In the past couple of weeks, I have been asked multiple times for book recommendations. Some askees are helpful: here are books I've liked in the past, what would you recommend that are similar? Others, not so much: I'll read anything or I don't usually read, just need something for the train ride of the beach. Therefore, I'm putting this here for my own future reference and to share with anyone interested. Book recommendations!
Anything by Sarah Vowell - she's written several books on American history that are as funny as they are informative. They're also on the short side and a quick read.
Michael Lewis - he's got some great nonfiction books that are entertaining and insightful, like The Big Short (on the 2008 financial crisis) and Moneyball (applying math to baseball).
Ron Chernow - I wouldn't have gotten here without Hamilton. Thanks, Lin-Manuel! I've read his biographies on Alexander Hamilton and George Washington and both are excellent. Here are my thoughts on the Hamilton one. Not by Chernow, but I also recommend Team of Rivals, on Lincoln's cabinet. Maybe wait until after the election though, as some of the similarities between our current political discourse and the country right before the Civil War are startling.
David Sedaris - humorist; he's written several memoirs and they're all hilarious. I recommend starting with Me Talk Pretty One Day or You Are Engulfed in Flames.
Erik Larson also has some great nonfiction books. A good intro to him is probably Devil in the White City, about an American serial killer and the Chicago World's Fair. In the Garden of Beasts, about Berlin during WWII, has been on my to-read shelf since I got back from Germany last year.
Now - fiction!
Stephen King: This seems unnecessary but he's been my favorite since I first read Rosemadder (when I was way too young to do so, in hindsight). He's extremely prolific but starting with his short story collections is a great introduction (Nightmares and Dreamscapes, Skeleton Crew, Night Shift, Different Seasons). Good starters for his novels are Cujo, Pet Semetary, The Shining, Salem's Lot. I also really enjoy his Gunslinger series but that might be a bit too much to start with. That being said, now is the time to read it - a movie version is coming out next year.
Gillian Flynn: She writes dark, women-led thrillers. Gone Girl is her most famous and best but Sharp Objects and Dark Places are also worth a read.
Kurt Vonnegut: Again, this seems unnecessary. His short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House is a good introduction. Slaughterhouse Five, Cats Cradle, and Siren of Titans are my favorites. Warning with Vonnegut: he is best handled in small doses. I went on a binge a few summers ago and read three of his books in a row. And then I had to take a year-long break.
Wally Lamb: He writes lengthy personal dramas. His book She's Come Undone is one of my favorite books and is an incredible story of a woman's life from age four to forty.
Cormac McCarthy: His books are very readable but bleak. Start with The Road or No Country for Old Men.
Michael Chabon: he writes dramedies. My favorite is Wonderboys (also a vastly underrated movie) but he's probably most famous for The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
Tom Perrotta: He writes suburban dramas. His best and most famous are Little Children, The Leftovers, and Election. These have all been adapted to movies or shows that are also worth checking out. The latter is especially cathartic for election season.
Liane Moriarty. I don't like her voice - there's something about her style that I find off-putting. That being said, she's extremely popular. I read her book Big Little Lies and it had a strong mystery that kept me going.
Edith Wharton. During a Daniel Day-Lewis phase in high school, I read Age of Innocence and I'm so glad I did. Thanks, Scorsese! Since then, I've read almost all of her books. Ethan Frome is a bit of a departure of my favorites (Age and House of Mirth) but is a must-read.
John Steinbeck. He's not just that author you had to read in high school! Grapes of Wrath is worthy of its fame but I still prefer East of Eden.
And that's it for authors. Individual books:
The Girl on the Train: This was all the rage last summer. It's not perfect and it's not Gone Girl but it's a quick, fun read. I'm looking forward to the film version, mostly out of admiration for Emily Blunt, but, if you do read it, avoid the film trailers. They basically spoil the whole thing.
Luckiest Girl Alive: Another thriller, this one with dark humor and a questionable narrator. I preferred this one to Girl on the Train but both were perfect vacation/beach books.
Goldfinch: Great book, winner of Pulitzer prize. It covers the life of a young man, starting with a terrorist attack in NYC when he is a teenager. I reread the book recently and it's just so well done. Interesting, complex characters, an expansive plot. It's also forever changed how I approach art.
The Martian: While I very much enjoyed the movie, the book is better. There's more science and the narrator is just so entertaining - funny and engaging.
Double Down and Game Change: These books are on the 2012 and 2008 election. I picked up Game Change after watching the HBO film. While I recommend the HBO film, especially during election season, the book covers much more ground, starting with the primaries. Both books are basically soap operas, lots of personal drama and behind-the-scenes gossip. But instead of a love affair on NBC, it's about the election of the President of the United States. They're both quick reads and I'm honestly looking forward to their take on the 2016 election. It's my silver lining.
A Separate Peace: This book is my go-to for gifts. Don't know what to get someone for a holiday? They're getting a copy of A Separate Peace!
The Great Gatsby: This one I honestly don't recommend much. It's one of my favorite books and I've read it more times than I can count, but it's also not for everyone. Not much happens and Fitzgerald is verbose.
Western Canon: If you have a Kindle, there are so many books that you probably should have read by now that are available for free. On my Kindle: Moby Dick, Ulysses, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary and all of Jane Austen. I honestly have only read some of these, though I have started most. But it's free and makes your Kindle less embarrassing when someone else looks through it, classics among the Stephen King and Gillian Flynn.
ETA One: How could I forget All the Light We Cannot See? I read it last year, finishing it on my plane from Germany to the States. I cried but it was business class so everyone was very accommodating