Feed and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson – Two enormously intelligent books that were remarkable not only in themselves, but also for how different they were from each other. Feed is a brilliant dystopia about the internet, consumerism, and environmental destruction. Octavian Nothing is a historical novel set during the American Revolution, narrated by a young black boy.
Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood – This remains one of my favorite dystopias of all time. It seems I am confronted weekly with some piece of news that confirms the chilling accuracy of Atwood’s predictions about people, science, and environmental destruction.
Jurassic Park, Timeline, Sphere, and The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – Crichton is a master of plot, and he’s also great at coming up with intriguing and sometimes terrifying ideas for science fiction.
A Mixture of Frailties by Robertson Davies – The coming of age story of an opera singer.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Once I read this absolutely perfect classic I couldn’t believe I’d waited to approach it. Coming up for a re-read shortly.
The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman – I still get chills when I think about how amazing this book was. It’s a literary novel about two sisters set during the dot com bubble… but also so much more than that. Goodman is notable for the warmth that comes through her novels. Sometimes it seems too easy to write about all the bad stuff people do. Goodman sees beyond that and makes you love everyone in the book–and somehow encourages you to see the good in people, even in this jaded 21st century.
The Secret Place, Broken Harbor, The Likeness, and In The Woods by Tana French – Beautifully written mysteries with a heavy dose of psychology and setting. What more could a literary suspense lover want?
Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry by B.S. Johnson – A wicked little work of metafiction by a mid-20th century experimental writer
Bobcat and The City is a Rising Tide by Rebecca Lee – I’ve been plaguing all my friends by telling them to read Bobcat, a story collection that instantly became my favorite.
Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai – Makkai is one of my favorite short story writers. Also, this collection features a lot of musicians, obviously a favorite topic of mine.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – A Pulitzer winner that has fallen out of fashion for its reliance on plot and its Confederate sympathies. But the story is so dramatic and sweeping, and Mitchell has a talent for creating vivid tapestries of characters. As a writer, I also find it interesting that Scarlett O’Hara is such an unlikeable yet compelling character.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami – Another book I’ve told everyone I know to read, and they’re probably getting annoyed by now… one of those books that’s good enough to get obsessed with, and weird enough that you can’t explain why.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl – A coming of age murder story narrated by a brainy teenage girl. I admired the unique voice Pessl achieved, and the character of the girl’s father was quite memorable.
The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips – A pleasantly terrifying, Kafka-esque tale about that soul-crushing place, the 9-5 office job.
Orfeo, Galatea 2.2, and Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers – Powers shares my fascination with music, science, and technology. He’s not exactly a science fiction writer, but sort of borders on it by being a literary writer preoccupied with science.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – This was a stunning, heartbreaking story of adolescent love. I was astounded by how well Rowell captured the awkwardness of teenage years and how it feels to be a teenager in love–as well as by the devastating story wrapped around the narrative core.
The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust – I tackled volume 3 of the 7-volume saga. This one featured stalking a duchess and the tragic death of the grandmother.
Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo by Nicholas Carlson – A study of Yahoo and the career of its current CEO, one of the youngest female CEOs
The Boy Who Played With Fusion by Tom Clynes – Not only the story of one scientific prodigy, but also an examination of the conditions under which genius can flourish (or falter)
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance – A fascinating biography of the most innovative, daring tech industrialist of our time.
The Double Helix by James Watson – Watson’s memoir of discovering the DNA molecule. Interesting not only for its close-up look at a major scientific discovery, but also for Watson’s eccentric narrative style and for a glimpse at gender norms of the time (Rosalind Franklin famously got the short end of the stick)