12 Favorite Novels From a Longtime Industry Insider

For the past fifteen years, my job has been to recommend great books to readers. Now I’d like to share twelve of my favorites with you. These are books that have stayed with me long after I turned I turned the last page.
  1. 1.
    Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
    I’ve never been to Wisconsin but after reading Nickolas Butler’s debut novel, I feel like I have. Four boyhood friends reunite in the town where they grew up. As adults, two left and two stayed. It’s a love letter to the heartland, and also to the people who knew us best when we were young and who remain our constants in adulthood.
  2. 2.
    Mary Coin by Marisa Silver
    In 1936, Dorothea Lange shot the most famous photograph of the Great Depression, “Migrant Mother.” Marisa Silver’s novel breathes life into that famous image in a tremendous reimagining, a compassionate, poignant, dignified portrait of an iconic and unvoiced figure.
  3. 3.
    The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan
    When four Harvard roommates reunite at their twentieth reunion, their lives are nothing like they expected they’d be. They’ve kept abreast of each other via the red book, a collection of autobiographical essays from alumni published every five years, but face-to-face, they each have a different story to tell.
  4. 4.
    Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr
    The first of Harriet Doerr’s two beautiful novels was published when she was seventy-three. Slim and evocative, it won the National Book Award. An American couple relocate to “a declining village of a thousand souls” where their lives are forever changed by the Mexican landscape and the people who inhabit it.
  5. 5.
    The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller
    I’ll read anything Sue Miller writes for her uncanny ability to examine uncomfortable places in ourselves and in our relationships. She’s masterful here in a complex story of grief and guilt, of messy lives and ambitious art, of emotional entanglements and inconsolable losses.
  6. 6.
    We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
    I love books where seemingly unrelated characters converge in unexpected ways. A soldier returned home, a middle-aged woman whose marriage has fallen apart, and a young Albanian boy all come together in hope and heartbreak. Laura McBride has written sentences you will want to read aloud for their beauty and their poignancy.
  7. 7.
    Evening by Susan Minot
    During a summer weekend in Maine twenty-five-year-old Ann Grant fell in love at her best friend’s wedding, which was darkened by tragedy. Forty years later as she is dying, that weekend returns in the delirium of a fever dream. Passionate, poetic, and highly ambitious, this is a novel I can read again and again.
  8. 8.
    The First Desire by Nancy Reisman
    A remarkable exploration of family dynamics. July 1929, Buffalo, New York: Goldie Cohen, the eldest of five siblings, the one tasked with caring for them since their mother died, leaves to go shopping and does not come back. Her three sisters, brother, and father find themselves envious, angry, perplexed, vulnerable, lonely, sad, adrift, and longing.
  9. 9.
    Carry the One by Carol Anshaw
    A devastating moment in the hours after a wedding indelibly marks three siblings and their friends, and they move through the next twenty-five years under its long shadow.
  10. 10.
    Little Bee by Chris Cleave
    It was Little Bee’s voice that first knocked me out. It’s musical, it’s magical, and it’s joyful. And yet, this sixteen-year-old Nigerian girl has experienced unspeakable horrors. Chris Cleave’s novel is brutal and beautiful at the same time.
  11. 11.
    The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin
    Before he burst on the scene with his acclaimed vampire trilogy beginning with The Passage, Justin Cronin wrote a simple story about a dying man’s final wish and the impact it has on those he loves.
  12. 12.
    The Position by Meg Wolitzer
    Imagine if your parents wrote a bestselling Joy of Sex–type book when you were in middle school. A horror like that would not ever go away, even thirty years later when your parents are long divorced, and you and your siblings are adults with sex lives of your own. The Position isn’t as well known as Meg Wolitzer’s bestseller The Interestings, but for my money, it’s even more delicious.