Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling:
It’s become cliche to have Harry Potter on your Favorites list. But this was the transition between my parents reading to me before bed and reading novels myself. I devoured this series. I only got to go to the last book’s midnight release party at my local Barnes & Noble (was I in high school then? Yes – I just Googled it and I was a sophomore), but when I open up one of the books, it’s like walking into Disneyland – that atmosphere that is unexplainably magical. I got this box set recently because I kept loaning out my copies and didn’t have a full collection anymore.
How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer:
The short story collection that is home to my absolute favorite short story – “Pilgrims” (creepy, beautiful, amazing). I read that story in a creative writing program I did my Junior year in college, and the rest of her collection is similarly remarkable. I wrote a huge research paper on some of her stories. Orringer has written a novel, too. But I prefer these stories. Buy/look at it here.
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak:
You might know Zusak better as the author of The Book Thief , a book that was adapted into a movie earlier this year. That book is great, too (way better than the movie, as these things usually go), but I read Messenger first, and it was my first book that became a Favorite Book. It’s amazingly written – an underage cabdriver stops a bank robbery and then suddenly starts getting playing cards in the mail with mysterious messages that take him around town, protecting people and witnessing things and uncovering secrets. I tell everyone about this one. Buy/look at it here.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl:
This book came out this year! It’s my most recent addition to the Favorites Shelf, and it seems to be very polarizing in reviews: people either love it or hate it. A disgraced journalist gets sucked into the in-depth, cult-ish world of horror films (like, deep horror. Think Guillermo del Toro times a million) after the daughter of an infamous horror director dies. The book moves fast. It’s creepy, tense, and new. It’s borderline epistolary, with news articles and screen grabs from (fake) websites that add layers to the story. The physical book as well as the ebook has interactive content. You can scan logos to hear piano solos performed by the deceased daughter or an audio recording of a children’s book that provides a clue. Buy/look at it here.
Replay by Ken Grimwood:
Jeff Winston starts to relive his life after he dies at forty-three. And he remembers everything that happened in his life before: lottery results, horse race winners, big history events, everything. Brings up cool questions like “What would you do if you could live it all again?” And then he meets another “replayer,” and things really ramp up. It’s an awesome time traveling/resurrection/sci-fi/mystery mash-up. It’s great! Buy/look at it here.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood:
Often required reading for feminist classes or high school AP courses, but I read it on a recommendation from someone. It’s a chilling look at a grim future where reproductive rights are pretty much government-regulated. Atwood is a brilliant writer – I’ve loved a lot of her books. Buy/look at this one here.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman:
I always feel anxious recommending this one to people. It’s another polarizing one: love it or hate it. And by “it,” I mean the narrator. Not everyone can take the so-sarcastic-it-hurts voice of Quentin Coldwater, a kid’s fantasy book (aka Harry Potter) obsessed teen who suddenly finds himself in actual magic school, faced with the possibility that the world those novels are set in might actually be real. I pose it to people as “Harry Potter with drugs and sex.” That usually sells it pretty well 😉 Buy/look at it here.
White Oleander by Janet Fitch:
I received this in a book giveaway by my AP Literature and Composition teacher who recognized what a huge bookworm I was. It’s gorgeously written – really visual, imagery laden prose (which definitely isn’t for everyone), about Astrid, a girl thrown into the Los Angeles foster care systen after her poet mother is incarcerated. Some of Astrid’s new homes are nightmarish, all of them strange, with complex characters and sometimes horrific events. Not “light” reading. Buy/look at it here.