all my 2015 book recommendations

For most of 2015, I’ve made a weekly book recommendation when kicking off the weekend open thread. These aren’t work-related books; they’re just books I love and think everyone else should read. Sometimes they’re books that I’m in the middle of reading, and other times they’ve just long-standing favorites.

A few people asked to have them all compiled in one place, so here’s the complete list (possibly in time for holiday gift-shopping!). I’ve bolded my favorites of the favorites.

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. It’s beautiful and engrossing and charming and wonderful.

About Alice, by Calvin Trillin. It’s a warm, funny, and moving portrait of his wife, written five years after she died. If you’ve ever read any of his food writing (and you should!), you may remember Alice as a frequent character there. This is a really beautiful — and entertaining — tribute to her.

If you enjoy reading other people’s painfully embarrassing teenager love letters and diary entries, you need to read Mortified: Real Words, Real People, Real Pathetic. Stemming from the live stage show of the same name, it features hilarious real-life artifacts from adolescence and will make you cringe about your own. I think I cried from laughing at one point.

The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough. Yes, this is the book that led to the mini-series of the 80s, and that might turn you off. But come on, it’s a love story between a priest and the woman he’s adored her whole life. It’s tortured and epic and full of people and families being torn apart. It is magnificent.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Basically, picture Jane Austen but in a magical universe. I love this book more than I can convey.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by BJ Novak, who is also known to you as Ryan from The Office. It turns out he’s a fantastic writer. His short story about a woman on a date with a warlord is my favorite, but the whole collection is worthwhile: funny, quirky, and insightful.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne. This is the imagined inner life of a pre-teen idol with loads of tween fans, a stage mom, and an absent father. He’s far more compelling than you’d expect an 11-year-old to be.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. I adore this book. It’s magical and engrossing, and you’ll feel like you’re living in a completely different world.

84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. I love books that are told solely through letters, and this one is the author’s 20-year correspondence with a London bookseller. It’s about books, food, the war, and more. You should read it under a quilt with a cup of tea.

E: A Novel, by Matt Beaumont. It’s a highly amusing novel about the work life at a dysfunctional ad agency, told entirely through emails. It’s dark, funny, and vicious.

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. Journalist Ted Conover worked undercover as a prison guard at Sing Sing for a year and wrote about daily life for both guards and prisoners. Totally fascinating, and disturbing. If your favorite psychological experiment is the Stanford Prison Experiment (as it is mine), you will like this book.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon. This is a perfect book. I will tell you nothing else about it. Just read it.

Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, by Ben Mezrich, about a group of M.I.T. students who spent two years gaming Vegas and making millions of dollars. It’s weirdly engrossing and will make you want to learn to count cards and become filthy rich.

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters. I’m not going to spoil the story for you, but the descriptions of daily life in 1922 London are so vivid that I now feel like I have first-hand experience living in that time period. It’s won all kinds of awards, it’s fantastic, just read it.

How to Be a Victorian, by Ruth Goodman. This is fascinating. You will learn all about how to keep clean without water, how Victorian bathrooms worked (and didn’t work), what it’s like to brush your teeth with soot, and so much more. The author didn’t just research this stuff; she actually lived that way herself and then wrote about what it was like. Soooo interesting.

Mistress Masham’s Repose, by T.H. White, in which an orphan living with odious people discovers a whole community of Lilliputians (as in, those very small people from Gulliver’s Travels) living on an island near her house. I first read this when I was 9 or 10 but it’s a fully formed novel, not just a short kids’ story, and I’ve read it repeatedly as an adult because it is quite awesome.

Joseph Anton: A Memoir, by Salman Rushdie. If you always wondered what Salman Rushdie’s life was like during those years he was living in hiding because of the fatwah on his head (I constantly speculated about how it worked), this book will explain everything to you. It will also tell you what it’s like to be married to Padma from Top Chef.

The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford. I’m reading this right now and, eeek, it’s so good, how did I not read this earlier? It’s hilarious and beautifully written and perfect for reading under a bunch of blankets with a cup of tea.

The Children’s Crusade, by Ann Packer. If you’re into perfectly paced, messy family dramas (and you should be), this is for you.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never- Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems, by the magnificent, hilarious, gone-too-soon David Rakoff.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away. Brilliant and funny Bill Bryson tries to get reacquainted with America after living in England for 20 years.

Emma, by Jane Austen. Because it is the perfect book, and Mr. Knightley is a better love interest than Mr. Darcy.

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. It’s about a girl who grows into a man, but it’s also an epic and engrossing story of Greek-American immigration, the 60s, a family, and love.

The Fiddler in the Subway: The Story of the World-Class Violinist Who Played for Handouts. . . And Other Virtuoso Performances by America’s Foremost Feature Writer, by Gene Weingarten. This is a collection of essays by one of my favorite Washington Post writers, including one about the time he had virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell play in the D.C. subway for spare change, to see if anyone would notice his music. (Spoiler: Few people did.) Pretty much every essay in here leaves me with a lump in my throat; he has an incredible talent for finding beauty and profundity everywhere.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It’s not a book; it’s a short and hilarious musical from Joss Whedon (of Buffy fame), starring Neil Patrick Harris as the evil yet lovesick villain and the fantastic Nathan Fillion (of Firefly) as the self-absorbed hero Captain Hammer. It is awesome.

A Man Called Ove: A Novel, by Fredrik Backman. You wouldn’t think a novel about a grumpy curmudgeon’s reign over a neighborhood would be so charming and uplifting, but oh it is.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel, by J. Ryan Stradal. The culinary tastes of the midwest are practically a character in this funny and moving novel, which tells the story of food prodigy Eva Thorvald, born with a “once-in-a-generation palate.” I liked this description from Book Forum: “Fundamentally, it’s about what happens when opposing personalities coexist: those who bake with real butter versus those who don’t, those who obsess over heirloom tomatoes alongside those who don’t even know what they are.”

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons. A German immigrant tries to become a proper English gentleman after World War II (including writing his own list of manners and customs to follow), which eventually turns into a quest to build a golf course (since English gentlemen must play golf). This book will make you feel cozy and in need of tea.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. 20 years after a virus wiped out much of civilization, a small troupe of actors and musicians travels around what remains, with the motto “because survival is insufficient.” It’s full of flashbacks and characters who will haunt you, and there’s a comic book and a space station and it’s beautifully written.

The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. This is from the author of Interpreter of Maldies, which won a Pulitzer, but I will boldly assert that this one is better. (Also, that was short stories and this is a novel, and in a literary street fight, the novel will always win.)

Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today, which will teach you to drink and indulge in home remedies at the same time. Divided into chapters like Digestives and Other Curatives, Winter Warmers, Painkilling Libations, and Mood Enhancers, its drinks include delicious things like a rhubarb slushy, peppery fennel fizz, “corpse reviver,” and herbal sleep punch.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. An old bookstore, a mysterious book-related secret society, a puzzle, and so much intrigue! I’m two-thirds of the way through and loving it.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach. This will answer questions about life in space that you never knew you had, like how astronauts handle personal hygiene, sex, life in incredibly close quarters, and zero-gravity Coke dispensers.

The City & The City, by China Miéville. It’s ostensibly a detective story, but it’s really about two cities that exist in the same space. It’s a little noir and a little fantasy, neither of which is my usual reading, but I really loved it.

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. At a birthday party for a Japanese businessman with a world famous opera singer in attendance, a band of revolutionaries storm in and take hostages. Bonds develop, opera is sung, and things happen that you do not expect.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. The author spent a year working a series of low-wage jobs (waitress, hotel maid, and household cleaning woman, among others) and wrote an insider’s account of each. It’s fascinating.

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. A woman made of clay and a man made of fire are marooned in 19th century New York. Surprising things happen.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, by Allie Brosh. If you don’t already know Allie’s awesome blog, you should. The book is filled with more of the same — brilliant narratives about her childhood, her depression, her dogs, and more, all illustrated with the funniest drawings you’ve ever seen.

The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton. If you only know Edith Wharton from being forced to read Ethan Frome in high school, this will change your opinion. Five wealthy American heiresses in the 1870s head to England to find British aristocrats to marry, because their money is too new for New York; it’s like Downton Abbey in book form.

Brick Lane, by Monica Ali. It’s the story of two Bangladeshi sisters, one in an arranged marriage in London and one in a “love marriage” in their Bangladeshi village, and I loved it.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend. This is the diary of angst-filled and unintentionally hilarious teen Adrian Mole, who is dealing with troubled parents, acne, and an enticing classmate. If you’ve never read this, you need to. Also, if if you like it, there are a bunch of sequels to read too.

The Family Fang: A Novel, by Kevin Wilson. If you like the dysfunctional family genre as much as I do and you want to read a book that feels inspired by a Wes Anderson movie, this is the book for you.

Straight Man, by Richard Russo. I’m currently halfway through this darkly hilarious tale of academic politics and quite amused.

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{ 136 comments… read them below }

    1. Alice*

      Such a great book! I read it because it was nominated for the Nebula in 2014 (which by the way was a great list of Nebula nominations that year). It’s such a brilliant way to explore assimilation and the immigrant experience and being human and love and, and, and it’s just great clearly.

  1. Debbie*

    You had me till you said “Mr. Knightley is a better love interest than Mr. Darcy” What!? ;)

    While I disagree with the above statement, I love book lists from folks I admire. Thanks for putting it together.

  2. The Toxic Avenger*

    I loved Bel Canto, too. And, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell got adapted for TV with a nifty miniseries!

    1. Alice*

      Bel Canto got turned into an opera by the Chicago lyric! I hope it comes to where I live soon because I was so excited to hear that.

      1. Editor*

        Bel Canto is a wonderful book. The passages about music were my favorites, but it is also a good, suspenseful read.

  3. Windchime*

    Thank you so much for publishing these all in one big, grand list! I’ve not read a lot of them, but I’m so happy to see “The Thorn Birds” here. I first read it in high school and and reread it several times since. It holds up well. And I actually really like the mini-series as well.

  4. Cicci*

    Public service announcement:
    There is a movie coming out based on A Man called Ove in two weeks (at least here) and it promises to be amazing.

    Thank you for the list. Now I know what to do over Christmas!

  5. JPixel*

    Yess! Thank you for this. I’m out of work recovering from foot surgery and need entertainment! No attention span for TV and my wallet is not going to support all of the online shopping temptation. I can treat myself to a couple of books, though…

    1. AnonyMoose*

      Read my post below, if you’re worried about your wallet. Most local libraries let you open an account now without needing you in person, if you’re just going to borrow ebooks. :)

  6. voyager1*

    If you enjoyed Packing For Mars, check out the novel The Martian. Yes there is a movie, which is good and follows the book well, but the humor of the book is… well… awesome.

    1. Honeybee*

      You just reminded me that The Martian is next on my list and to download the sample to my Kindle app. I saw the movie without knowing it was a book – if ever I hear there’s a movie coming out, I like to read the novel before I see the movie because the novel’s almost always better. So if the book is better, I’m really looking forward to it because the movie was great!

  7. ThursdaysGeek*

    I bought some books based on your recommendation. 84, Charing Cross Road was excellent. NewJack made me buy several other books by the same author, and I’ve enjoyed them too. But I lost interested in Kavalier and Clay halfway through, and haven’t picked it up to finish it yet.

    Ted Conover rode the rails in the 80s, and then travelled and lived with Mexican farm workers who were working in the US illegally, and both of those books are very interesting. I also recommend his book on roads.

    I’ll go through this list and probably add several more to my wishlist. I have a few of them already. Thank you for putting this together.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Thank you! I read Kavalier and Clay and was also bored. I thought something was wrong with me because all the reviews were over the top. I think I was thrown off by the title, I was expecting someone to become a superhero.

  8. Rachel*

    Thank you for this list!
    Not a regular commenter but had to jump in to say that our Venn Diagram of books is very confused. Some of the books on your list I have read and loved, and some I have read and hated. Like, viscerally despised. I’m not sure what that means for the ones I haven’t read!

    1. Honeybee*

      I was thinking the same thing. I actually haven’t read too many of the books on this list, but there are two that I’ve read and really liked or loved, and one or two that I’ve read (or started) and either disliked or can’t get through.

  9. Snargulfuss*

    84, Charing Cross Road is one of my favorite reads this year. Short but delightful.

    I agree that Knightley is a better love interest than Darcy. My very favorite, though, is Wentworth. (That could have something to do with the gorgeous Rupert Penry-Jones playing him in one of the film adaptations of Persuasion.)

    I just picked up Kitchens of the Midwest from the library yesterday.

    I’ve heard A Man Called Ove compared to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I loved the latter book, so I’m excited to read the former.

      1. Anna the Accounting Student*

        With the exception of that letter to Anne, I’ll have to disagree with you. If Louisa Musgrove hadn’t been such an idiot at Lyme, or had her idiocy not repaired itself as it had, I don’t think Wentworth would have gotten the kick in the pants he needed.

        Darcy was administered that kick when Elizabeth rejected him as he did, but he himself later admitted that it was necessary — and that it would still have done him good, even if they didn’t end up together at the end. And (if memory serves — it’s been a while since I read Emma) Knightly didn’t really need a kick: he was clever enough to get there pretty much on his own.

    1. LPBB*

      Wentworth is the best of them all! Honestly, even though I love P&P and re-read it all the time, neither Elizabeth or Darcy are any kind of prize. I think living with either or both of them would get old pretty dang quickly. I used to love Knightley and then I re-read Emma after doing some healing and reflection following a not totally healthy relationship with a ‘fixer’ who was 15 years older than me. With that emotional background, Knightley and his relationship with Emma really rubbed me the wrong way. I’ll have to try it again now that I have even more distance from that relationship and see how I feel about him.

      1. hbc*

        I didn’t have any baggage approaching the book, but I came away from Emma being creeped out by the relationship. Knightley isn’t just older, he’s completely parental. Which I realize might have been a common approach to marriage at the time, but still, gross.

    2. Kirsten*

      Totally agree on that version of Persuasion. He was just lovely! Wentworth definitely jumped onto my radar after seeing it. :)

  10. J. Lynn*

    Love 84 Charing Cross. The movie with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is delightful also.

    Thanks for the list.

  11. OriginalEmma*

    Middlesex and The Namesake are great books. I smiled to see them here, thanks for the happy memories!

  12. CM*

    Robin Sloan is so amazing. Get on his mailing list! Mr. Penumbra is one of those books I can read over and over and be delighted each time.

    Blankets, tea, and a book sounds just about perfect! (Actually, maybe cocoa for me.)

  13. AshleyH*

    I love so many of these recommendations, and appreciate how not-mainstream some of them are (I hate when I source book recs on Facebook and people tell me to read Gone Girl or The Hunger Games- been there, done that!) I heard about (and subsequently read) Newjack because of you and really liked it!

    I’m surprised you highlighted the Paying Guests, though- I read that this year and it was one of my least favorite books (Along with The Girl On the Train, so maybe don’t trust my taste?). It was just really….blah to me. It just seemed like it was on the edge of being a great book but was just not quite there. I loved the historical parts, but the big plot point was just kind of forced-feeling to me.

      1. E*

        Not AshleyH, but I’m in the middle of Girl on the Train and really like it – it’s not the best/most intellectual book I’ve ever read but it moves quickly. I’d give it a try and see what you think

      2. ashleyh*

        You know, I don’t even think I can describe it – it’s really RIGHT up my alley – I love mysteries, but it just never hooked me in. EVERYONE loves it, though, and it’s very popular – maybe my expectations were too high?

    1. JLAC762*

      I didnt think Girl on the train was worth all the hype. It was good, not outstanding. I actually liked Luckiest Girl Alive better

      1. ashleyh*

        Yes! I really liked Luckiest Girl Alive! Everything about it – the NYC social climber, the wedding planning, the mystery- so good. And, odds are good it will never be made into a movie because of the subject matter, so it’ll never get ruined for me, haha!

    2. Christy*

      Oh I really liked both of them! I also don’t mind obvious plot twists, though–I watch Grey’s Anatomy, for goodness sake. I definitely am not the type to like think critically about what I think is coming next, so I’m surprised by everything.

  14. christine j*

    Aaah, I love that Mistress Masham’s Repose is on here. I read it as a kid but rediscovered it as an adult and really enjoyed it on another level. It is so hilarious and weird and kind of political!

  15. AnonyMoose*

    Speaking of reaching a CRAPTON of books – I just discovered the 3M Cloud Library a month ago. I can’t tell you how many books and Good Read reviews I’ve read in the last thirty days. If there was a rehab for books, I would need detox, like, ten times over.

    And if you don’t know what the 3M Cloud Library is, get a library card from your local library system (systems are better because they share licenses), and then enter your library info into the 3M app ( and then BOOM, your library just blew up into the size of Montana. It’s changed my life. No joke. It’s like Overdrive but without that pesky message that says ‘oh, so sorry….your library doesn’t have this available so you can’t touch this. Others can though. Nyah nyah nyah-nyah-nyaaaaah.

    1. Judy*

      You do have to check their library list to see if your library has a subscription. My local library system doesn’t participate. It does look like my sister’s does, so I’m sending her an email.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I think this is probably regional depending on what subscriptions are popular. I’m in the same area as Overdrive’s headquarters, so all the big library systems here have lots of books on Overdrive, and as long as you don’t want the newest bestseller you can get books pretty quickly, whereas I only see 5 libraries in Ohio with 3M.

        FYI for anyone else in Ohio – Medina County Library is part of Clevnet, has tons of books available on Overdrive and gives out e-cards to anyone in Ohio online. Google “mcdl ecard” on a real computer (not phone, the mobile site doesn’t work for some reason) to find the link and sign up.

        I also game the system slightly because I have cards to the 4 biggest library systems in Northern Ohio, so I have lots of selections to choose from.

        Now if only Overdrive would stop recommending “50 Shades” to me any time I click on something remotely romance-adjacent, I will be happy!

    2. Hope*

      Oh this looked so promising until I looked at my state and my library isn’t included. Wah. But what a great concept!

  16. JoAnna*

    Perhaps it was last year that you recommended “Working Stiff,” but I wanted to say thanks for the rec – it was a great book!

  17. K.*

    I’ve read many of these but will put extra recommendations in for Middlesex, Nickel and Dimed (I’ve read most of Barbara Ehrenreich’s work), and Station 11. Three very different books, but all beautiful in their own ways. And if I may, I’ll add two more that are not on this list; “The Turner House” by Angela Flournoy, and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehesi Coates. The former is fiction (a National Book Award finalist this year) about a family in Detroit, and the latter is the 2015 National Book Award for non-fiction – the author won a Genius Grant this year too. It’s written as a letter to the author’s son, about race relations.

    1. OriginalEmma*

      I absolutely LOVED Ehrenreich’s Brightsided. It identified and examined what made me uneasy about the prosperity preachers and positivity pushers.

      1. K.*

        Me too! For me, it’s far more powerful to be able to say “You know what, things suck right now.” You can – and should, in my opinion – learn from hard or bad times, but that’s not the same things as not even acknowledging that times were bad.

  18. Nanc*

    After you’ve watched Dr. Horrible be sure to watch it again with Commentary: The Musical. Yes, the actors sing the commentary and it’s hysterical!

  19. Isabel*

    Thank for this great list! I trust your taste because several of my all-time favorites, from all different genres are on your list already!

    Has anyone here read The Exception by Christian Jungerson? One of my very favorite novels. Literary workplace intrigue about the nature of good and evil. Dark, quiet and astounding.

  20. Taryn*

    Wow, we have some super similar book tastes! Nice list. I feel like it took me a month to decompress from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I was overwhelmed by how moved I was by it.

  21. purpleparrots*

    So we have read like half of the same books. Bel Canto is one of my top three favorites ever, and epistolary novels are THE BEST. You should check out “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” and “Ella Minnow Pea” for more, those are some really great ones.

  22. Shannon*

    You are a godsend for posting this list – I have an 8 hour trip coming up and need a good book or two on tape. Thanks!

  23. Pixel*

    Another downside of living in a different language than the one you grew up with is not reading English as fast as I read my native tongue, and getting fatigued much faster. When my brain was younger and less cluttered (as were my life, come to think about it), I would read. And read. And read and read and read, in both languages, six hours later get up to get a drink, then read some more. Now I need to gather up my stray thoughts, sit down, calm down, not think about work or the washing machine making a weird noise, or vet appointments, and focus on the book on hand. It’s not even about having the time – I could easily read 2-3 hours each night, but finding the mental faculties to sink into a book and block distractions feels like herding cats.

  24. Chocolate lover*

    I loved Night Circus and really enjoyed Mr. Penumbra’s book store. I’ll have to check out some of these others!

  25. Alice*

    So excited you posted this because I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to find the title of GREAT KITCHENS OF THE MIDWEST on your blog for ages because the description sounded so delightful. Just added 4 books to my holds list at the library. Also, loved THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI and STATION ELEVEN.

  26. Erin*

    I am a huge reader but seem to have different tastes than you, Alison. I can’t get behind a lot of the historical stuff. To each his own!

    Of these that I have read…

    I was disappointed with Night Circus. But, bonus points for having a beautiful cover, and for the author’s name being Erin.

    Middlesex was very decent. The main character doesn’t show up for the first half of the book, which is a bold move, and there’s incest, another bold move. :P

    However, I enjoyed Eugenides’ other books better – The Virgin Suicides and The Marriage Plot.

  27. Tara*

    I LOVED Bel Canto!!! Also, if anyone is thinking about it, and also love audiobooks, I *highly* suggest going with the audiobook for this one. Anna Fields does an impeccable job, and really adds depth to the story. I believe I remember reading at some point (but can’t find a source) that Ann Patchett herself highly recommends the audiobook.

  28. hayling*

    My favorite book this year was Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess). Anyone else here a fan? So so so funny, and touches on really important topics.

    1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

      I love The Bloggess! I bought Furiously Happy right when it came out but haven’t had the chance to read it yet

    2. Anon for this*

      I’m a moderate fan of her writing, but I have met Jenny a few times through a mutual friend and she is a very genuine and lovely person. Very kind.

    3. Cath in Canada*

      I have it on my e-Reader! I’m getting through it slowly, because I made a conscious decision to only read a single chapter per sitting. I read her first memoir like a regular book and it was waaaaay too much of an emotional rollercoaster that way – there’d be a hysterically funny chapter and then one about severe depression that was really difficult to read and then another LOLer and then one about miscarriages… I couldn’t really deal with it. So one chapter at a time, a few days apart – and I’m really enjoying it!

  29. Folklorist*

    It’s amazing…you name basically all of my favorite books as yours! Have you ever read American Gods or anything else by Neil Gaiman?

    American Gods changed my life when I randomly picked it up as an 18 year old. Gaiman’s writing is just…so…good. I was really into folklore/mythology as a kid and this was the first thing that made me realize that you could actually DO something with it, and that it was OK to study and make art. His work–not just his books/published stuff, but his journal/blog–inspired me to realize that I could be myself and pursue my weird interests and to keep just putting one word in front of the other to keep making art. He also inspired me to realize that you can be a funny, weird, creative, and overall GOOD person and still be successful. Don’t ask me why that was such a revelation when I was young, but it was a huge one for me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      So funny you ask that, because I recently tried American Gods and Neverwhere and couldn’t get into either of them! I want to like him because everyone with similar literary tastes to mine loves him, but I can’t seem to make it happen. He might be too fantasy for me?

      1. JLAC762*

        Try The Graveyard Book. Its a children’s book, but excellent. I like fantasy but tend not to like his adult books.

        1. Liz in a Library*

          The Graveyard Book was my favorite of his for a long time (until The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is beautifully written. And has the Morrigan in it!). It’s got great characters, a lot of humor, and some real heart-wrenching stuff. It’s wonderful.

      2. Goliath Gary Willikers*

        It’s such a relief to hear someone else say this, especially someone I respect so much! I feel the same way about Neil Gaiman, and I’ve always felt a bit guilty about it, because among librarians like myself, he’s basically a minor god. There’s something emotionally distancing about his style that keeps me at arm’s length. (The one thing he’s written that I do enjoy is the short story “A Study in Emerald”– I think it helps that there’s an actual in-story reason for why the narrator feels emotionally distancing there!)

      3. Alice*

        Neverwhere was originally a miniseries that he wrote the screenplay for and then wrote the novel for and I actually find it kind of “eh” rather than life changing. There are some pacing issues with it and I found the main character frustrating. I think really where he’s a master is with his SANDMAN CHRONICLES graphic novel series. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is also excellent.

      4. AlyInSebby*

        You have read Goof Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman?

        Terry Pratchett’s Disc World series where Death gets fired for taking hid job too personally?

        Soul Music?

        Lastly THANK YOU for Hyperbole and a Half.

        If you have ever be every/any level of depressed- her blog/work literally gave me this amazing filter to what was going on for me. Heyyyyy sstupid pants, what’s your problem?”
        She have helped me understand depression so well…I started to get better.

        Get the book, read the blog!

    2. Folklorist*

      Interesting, but fair. Good Omens was one that he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett (the satirist) and is also a gateway book for many people. My mom loved that one, even though she could never get into American Gods.

    3. Christy*

      I loved both American Gods and (especially) Good Omens when I was in grad school but when I recently tried to reread, I was totally uninterested. And my brother loves them, and tried to recommend to my dad, and my dad hated them. I think you have to be in a particular mindset for them.

  30. Wren*

    I’ve read several of Mary Roach’s books, though not the Mars one, and hands down, Gulp, on the alimentary canal, is my favourite. Science! Fart jokes! I love her sniggering like a school kid in liberally sprinkled footnotes.

    1. Goliath Gary Willikers*

      I really enjoyed Spook. Fascinating subject, fun and informative take on it. I probably should seek out some of her other books.

  31. JLAC762*

    I have read and loved nearly half this list, thank you for more books to look for!

    I recommend these 4 books to people who love to read because I think they are awesome and they are indirectly about books- Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Jafon, Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet, If on A Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, and Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde.

  32. Goliath Gary Willikers*

    On the recommendation of the commentariat, I’ve started reading Nickel and Dimed. I love it! Funny, insightful, and depressing in equal measure. And despite her experiment being almost twenty years old, it feel more relevant than ever. (Sadly enough.)

  33. Laura T.*

    I highly recommend The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. It won the Goodreads Choice Awards for best historical fiction this year.

  34. manybellsdown*

    The book I’ve been shilling to everyone this year is Anne Leckie’s “Ancillary Justice”. It’s ostensibly science fiction, but it’s also an exploration of gender and identity wrapped in a space opera.

    1. Jen RO*

      Everyone and their dog is talking about Ancillary Justice, so now I am convinced that it is just hype… but my office just launched a book lending program and I borrowed this one to read over the holidays. I hope I’m wrong and that I end up loving it!

  35. Justbecausebooks*

    Re: The Family Fang—– OMG. Tilted my head and left it there for an extended period of time! Makes you wonder about flash mobs and you check the edges for children….. Read this and never be normal again!

  36. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I have Pursuit of Love on my Nook– when I first downloaded it a few years ago, I started it about 5 times. I think it’s time to try again!

  37. Cath in Canada*

    Station Eleven was fab – it was already on my list but your recommendation bumped it to the top. I read it on vacation last month and loved it!

    My favourite book I read this year was definitely The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Clare North. An instant all-time-top-five favourite.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I really liked Touch, but I didn’t think it was as good as Harry August. The big action scenes were just a bit too breathless and hard to follow. (This was my one complaint about HA, too, but Touch has way more of those scenes). But the rest of it – the nitty gritty logistics of how this kind of thing would actually work, how people would take advantage of it – was fantastic!

  38. Mialoubug*

    Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell is one of the best books ever written. I have three copies — hard cover in the living room, paperback in bedroom and one on my Kindle. It’s THAT good!

  39. Vicki*

    I’ve never read “The Thorn Birds”, but it’s part of a story I tell that explains the culture of the town I grew up in (State College, PA, the town where Penn State University is located). State College is a “statistical metropolis”, i.e. the culture of a metropolis, the population of a smaller town. It’s in the middle of mostly farming country. Philadelphia and Pittsburg are each 3 hours away by car.

    When “The Thorn Birds” was published, in 1977, several of the towns around State College banned the book in their local libraries and schools. In response, our local library ordered additional copies and the county newspaper printed the offending passages for people who could not get a copy of the book.

    1. Honeybee*

      Heh. I lived in State College for a year while working as a research scientist for Penn State, and it did very much feel like a statistical metropolis. I often forgot how far away from large cities I was until I would drive out for some reason – to find a sitter for my dog, perhaps, or when I was on my way to New York to visit friends – and realize how surrounded by farmland and state parks we were. Part of me liked it a lot, how nice and liberal and open-minded everyone was and yet it was very much small-town life. And honestly, I chose the area I live in now (a small, close-knit suburb of Seattle) in part because of some spiritual similarities to State College.

  40. Anna the Accounting Student*

    Random idea to be followed or ignored as needed: reading-themed Open Threads, which take place on a reasonabl predictable schedule (even if that schedule is not the weekly one of the current Open Threads).

    1. Anna the Accounting Student*

      If I had been a little more awake, I’d have pointed out that this would be a free-for-all version of Alison’s weekly book recommendations. But perhaps that could be inferred anyway.

      (I need sleep, apparently.)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not sure about an additional one, but I’d love it if people used the existing weekend open threads for that! I love reading other people’s book recommendations (and am pretty sure I found some of the ones above through people here). Also, there’s an AAM group on Good Reads, although it doesn’t get much action.

      1. Anna the Accounting Student*

        I’d consider checking out the group on GoodReads, but I’ve been happily using LibraryThing since 2007.

  41. lisa*

    Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women. Such an important book, written and researched wonderfully.

  42. Father Ribs*

    It makes me extremely happy that you have a Richard Russo novel on there. Everything he’s written is golden, from Bridge of Sighs to Nobody’s Fool to Empire Falls.

    Nobody’s Fool was made into a movie that should have gotten movie of the year…if Gump hadn’t come out the same year.

    Empire Falls was made into an HBO miniseries that was perfect.

    I met the author and he is just as funny and sharp as any of his characters.

  43. Hope*

    Bel Canto is on my top favorite books list of all time. Also loved Middlesex. Although it’s on everyone’s list, I have to recommend All the Light We Cannot See. The creativity of that novel amazes me on so many levels.

    A couple of other favorites of mine: The Orphan Master’s Son is a chilling view of N. Korea plus great read. The Tattoo Artist by Jill Cement is original and great. A couple of other favorites: Cutting for Stone and Ordinary Grace.

    Thanks for this list, Alison! I have discovered several books by looking at your weekly suggestions.

  44. Honeybee*

    This is perfect; I’ve been looking for some good books to read. I have a week off and two long plane rides bookending it!

    1. Honeybee*

      Oh, and since we’re doing recommendations, I recommend When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. If you like Margaret Atwood, you may like this novel – it’s set in a near-future U.S. when convicted felons are “chromed,” or their skin is turned a specific color to match the nature of their crime. Then they’re released back into the population to survive the best they can, which goes about as well as you might expect. The main character is a woman whose crime is murder, but it’s not as simple as it seems.

  45. Rivka*

    Can you tell us the books you read that you did not enjoy and why? That list is often as helpful as as the good book list!
    My Amazon cart is loaded now! Thanks!

  46. Mockingjay*

    Station Eleven was available on my local library’s online service. I read it the entire book Friday evening, although I stayed up very late. Interesting twist on post-apocalyptic world.

    I love reading into the late hours. The house is cool and quiet, and I submerse myself into the characters. Such a treat!

    Thanks, Alison!

  47. Glinda*

    It’s a heavy subject of course but I strongly recommend Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick. Exceptionally well-written and researched, reminded me of The Looming Tower in terms of making a very complicated subject understandable.

  48. KS*

    Now I have an even longer list of books to read! I love Edith Wharton but oddly have yet to read The Buccaneers. My favorite of hers is The House of Mirth. I also highly recommend anything by Wallace Stegner, especially All the Little Live Things, and Crossing to Safety. Beautiful writing.

  49. Hadas*

    Golem and the Jinni, Emma, and The Namesake are some of my absolute favs. Now I’m going to look through this very carefully and add some to my library hold list. Thanks Alison!

  50. SelenaAcademia*

    Alison, you and I have nearly-identical taste! I loved so many of these books. The one exception is Bel Canto, which I agree is beautifully, almost literally lyrically written, but which I think is just infuriatingly racist. The idea that all these cultures don’t have “real” music of their own and automatically fall in love with Western opera (quite a difficult sort of music, even for Western people) is so colonial I can’t stand it. Ugh.

    I’d recommend Nick Harkaway to you. Try Tigerman, to start off with. It’s a little crazy in terms of premise, but the plot is amazing. Or you would LOVE The Translator, by John Crowley. Such a gorgeous, gorgeous book.

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