all of my book recommendations from 2015-2019

Here’s the complete list of the books I recommended from 2015-2019. I’ve bolded my favorites of the favorites.

If you want more, here are my book recommendations from 20202021, 2022, and 2023.


The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, by Diana B. Henriques, the New York Times business correspondent who covered the scandal as it unfolded. Utterly engrossing and reads like a novel.

Severance, by Ling Ma. Alternating between flashbacks and present day, this is the story of Candace Chen, one of the few to survive after a plague wipes out most of the population. It’s got office politics, zombies, and shades of Station Eleven.

Educated, by Tara Westover. I read this under duress because people kept telling me to, but I found I couldn’t put it down. It’s a memoir about being raised in a isolated, survivalist home in rural Idaho, being allowed neither school nor doctors, with a family in denial about her violent brother, and eventually choosing a different life, including earning a doctorate from Cambridge.

The Awkward Age, by Francesca Segal, about a merged family that merges in unplanned ways.

The Darlings, by Cristina Alger. I’ve been reading obsessively about Bernie Madoff (and eyeing everyone I know with suspicion), and this is a fictionalized account of a couple whose lives intersect with a similar scandal. If you, like me, start to feel like you’re living in the world of the book you’re reading, you will feel very, very rich while you read this.

Late in the Day, by Tessa Hadley. Two close-knit married couples unravel when one of the husbands dies unexpectedly. That sounds horribly depressing but somehow it’s not? The Washington Post called it “romantic comedy pulled by a hearse” and said, “The whole grief-steeped story should be as fun as a dirge, but instead it feels effervescent — lit not with mockery but with the energy of Hadley’s attention, her sensitivity to the abiding comedy of human desire.”

Seven Days of Us, by Francesca Hornak. A family is forced to spend a week in quarantine together at Christmas. It’s tense, it’s funny, and it does not go quite smoothly.

The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger. A banker’s plane goes down under suspicious circumstances on its way to Geneva, and his wife is left trying unravel what happened. You will stay up late reading this.

The Age of Light, by Whitney Scharer. It’s a fictionalized account of photographer/model Lee Miller’s relationship with Surrealist Man Ray in 1930s Paris, and I was skeptical that I’d like it but I was totally engrossed. It’s about love and art and imperfection and figuring out what you have to say.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. Drop whatever you are reading and read this instead. It’s the story of the massive fraud perpetrated by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and it is fascinating. Also, there is terrible management on every single page. Seriously, it is amazing and you must read it immediately.

Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid — the fictitious oral history of a band in the 70s. It’s like the written version of watching a “Behind the Music” special but with more drama and more humor. I loved it.

The Italian Teacher, by Tom Rachman. It’s about a terrible, infuriating father and the mark he makes on the son who longs to connect with him. It’s also about art and legacy and rivalry.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, a strangely engrossing account of the staff of an English-language newspaper in Rome and how their lives intertwine.

Foreign Affairs, by Alison Lurie. Two American university professors on research trips to London each get drawn into life-altering relationships with others. It won the Pulitzer in 1985.

Normal People, by Sally Rooney. It’s the story of an on-again, off-again relationship that starts in high school and continues into college, taking different forms as the two people themselves do. I actually think Conversations with Friends was better, but I will read anything Sally Rooney writes from this day until the end of days.

Having discovered Alison Lurie, I’m now reading everything she’s written, most recently Truth and Consequences, which is about two academics’ marriage, their affairs, and a bad back.

Lights All Night Long, by Lydia Fitzpatrick. An exchange student from Russia spends a year in America after a tragedy befalls his family at home.

The Farm, by Joanne Ramos. It’s about a luxury baby surrogate business and gets into class, race, inequality, and motherhood in interesting and disturbing ways.

The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth, in which the mysterious death of a family matriarch causes all sorts of relationships and secrets to unravel. This is not my usual fare, but I quite enjoyed it.

Tomorrow There Will Be Sun, by Dana Reinhardt. Family dysfunction and vacations gone horribly wrong — two of my favorite genres! Very enjoyable in a beachy way.

The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai, about a group of friends during the early stages of the AIDS crisis. I loved it so much. The first half was good, and the second half made it one of my favorite books of all time. You will cry multiple times. Probably my favorite book this year.

Ask again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane. The saga of two very different neighboring families, and how they intersect in ways both tragic and loving.

Crampton Hodnet, by Barbara Pym, recommended by a commenter last weekend. A paid companion to an elderly spinster finds novelty when a handsome clergyman moves in as a boarder. Scandals abound, and it’s a delight!

The Body in Question, by Jill Ciment, about two sequestered jurors drawn to each other during the trial they’re on.

Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America’s Dad, by Nicole Weisensee Egan. He’s even worse than you already knew.

The Expatriates, by Janice Y. K. Lee, about three American women living in Hong Kong, and how their lives intersect in surprising ways. I sometimes find that when a story changes what character it’s following from chapter to chapter, it’s disappointing when your time with one character gets interrupted for one you’re less interested in. But you’ll be invested in and attached to all three women in this book.

Supper Club, by Lara Williams. Two women create a subversive supper club where they indulge in ways they didn’t predict. It’s about friendship and food and the space you take up, and it’s dark and smart and funny and moving and I loved it.

Mrs. Everything, by Jennifer Weiner. Sprawling over seven decades, this is the story of two very different sisters and how they change as the world, and especially women, change. A long family saga wins again!

The Floating Feldmans, by Elyssa Friedland. The matriarch of a squabbling family turns 70 and decides to take the whole family (kids, spouses, and grandkids) on a cruise. Things do not go according to plan.

Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian, by Jill Grunenwald. A while back I did an interview with commenter Oryx about her time working as a prison librarian, and this is her book — with far more details about the experience. It’s fascinating.

The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo. A wonderfully long family saga in which four daughters struggle in the shadow of what they think is their parents’ effortlessly happy marriage.

Reasons to be Cheerful, by Nina Stibbe. I don’t know how to describe this book. On the surface it’s about an 18-year-old who moves out, takes a job as a dental assistant, and starts becoming an adult. But I don’t know how to describe it in a way that will do it justice; it’s hilarious and charming and I loved it very much.

The Dearly Beloved, by Cara Wall. The story of two ministers leading the same church and the women who marry them. It’s more about marriage and friendship than it is about religion, but faith is a theme and a question throughout.

City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert. A 19-year-old gets expelled from Vassar in 1940 and is sent to live with her black sheep aunt who runs a theater in New York City. She befriends showgirls, discovers men, and figures out how she wants to live her life. I quite enjoyed it.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by J. Ryan Stadal. I am a huge fan of his Kitchens of the Great Midwest (until stumbling across his photo recently, I thought he was a woman because he writes women so well). Anyway: pies, breweries, family drama.

The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott. It’s a novel but it’s based on real events surrounding the publication of Doctor Zhivago, including the women who helped the CIA smuggle it out of the Soviet Union, publish it, and sneak it back in. It’s a sort of literary spy story.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor. An older woman moves into the Claremont Hotel and befriends a young writer who agrees to pose as her grandson. There’s dark humor in it, but it’s more poignant than funny.

The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett. It’s about a brother and sister who are kicked out of their family home by their stepmother and how that reverberates over decades.

Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes. A recent widow whose grief is complicated gets to know a baseball player whose arm stopped working and things must be worked out. It’s a little light and fluffy, and sometimes that is exactly what you want.

Lust & Wonder, by Augusten Burroughs. It’s either his third or his six memoir, depending on how you count them. The first covered his awful childhood, the second covered his alcoholism, and this one is about his path to his husband.

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA, by Amaryllis Fox. This is a memoir about her time undercover for the CIA, and OMG it is fascinating, especially the details around how she was trained, how her cover was created (and costumed), and how she did her job.

The Dreamers, by Karen Thompson Walker. A college student falls asleep and can’t be roused — and what seems to be a virus spread through the town, leaving people seemingly permanently asleep, while others struggle to deal with the outbreak. That sounds like horror, but it’s not; it’s strangely and beautifully done.

Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson. A 20something woman whose life hasn’t gone as planned moves to Tennessee to help take care of her friend’s twins, who their politician dad wants kept out of the public eye because they happen to burst into flames whenever they get upset. One of my favorite books of the year!

The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta. Millions of people vanish all at once, in what may or may not be the Rapture, and those left behind struggle to figure out a path forward.

The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption, by Barbara Bisantz Raymond. This is the horrifying true story of a woman in the first half of the 20th century who openly kidnapped hundreds of children and sold them to wealthy adoptive parents.

Know My Name, by Chanel Miller. This is by the woman who was assaulted by Brock Turner, and she’s an extraordinary writer and an extraordinary person.

Be Frank With Me, by Julia Claiborne Johnson. Assigned to be an assistant to a reclusive literary icon, the protagonist instead ends up as the full-time companion to the author’s precocious nine-year-old son. Slate summarized it as three “three … eccentrics in an estate made of glass trying not to kill each other.”

Us, by David Nicholls. Hoping to save his marriage, the somewhat uptight and rigid Douglas Petersen embarks on a month-long tour of Europe with his much more laid-back wife and skeptical teenage son.



Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, by me. 

99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown. I love  a good malcontent, and she was that. This book is gossipy and fascinating (for example: she made even close friends call her “ma’am,” and her husband once left a note in her desk headed “24 reasons I hate you”).


A Woman of Independent Means, by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey.  The entire life of one woman, told through her letters to other people as she grows up and raises a family. I recently re-read this for the first time since I was a teenager, and realized that I had missed much of the humor the first time around. It’s good.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer. This is a super cool guide to strange and surprising places around the world.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. This book will wreck you, and it will be one of the best things you’ve ever read. It’s about trauma and life afterwards, and the power and limitations of friendship and love. It kept me up way too late, way too many nights, it broke my heart, and I am considering starting it all over again.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, by Therese Oneill. This is all the stuff no one has ever told you about living in the Victorian era, including what your underwear was like (disturbing!), how bathing worked, the raw meat you will tie to your face while you sleep to fight wrinkles, and much more.

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett. Mothers of all types, a love triangle, and choices that may or may not be the right ones.

The Last Message Received, by Emily Trunko. It’s a collection of real-life final messages that people sent to others before break-ups, deaths, and other separations. It’s pretty heartbreaking … but it will also make you look at the messages you write differently.

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, the story of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to his first wife, told through her eyes. Ultimately they both annoyed me, but it was an enjoyable journey.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. It’s a British comedy of manners, but it’s more too. (I recommended the author’s The Summer Before the War last year too, and this one is just as good.)

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. I loved this book. Emma Straub does family dysfunction well.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. A decidedly un-glamorous governess accidentally becomes the personal assistant to a nightclub singer. It’s a delight.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth.  Curtis Sittenfeld (who is also excellent!) described this as “if Holden Caulfield had been a gay girl from Montana, this is the story he might have told,” and that seems right.

Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world, by Yee-Lum Mak — in which you will learn words from more than a dozen languages that describe emotions and situations that are hard top capture, such as the Japanese tsundoku (buying books and not reading them; letting them pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands”) and the Swedish smultronställe (a “personal idyll free from stress or sadness,” which translates literally as “place of wild strawberries”). If you love language, you’ll love this book.

The Arrangement, by Sarah Dunn. A couple gives each other six months off from monogamy, and things go differently than expected.

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai. Tom Barren is the first person to travel back in time — where he promptly messes up history, which means that when he travels back to the present time, everything is different. In fact, it’s the world as we know it today, but for Tom, who comes from a techno-utopia, it’s primitive and barbaric. This book will blow your mind a little bit.

The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton, who’s the author of this realllllly good article in the New York Times, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” This book in many ways is the continuation of that article, but as a novel about a marriage. It’s amazing.

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. (I recommended this a couple of years ago when I first read it, but I’ve been re-reading it and it’s just as good the second time.)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson, which looks at what happens to people after an internet mob goes after them (e.g., Justine Sacco, Jonah Lehrer, etc.). Really interesting.

Shrill, by Lindy West. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I thought it might be … you know, shrill. I ended up loving it and loving Lindy. Her writing about her dad, in particular, is beautiful.

Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick. She is smart and funny and a pleasure to hang out with as you read.

The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois. A retired teacher is shipwrecked on Krakatoa, where he discovers a tiny, hidden, and very rich society of 20 families who spend their time on cooking and inventions, which sounds weird but it’s awesome. This is my favorite kids’ book, and I still love it to this day.

The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham. The rather shallow Kitty Fane cheats on her husband, who then takes her to a cholera-infected region of China, where … things happen.

Standard Deviation, by Katherine Heiny. As a middle-aged married person, I find that I increasingly love novels about middle-aged married people.

Extraordinary Adventures, by Daniel Wallace. Closed-off, lonely Edsel Bronfman wins a free weekend at a beach resort for a couple, and sets out to reinvent himself.

The Heirs, by Susan Rieger. A family drama with money and scandals that everyone is surprisingly chill about. One review I saw called it a modern day Edith Wharton, and that seems right.

The Humans, by Matt Haig. An alien comes to earth with a mission, sure that he knows what humans are like. He is wrong.

A House Among the Trees, by Julia Glass. I love everything she writes, and this is no exception. It’s about the death of a famous children’s book author (modeled to some degree on Maurice Sendak) and the emotional legacy he leaves to the people he was close to.

Do Not Become Alarmed, by Maile Meloy. Four children will disappear on a cruise, and you will stay up all night to find out what happens.

The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness, by Jennifer Latson. I read this after reading this fascinating write-up in NYMag about Williams syndrome, also known as “cocktail party syndrome,” which makes people incredibly outgoing, extroverted, and trusting (as well as causing intellectual disabilities, physical problems, and musical and story-telling talents).

The Windfall, by Diksha Basu. If Jane Austen were writing in modern-day India, it would maybe be this.

Constance Harding’s (Rather) Startling Year, by Ceri Radford. Extremely funny.

The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival, by Stanley N. Alpert. A fascinating story by a federal prosecutor of what happened after he was kidnapped off the street — and later, how he went after his captors.

The Misfortune of Marion Palm, by Emily Culliton. A Brooklyn mom goes on the run after embezzling from her kids’ school.

Happenstance, by Carol Shields. Another one about middle-aged married people, and it’s great. It’s basically two novellas: the first one from the wife’s perspective, and the second one from the husband’s.

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle. A charming and funny account of a year spent living in rural France. Much pastis is drunk.

Sourdough, by Robin Sloan. This is by the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which is also excellent. This one has a very unusual sourdough starter, robots, and culinary intrigue.

Oh the Glory of It All, by Sean Wilsey, a memoir about money, excess, family, and an evil stepmother.

4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster. This is four stories in one — all starting with the birth of the same person, but they then diverge into separate narrations of the paths his life might take. All four stories are told in parallel — Chapter 1 is divided into 1.1. 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4, and so forth with each chapter. It’s a very long book, and since I hate it when a good book ends, I’m enjoying knowing that I’ll still be reading this a month from now and possibly forever.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. It starts out deeply funny and then it turns into something you didn’t expect. This is one of my favorite books this year.

The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak. A 1980s coming of age story involving computer games, petty theft, and an obsession with Vanna White.

Rabbit Cake, by Annie Hartnett. An 11-year-old tries to move forward after the death of her mom. It’s not as dark as it sounds; it’s often charming and funny.

The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer. The wife of a famous, and philandering, novelist contemplates their marriage.

Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee. The daughter of Korean immigrants tries to figure out her life in New York. It’s long and sprawling and engrossing. One review I saw called it a modern-day Middlemarch, which seems right to me.

Sellevision, by Augusten Burroughs. A good book to read post-Black-Friday, it’s a send-up of a fictional home shopping network.

History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund. I originally wasn’t going to read this because the title made me think it was some sort of modern Call of the Wild, but it’s actually about an isolated teenager’s relationship with a family who move in nearby and it’s quite good.

Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith. This is the newest biography of Prince Charles and it’s fascinating and will make you more sympathetic to Charles than you probably were before.

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick. I don’t know how to feel about this book, but it did totally engross me and was alternately beautiful and deeply disturbing.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. It’s a four-generation saga of a Korean family living in Japan. Someone here recommended this and it’s fantastic.

Mortified: Love Is a Battlefield, by David Nadelberg. I’m obsessed with the Mortified podcast (based on the Mortified stage show where people read their real-life diaries and letters from adolescence, and believe me, the name fits), and this is a book with more of the same. I’ve recommended their first book in the past as well, and their entire empire is delightful.


The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, by Meghan Daum. Smart, funny, brutally honest essays about everything from her mother to Hollywood dinner parties to not having kids to an out-of-the-blue freak illness that almost killed her.

The Godfather, by Mario Puzo. My sister sent it to me and I was baffled because I didn’t think it was at all my reading taste or hers, but then I opened it up and I couldn’t stop reading.

Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, by Mallory Ortberg, who is the awesomest, and you should also be reading her as the new Dear Prudence.

And Again, by Jessica Chiarella. Four terminally ill people are given genetically perfect, illness-free versions of their former bodies and have to figure out how to remake themselves.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell, who is smart and funny and mixes pop culture with history and you will want to invite her to dinner.

My Salinger Year — Joanna Rakoff’s memoir about working at a literary agency, where she gets put in charge of answering J.D. Salinger’s fan mail.

The Martian, by Andy Weir. I loved the movie and wasn’t sure if the book would be too sci-fi for me, but it’s not. I’m mid-way through and it’s making me want to watch the movie nightly.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader — Anne Fadiman’s essays about the role that books, reading, and words have played in her life. I especially liked her essay about combining books with her husband when they moved in together.

Comfort Me with Apples, by former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl — a behind-the-scenes look at being a restaurant critic (disguises! fake names on credit cards!) and later the editor of Gourmet. If you like food and you like insidery details about the restaurant industry, you will find this fascinating.

A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon, a dryly hilarious account of a dysfunctional family, related by its stiff-upper-lip patriarch.

The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson. Class snobbery, English countryside, and a scandal that a young woman is teaching Latin!

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. It’s 13 short stories all linked by one character, and it unfolds so quietly that it takes you off-guard when you realize how absorbing it is.

A Thousand Pardons, by Jonathan Dee. After her husband’s own public self-destruction, a woman discovers that she has a talent for getting others who need to repair their public images to apologize.

Small World, by David Lodge. I don’t know why I like send-ups of academia so much, but I do, I do. You will laugh out loud.

The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. A dysfunctional family, an endangered trust fund, and so much bad behavior. But somehow it injects its dark humor with heart, and you end up caring about all most of them.

Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr. You’ve probably figured out by now that I like dark and funny books about family dysfunction, and this memoir sits at the top of the heap of all of them.

The Japanese Lover, by Isabel Allende. A love story between a Polish girl sent to San Francisco to escape the Holocaust and the son of a Japanese gardener who’s sent to an internment camp after Pearl Harbor. Displacement, love, aging, gardening, mysterious letters… It’s gotten mixed reviews, but I’m loving it.

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler. Several generations of a Baltimore family, and you will care about them more than makes sense. The Washington Post called it “an act of literary enchantment,” which seems right.

The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood. I actually don’t know if I’m recommending this exactly, because I loved the first half but then felt like it spun out of control in the second half — but it did keep me completely engrossed the entire time and made me stay up way too late several nights in a row, and really, that’s what I want from a book.

Tepper isn’t Going Out, by Calvin Trillin. You wouldn’t think a book about a man sitting in his car to protect his parking space would be very interesting, but it is, oh, it is. And it’s Calvin Trillin, so it is also charming and funny.

The Epicure’s Lament, by Kate Christensen. A darkly funny tale of a curmudgeon who lives alone in a crumbling mansion cooking himself gourmet meals and waiting for the end, and what happens when various family members arrive unbidden and disrupt his routine.

Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub. It’s about three former bandmates who used to be cool but now must deal with aging, teenage kids, marital strife, and New York real estate. Straub is funny and smart, and her writing locks into your brain in a way I find irresistible. I loved this.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I’d been avoiding this because I figured it would just be all about hiking and that sounded dull, but once I realized it’s by the author of the Dear Sugar advice column, I got curious — and it’s great. It’s about family and heartbreak and grief and redemption, and even the hiking parts are pretty magnificent.

I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro. Tig is my favorite comedian (if you don’t know her, you need to watch everything she’s done immediately), but this book isn’t your standard comedian’s memoir — it’s about a very bad year and her return from it.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Haunting in a way that will stay with you.

Belgravia, by Julian Fellowes. This is by the guy who created Downton Abbey, and it is as Downton Abbey-esque a novel as you will find — haughty countesses, gossiping servants, questions of heir legitimacy, and more. It’s quite enjoyable.

A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster. This is one of my favorite books of all time. It has a priggish fiancé, an unsuitable second suitor, an annoying chaperone, a romp through Italy, and so many more delightful things.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself, by Bill Bryson, the master of travel writing, writing about coming home — what it’s like to return to America after 20 years away. You will repeatedly cackle.

The Girls, by Emma Cline. I ended up equally haunted by the almost painfully beautiful writing and the story itself, which is about a teenage girl who drifts into what’s clearly a reimagining of the Manson cult.

You’ll Grow Out of It. It’s essays by comedy writer Jessi Klein on everything from dating to aging to her issues with baths. It’s hilarious and you will want to go to brunch with her.

Harmony, by Carolyn Parkhurst, about a family who — increasingly worried about their older daughter’s behavioral issues — seek help at a cultish camp. I loved this and stayed up way too late reading it several nights in a row. It’s so good that I want to start all over from the beginning, and might.

How to Party with an Infant, by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Food, gossip, snark — a delight.

Siracusa, by Delia Ephron, about the unraveling marriages of two couples during an Italian vacation that very much does not go according to plan.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett. I’m a sucker for family dysfunction, and you will feel like you’re one of the many step-siblings the book is about. Also, her writing is so beautiful that it just takes up residence in your head and doesn’t leave.

The Circle, by Dave Eggers. I read it after someone here recommended it a few months ago, and it’s perfect for anyone who enjoys mocking modern workplaces, especially of the west coast tech variety. It’s darkly funny, thought-provoking, and very, very engrossing.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng. Family dramas, how I love you.

Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner. Edith Hind, a young woman from a well-connected family, is missing … but the story is about all the people left behind as much as it’s about the investigation into her disappearance. This is the first police procedural I’ve ever read, and as a Law & Order addict, I have no idea why it took me so long.

The Wangs vs. the World, by Jade Chang. A wealthy family find themselves broke and embark on a cross-country car trip that is far more interesting and poignant than you think it will be.

The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue. An 11-year-old girl in a small Irish village claims to have survived without eating for months, and this is the story of the nurse charged with figuring out whether it’s a hoax or not. I didn’t think I’d like this, but I loved it.

Cruel Beautiful World, by Caroline Leavitt. A teenager runs away with her older teacher, and things don’t go well. The title is apt.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I recommended this last year too, but I’m re-reading it and rediscovering how much I loved it the first time. Basically, picture Jane Austen but in a magical universe.

Domestic Violets, by Matthew Norman. Hilarious family dysfunction and workplace snark — what more could you want? It’s seriously very, very funny.

How to Talk to a Widower, by Jonathan Topper. A commenter here recommended it after I mentioned how much I like another novel by the author, and it manages to be both sad and funny, which is a feat that I love. It’s about a 29-year-old widower, his dysfunctional family, and his climb back to life.

I also recommended some movies: People Places Things, starring Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords. Just quiet, funny, and wonderful. Also, the very funny mockumentary Popstar, and the very funny but in a totally different way Love & Friendship, based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. I am still laughing at both.


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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