this astonishing memoir—the basis of the forthcoming film starring Brie Larson—Walls recounts how her family’s dysfunction left her and her siblings to fend for themselves, weather their parents’ betrayals, and finally find the resources and will to leave home.

Read a review of THE GLASS CASTLE here.

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Goodbye, Columbus
by Philip Roth

Philip Roth’s GOODBYE, COLUMBUS is set mainly in Newark, New Jersey—two towns over from where I grew up. I first read it as a child long before I could understand the intricacies, but Roth’s descriptions of the library and a well-stocked fruit fridge hooked me. I’ve loved it ever since. —Allison (Newark, New Jersey)

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Goodbye, Columbus
Philip Roth

Goodbye, Columbus is the story of Neil Klugman and pretty, spirited Brenda Patimkin, he of poor Newark, she of suburban Short Hills, who meet one summer break and dive into an affair that is as much about social class and suspicion as it is about love. The novella is accompanied by five short stories that range in tone from the iconoclastic to the astonishingly tender and that illuminate the subterranean conflicts between parents and children and friends and neighbors in the American Jewish diaspora.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Close
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
by Sunil Yapa

The lives of seven disparate strangers are changed during the dramatic and historic 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. Vivid, electric, and brimming with heart, YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE THE SIZE OF A FIST explores the power of empathy and how far we will go for family, justice, and love. —Taylor (Seattle, Washington)

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Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
Sunil Yapa

The lives of seven disparate strangers are changed during the dramatic and historic 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. Vivid, electric, and brimming with heart, YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE THE SIZE OF A FIST explores the power of empathy and how far we will go for family, justice, and love. —Taylor (Seattle, Washington)

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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By Heather Waters | April 14, 2021

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By Tif Marcelo | April 13, 2021

New in Paperback: 11 Rejuvenating April Reads to Inspire You

By Alice Martin | April 12, 2021

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Close
Blood Done Sign My Name
by Timothy B. Tyson

A 23-year-old black veteran was beaten to death by three white men in the streets of Oxford, NC, in May of 1970. Enraged by the murder, young African Americans took to the streets and torched the town’s tobacco warehouse in retribution while the Klan raged in the shadows. Riveting and harrowing, BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME is an essential portrait of a town facing its bloody racial history. —Taylor (Oxford, North Carolina)

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Blood Done Sign My Name
Timothy B. Tyson

A 23-year-old black veteran was beaten to death by three white men in the streets of Oxford, NC, in May of 1970. Enraged by the murder, young African Americans took to the streets and torched the town’s tobacco warehouse in retribution while the Klan raged in the shadows. Riveting and harrowing, BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME is an essential portrait of a town facing its bloody racial history. —Taylor (Oxford, North Carolina)

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

My Bridgerton TBR List: 7 Tantalizing Historical Love Stories

By Saimah Haque | April 16, 2021

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By Off the Shelf Staff | April 15, 2021

If You Love Kristin Hannah, Read These 6 Books Next

By Heather Waters | April 14, 2021

5 Dynamic Book Club Picks Recommended by Author Tif Marcelo

By Tif Marcelo | April 13, 2021

New in Paperback: 11 Rejuvenating April Reads to Inspire You

By Alice Martin | April 12, 2021

5 Books with Unique Narratives That Play with Format

By Anne Jaconette | April 9, 2021

Close

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