REQUIRED READING, NOVEL EDITION

  1. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
    Don't let the cover distract you; this is not chick-lit but real, biting, tender writing about a woman's life and the choices and sacrifices she makes.
  2. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
    This "novel" stretches and explores the form in interesting ways, intersecting the lives of characters in chapters that could stand alone as short stories. My personal favorites are "Ask Me if I Care" and "Safari," though they are all really captivating and unique.
  3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
    This book hit me at the right time and moment in my life, which is often what takes a book from being really good to a favorite. It seeps into and becomes part of your own imagined history. I read this while I was studying abroad, the first few months after my father passed away, and it was so touching and tragic and unexpected. I haven't re-read this in a long time but so much of it still stays with me.
  4. Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston
    I absolutely adore Zora Neale Hurston and struggled between choosing this or Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her writing is like poetry to me. Ultimately her 1942 autobiography Dust Tracks won out because she applies that same poetry and sense of discovery yet mystery about her own life. It's fascinating to see what parts of her story she chooses to tell or withhold, and often it's this coy withholding that I find most compelling. Check out the Love chapter to see what I mean.
  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    Dense, intricate, beautiful writing. Characters who stay with you. I loved this book.
  6. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
    A memoir about friendship and the writing life.
  7. Bonus: Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
    Not quite a novel, this collection of letters and advice is just as powerful and provocative as many of the books on this list. I have so much admiration for Cheryl Strayed and think she is so wise, funny and full of spunk. I wish I had more of that spunk, and this collection inspires me to be a better person.