Devon’s picks

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When Women Were Birds

Terry Tempest Williams

Williams’ mother left Williams all her journals before she died. But when Williams goes to read the journals, she finds they are all blank. Unsure of what her mother meant by this, Williams takes readers on an introspective search that explores voice–how we find it, use it, and take care of it. In many ways, this seems to be the book Williams was born to write. Her words resonate as powerfully and deeply as in her other books, yet we learn more about her life and the connections that tie her to the land and to her family. Williams is a brilliant writer, and lovers of her work will not be disappointed.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Nathan Englander

Both haunting and beautiful, this book of short stories is not soon forgotten. The stories stick with you long after reading them. Englander writes with a certain candor and precision that is masterful. His stories force you to look deep inside yourself and to assess your true capacity for love, hate, courage, and forgiveness.

The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern

I call this the “Harry Potter book for adults.” Morgenstern has produced a story too well-written to not call it literature, yet richly visual and imaginative enough to transport her readers to a magical, absorbing world that will evoke the child-like wonder in all of us.

 

Suddenly, A Knock on the Door

Etgar Keret

Keret is a literary mastermind. His stories challenge us to deepen our thoughts, digging past surface plots, until we recognize both the beauty and flaws in human nature and society. Entertaining and funny, dark and playful, Keret’s stories are fun, memorable and thought-provoking. Fans of Vonnegut will fall head-over-heels for Keret.

Little Bee

Chris Cleave

Refreshingly powerful. An absolutely beautiful story of sacrifice, human weakness, and strength. Cleave’s novel has been added to my all-time favorites list. Well-written, thought-provoking, and suspenseful– a worthy read.

 

Look at the Birdie

Kurt Vonnegut

Once again, Vonnegut demonstrates his signature ability to entertain, inspire, and engage readers. One of his rules of short story writing was to ensure the reader’s time was never wasted. He certainly stays true to that rule in this collection that was unpublished during his life. Thankfully, through posthumous publishing, Vonnegut lives on!

The Imperfectionists

Tom Rachman

Each story in this book could stand on its own as an excellent example of powerful characterization. But what makes this novel superb is how well Rachman links the stories to the life of a newspaper struggling to survive in an evolving industry.

 

Bossypants

Tina Fey

Hilarious. If you’re a fan of Tina Fey, 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live, or just humor in general, you’ll dig this book. Tina Fey’s charming and witty personality shines through in this funny memoir of how she rose to star status.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan

Definitely deserving of the Pulitzer prize, this book has so many intricate, well-crafted layers, you sometimes want to go back and re-read chapters to connect the dots between characters, themes and story lines.  This book has a remarkable amount of breadth and depth crammed into a few hundred pages, including commentary on music and society, a variety of narrative styles, and a magnificent cast of complex characters that spans generations. A Visit from the Goon Squad is a thought-provoking epic that explores the inevitability of death and the art of aging with grace.

Freedom
 
Jonathan Franzen
 
Franzen’s new novel is a layered story about a modern family torn apart by politics, defiance, selfishness and betrayal within the context of our times.  The novel is impressive in scope, tackling a range of different styles: part memoir by one of the protagonists, part soap opera, and part commentary on the current state of our world. The characters are so transparent and raw that at times, you’ll cringe. But what makes them so memorable is their humanity, and how Franzen captures the realness of each person so well that at times, you can’t believe you’re reading fiction. A truly modern epic, it’s a story of family struggle, love, despair, and forgiveness.
 
Olive Kitteridge
 
Elizabeth Strout
 
This has made my top ten fiction favorites list. Olive is a truly memorable character– feisty, fiery, opinionated, and loving (in her own way)–she’s sure to become a literary legend. It’s a terrific story, with Olive serving as the thread that weaves all the pieces together.
 
 
I Was Told There’d Be Cake
 
Sloane Crosley
 
If the title doesn’t pique your interest, the stories will! This laugh-out-loud collection of stories is witty, dreadfully honest, and full of insight about evil employers, the Oregon Trail game, and bridesmaid and butterfly nightmares.
 
 
Ten Little Indians
 
Sherman Alexie
 
With his wit, humor, and raw honesty, Alexie paints nine portraits of the modern American Indian. His stories are both laugh-out-loud funny and heart wrenching. Each story has its own power to make you stop, think, and reassess.
 
 
The Shock Doctrine
 
Naomi Klein
 
This book is one of the most important works of investigative journalism I have ever read. Klein explores some of the most intriguing and horrifying events in recent history–tracing them back to their source: “disaster capitalism.”
 
 
Finding Beauty in a Broken World
 
Terry Tempest Williams
 
Williams always amazes me with her humanity. The honesty of her writing and the way her words string together like poetry create a beautiful piece of work. Somehow she is able to write about mosaics, prairie dogs, and the Rwandan genocide in a seamless series of passages that piece together like a mosaic.
 
War and Peace
 
Leo Tolstoy
 
If you take the time to read this, you will not regret it. This is partly because if you devoted the amount of time it will take to get through this book, the only way you can justify spending that much time on anything is by making yourself believe that it was completely worth your while. But if you finish, you will also realize that this book is truly a masterpiece. The plot’s soap opera-like nature is entertaining and the breadth of topics Tolstoy covers is thought-provoking and if nothing else, incredibly impressive. It’s hard to say what this book is about, because truly, it’s about everything: war, peace, marriage, love, religion, death, politics, power, pride, free will, individualism, history, truth and the human spirit. In all honesty, it’s a long slog, but by the end, you will not be disappointed.
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