Tag Archives: Top Ten Lists

Top Ten Books I Really Should Have Reviewed

I read these books shortly before I began my blog, but too much time had passed to do them justice. Now that I’ve compiled the list, though, I’d kind of like to re-read and review these titles, because they were just that good.

Note: Many of these books look like they’ve been drawn from a tenth-grade reading list. (Or lower.) Despite my youthful good looks, I am actually not in high school. I was just on a classics kick before I started blogging (and before I realized that there are living authors who write, too. And well.). But feel free to be impressed by how totally erudite I am.

10. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
I read somewhere on the internet that some people think this is a children’s story. (I guess Jack Black doesn’t help.) It is, in fact, a pretty brilliant satire that has transcended centuries.

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Oh, Okonkwo. How can you not love a man like this? “No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man.” But for realz, Achebe is really freaking awesome. Which is why everyone else has probably already read him, and I’m just late to the party. As usual.

8. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
This was the first YA book I read as an adult, not counting Harry Potter, which I obviously don’t. I picked it up one summer vacation during college, and the story has stayed with me ever since. It’s the start of an awesome series, too.

7. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Have you always been secretly ashamed that you’ve never actually read Hemingway? Now’s your chance to make amends! The Old Man and the Sea is short, poetic, awesome, and won some big prize or the other. Read it.

6. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
This was given to me by a boy whom I very much admired at the time, so it’s hard to separate my feelings for him from my feelings for the book. (It’s also why I haven’t been able to re-read it.) But in my admittedly subjective opinion, this was a really interesting and thought-provoking book. Even if the boy wasn’t.

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I resisted reading Jane Eyre for a long time. I would have gotten away with it, too, because everyone assumed that I’d already read it, probably based on the fact that I was a girl and a reader. But after Susan Redington Bobby’s class on fairy tales, in which she made repeated references to “the madwoman in the attic,” I knew I’d have to cave. And it was actually quite good!

4. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
One of the literary gifts Jack has given me, in addition to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, was Ender’s Game. I had dismissed it as the realm of ten-year-old boys, but boy, was I wrong. I loved this book. I’m not saying it’s why Jack and I are still together, but I’m not not saying that.

3. 1984 by George Orwell
My classics kick was fueled, in part, by a desire to understand literary references. And what book is referenced more than 1984? (Please tell me so I can read it.) In my humble opinion, this book was the second-best thing about the ‘80s.

2. Candide by Voltaire
I very clearly remember studying for a history exam in high school, and this was the flashcard entry I made:

“Voltaire: The 18th century French infidel.”

No lie. My history book was a bit… biased. Luckily for me, I read it anyway. Candide is thoughtful and hilarious—essential reading.

1. Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut
Look, you don’t need me to tell you that Kurt Vonnegut is a genius. But I can’t really describe this book any other way, which kind of explains why I didn’t review it. I can only quote one of the most powerful lines of literature: “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

I receive a very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Top Ten Book Club Picks

I’ll admit, I’ve never been good about attending a book group. But I usually follow along, reading each selection in the quiet of my own home. So I’ve never before offered recommendations.

If I did, however, I would look for books that have a lot of complexity, so that there will be many angles to approach a discussion about the book. They also have to be memorable–the kind of books you can’t stop thinking about long after you’ve put them down.

10. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
This is a quintessential D.C. book (my review here); more than simply preserving familiar sights, Mengestu captures the feeling of a D.C. community caught between two worlds, which would in itself make for very interesting discussion. But the main character’s experience—as an immigrant, a man, an American— and his place in society also leaves a lot open to interpretation.

9. Push by Sapphire
Push is not an easy book to read or even talk about. But it’s totally worth it. Sapphire exposes the pain of abuse and neglect, but more importantly, she presents a strong black heroine who takes her own life into her hands. This book came highly recommended from many of my friends, and it is guaranteed to get a reaction from book-group readers.

8. Holy Ghost Girl by Donna M. Johnson
In her memoir (my review here), Donna Johnson offers insight into the complexity of faith and why people choose to follow charismatic leaders, all without without being judgmental—a seemingly Herculean task that Johnson manages without even breaking into a literary sweat. Book group members will enjoy teasing out the complexity of the black-and-white world of big tent revivalists.

7. Faith by Jennifer Haigh
In Faith, Jennifer Haigh reveals an entangled world of secrets and beliefs, pain and joy, identity and desire, and the enduring ties of family and faith. She tackles a difficult topic, but she does so with grace and aplomb (my review here). This is a timely book that is sure to inspire a meaningful conversation.

6. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
Next to Love is moving and beautiful, rich with the pain and the joys of vivid and believable men and women (my review here). The book delicately handles sweeping topics such as war, love, grief, and equality, which almost certainly lead to a great conversation.

5. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Tatjana Soli paints a vivid picture of 1960s Vietnam in The Lotus Eaters (my review here), and her prose reflects the jarring hardness of war, the allure of obsession, and the tenderness of love in turns. I think Soli’s exploration of the emotional and physical effects of the war on all sides—Vietnamese and American, soldier and civilian—would elicit strong reactions from all ages.

4. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
Brockmeier’s characters are painfully insightful and wonderfully human, and I think readers from all walks of life will identify with some, if not all, of them. (I did.) The journal that passes from person to person makes them greater than they were—a brilliance greater than their loneliness and pain.

3. Camp Nine by Vivienne R. Schiffer
In Camp Nine, Vivienne Schiffer shows readers a hidden side of the Delta, when racial tensions cracked the surface of a small town’s placid surface (my review here). Schiffer expertly teases out various themes of family and history in a world where little is forgotten, and her portrayal of the vast chasms within its society in the forties is fantastic. I think I would’ve enjoyed the novel even more if I’d discussed it in a group; it’s a short book, but there is a lot at play in the story.

2. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls’s account of her less-than-idyllic childhood is a must read, and I would love to get a group together to talk about this engaging memoir. Her story inspires pity and incredulity at some points and joy and optimism at others. This book was highly recommended by several women I know, and after I tore through it, I passed it on to other women, all of whom agree that Walls is a powerful storyteller. I’d love to hear a guy’s perspective, too.

1. The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber
This book covers so much ground–race, class, women’s rights, war—without feeling sluggish or heavy. As I described it in my review, “It’s as though Little House on the Prairie grew up and developed a racially and culturally aware conscience.” Weisgarber offers many topics for discussion while also crafting a thoroughly enjoyable story.

Creating this list makes me wish I were a more active part of a book club. What do you think–should I finally start taking attendance seriously?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

I receive a very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links to Indiebound. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Top Ten Books About Writing

I’m beginning another nonfiction writing class this week, so my mind is occupied with books about writing right now. Whether you read them cover to cover or simply flip through the pages in search of inspiration, the following books are very valuable tools for writers.

10. No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

Chris Baty founded National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the premise of which is simple: write a novel in 30 days. It doesn’t have to be pretty and it certainly doesn’t have to be perfect, but you do have to sit your butt in a chair and write every day. This book is intended as a guide for that month-long writingpalooza, billing itself as a “results-oriented, quick-fix strategy” for writers on the go. If your writing stretches out longer than a month—and it almost certainly will—Baty’s advice is also useful as a stand-alone handbook, especially if you have writer’s block or trouble motivating yourself.

9. The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) by Carol Fisher Saller

Technically, this book is about copyediting. But as I noted in my review, Carol Fisher Saller’s advice applies to all working relationships, especially those engaged in the creative professions of writing and publishing. Saller blends an irreverent sense of humor with years of experience as editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online‘s Q&A, offering very practical and sound advice for working with one’s colleagues–and one’s self.

8. Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors by Bill Bryson

Speaking of useful volumes for writers and editors alike… Bill Bryson’s accessible guide covers spelling, capitalization, plurals, hyphens, abbreviations, and foreign names and phrases—and much more. He guides writerly readers through the most commonly encountered problems of the English language toward precise, mistake-free usage. This is not a book you’ll want to read all the way through, but it is an indispensable resource. As Bryson notes, it will provide you with “the answers to all those points of written usage that you kind of know or ought to know but can’t quite remember.”

7. How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

Many writing books offer sound advice on how to write well. This is not one of those books. On the contrary, this is a collection of terrible, awkward, and laughably unreadable excerpts that will teach you what to avoid—at all costs—if you ever want your novel published.

Rather than tell aspiring writers what to do, Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman tell you what to avoid. With rousing good humor and tons of experience between the two of them, they identify the 200 most common mistakes made by writers–consciously or unconsciously–and teach them to recognize, avoid, and amend them. Did I mention it’s hilarious?

6. Views from the Loft: A Portable Writer’s Workshop edited by Daniel Slager

For years, Minneapolis’s Loft Literary Center has brought together a community of writers, and now the wisdom of its authors, students, and editors has been collected in Views from the Loft. Featuring tips, questions, essays, and interviews from and with Mark Doty, Kate DiCamillo, Rick Bass, Michael Cunningham, Grace Paley, Susan Power, Susan Straight, Marilyn Hacker, and many more, this workshop-in-a-book outfits any aspiring the tools and inspiration necessary to thrive in the writing life.

5. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

One of the best ways to learn about writing is to examine great works of literature. You don’t need a creative-writing workshop or degree to be a good writer (though that helps). All you need is a bookshelf and some time. Francine Prose, a well-known fiction writer, reads the work of the masters—Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov, and many others—to discover why their work has endured, and she looks at modern writers to prove that paying attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted, pays off.

4. On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner

Gardner’s book is a classic resource for writers, despite occasionally cumbersome prose and now-commonsense advice. He offers advice on the writing life—the pitfalls and joys of creating stories for a living—and he discusses common questions that beginning writers have: Should I enroll in a writer’s workshops? What do agents and editors actually do? Anne Tyler, one of my favorite novelists, called it “a miraculously detailed account of the creative process.”

3. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir edited by William Zinsser

If you’ve ever considered writing a memoir, you’ve probably wondered how an author reaches into the tumult of her own memory–a cacophony of emotions, senses, places, and events long gone–and pull out a crisp, compelling storyline. Drawing from the wisdom of some of the greatest literary memoirists, Inventing the Truth explores their writing processes, the unexpected obstacles they faced, and the overwhelming joy they experienced in researching, writing, and publishing their pasts. The featured authors include Russell Baker (Growing Up); Jill Ker Conway (The Road from Coorain); Annie Dillard (An American Childhood); Ian Frazier (Family); Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Colored People); Alfred Kazin (A Walker in the City); Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes); Toni Morrison (Beloved); and Eileen Simpson (Poets in Their Youth).

2. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry

How does a writer go from a good idea to a career in writing? In The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published (my review here), Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry present lucid, step-by-step advice to would-be authors, from inception to publicity. They walk budding authors through the many steps of publishing a book, including how to begin, what to expect once the process is underway, and how to maximize your book to achieve your goal—whether it be riches, fame, or simply the satisfaction of being a published author.

1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

Ever since Millie gave me this book a few years ago, it has popped up again and again as an indispensable guide for writers. (To be fair, it was considered such long before Millie gave it to me; I’m only just noticing it.) Zinsser, a professor at the New School and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, outlines the principles of nonfiction writing and offers lucid advice to anyone who wants to learn how to write, no matter the topic. This is one of those books that stays on my desk, right next to my dictionary and thesaurus.

Want more personal accounts on writing and reading? Check out these titles:

Interested in the intricacies of grammar? Let these reference works be your guide:

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

I receive a very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links to Indiebound. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Top Ten Authors of Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, and Legends

This week, I’d like to introduce you to some of the best authors I’ve found who analyze or write fairy tales, folk tales, and legends. I’ve mentioned before how much I love this genre; my college classes on fairy tales, legends, and mythology had a great impact upon the way I read and think about stories. Think of this as primer to the genre, albeit a subjective one; I’m certain I’m forgetting some great writers, and I’m sure there are many I haven’t yet discovered.

Fairy tales, folk tales, and legends tell extraordinary stories that tap into the very real fears, anxieties, and emotions of everyday life. One of the best parts about reading the classic tales is comparing all of the variants. I felt like I knew so much more about the stories than people who have only heard the Grimms’ versions or (worse!) only seen Disney movies.

While contemporary tales are often more interesting because of their relevancy in my life, I’m glad to have that firm classical base, because now I can read contemporary fantasy/retellings and point to the different variations of classic stories, from popular new releases like The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas (my review here) and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (my review here) to older classics and lesser-known works like The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (my review here), The Crucible by Arthur Miller, and The Little Girl Who was Too Fond of Matches by Gaetan Soucy.

There are several authors you must read to get a good grounding in fairy tales, folk tales, and legends.

10. Peter Sís
In The Conference of the Birds (my review here), his illustrated version of the twelfth-century epic Sufi poem, Peter Sís introduces readers to an ancient, mystical story in a lyrical but beautifully simple way. It adds gorgeous detail in an imaginative way without distracting from the original story. This is a perfect example of a modern retelling of a legend.

9. Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is one of the undisputed masters of modern fairy tales, from children’s books like Coraline (my review) and The Graveyard Book (my review) that are enjoyable at any age to books like American Gods (Jack’s review) and the Sandman trilogy that are more grown up but no less magical.

8. Susan Redington Bobby
I can’t write about fairy tales without mentioning Susan Bobby, author of Fairy Tales Reimagined and professor of my Fairy Tales class, who introduced me to many of the authors on this list. Bobby is passionate about the subject with a particular emphasis on modern retellings of classic tales. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher, and I’m thrilled that she’s edited this collection of essays. (Prof. Bobby also reviewed Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay here!)

7. Jack Zipes
Zipes’s Don’t Bet on the Prince, a collection of contemporary feminist fairy tales and essays in North America and England, is an excellent introduction both to fairy tales in general and to feminist literary criticism in particular. It manages to be serious and informative without being boring.

6. A.S. Byatt
A.S. Byatt–author of Possession, The Virgin in the Garden, and Angels & Insects, among others–is a master at retelling (or, more often, inventing) modern fairy tales. Her books The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye and the Little Black Book of Stories need to be added to your reading list right now.

5. Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood has authored more than forty books, including The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake. Your life isn’t complete until you’ve read something by Margaret Atwood. (I would know–there are so many titles I haven’t read yet that I want desperately to get to!)

4. Kate Bernheimer
Kate Bernheimer is an expert on writing and analyzing fairy tales, with the collections of essays Mirror, Mirror on the Wall and My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me as well as the fiction series The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, Merry Gold, and Lucy Gold under her belt.

3. Maria Tatar
Maria Tatar is editor of The Classic Fairy Tales, the book that built my knowledge of classic fairy tales. It made me look at variants across tales–stories across languages and cultures that are surprisingly similar–so that I could then see the underpinnings of these tales in countless works of fiction produced today. If you’re interested in fairy tale criticism, this book is a must.

2. Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton’s poetry deals heavily in fairy tale retellings, drawing upon raw subjects like child abuse and neglect. One poem, “The Abortion,” has always stood out in my memory, especially this line: “I met a little man, / not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all… / he took the fullness that love began.” Sexton published an entire volume of fairy tale retellings, Transformations, that contains sometimes difficult but always powerful themes.

1. Emma Donoghue
One of the best authors I discovered in school was Emma Donoghue. I wrote a paper on “The Tale of the Voice,” a feminist retelling contained in Donoghue’s marvelous book Kissing the Witch. And it won’t surprise my longtime readers to hear that Donoghue’s Room (my review here) is one of the best books I’ve ever read!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

I receive a very, very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links to Indiebound. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Top Ten Books I’m Excited To Read in 2012

There are some reviewers who have their finger placed perfectly on the pulse of new releases. They know in January what July’s bestseller will be, and they are busy composing their 2012 sneak preview lists right now.

I am not one of those reviewers. For a variety of reasons, none of which matter enough to mention, I rarely pay attention to books before they are released. I know, I know; strip my of my reviewing credentials right now. But I believe there are plenty of books already out there that I am missing out on that deserve my attention; I can’t go around dreaming of “hypothetical” books!

When I first began reviewing, I read mostly classics. But as I began blogging more, my focus shifted to “buzzed-about” books, mostly because so many of the book bloggers I was discovering highly recommended them. The more new releases I read, the more I discovered new authors and titles. But, as much as I’ve loved getting into new releases, I’m beginning to feel as though I have veered a little off course. I read books because they appeal to me, not because everyone is talking about them, and I don’t want to forget that.

So for my Best of 2012 Preview list, I’m looking to my own bookshelves for some unread but tried-and-true classics–books that are firmly embedded in the American literary tradition, but that I haven’t read yet. Many of these are books that will count toward my Bookshelf ROWDOWN challenge. This is a short list compared to the one in my head–there are so many I wish I could read!

10. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
9. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
6. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
5. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
4. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
3. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
2. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
1. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

For more contemporary classics, you might also want to check out my top ten books to read.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Books of 2011

You may have noticed that all of the books I’ve been reviewing lately have been really great. If you thought to yourself, “My, it seems like Melody is just reviewing a bunch of books that she read throughout the year and wanted to post before the end of the year because they deserved a spot on her top ten books of 2011 list,” then you are absolutely correct.

This year has been an excellent year in reading for me, and I’m excited to share the list of my favorites with you. (All of the hyperlinked titles lead back to my reviews.) I’ll be keeping my eye on all of these authors for future releases. I hope you enjoy my selections; have a happy new year!

10. Push by Sapphire
Push is not an easy book to read, even though it is short; it deftly exposes the intense pain of abuse and neglect. However, despite the difficult subjects explored in the book, I ultimately found it to be powerful and optimistic. It will keep you up at night thinking about everything Precious, the main character, endured and overcame.

9. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
Next to Love is moving and beautiful, rich with the pain and the joys of vivid and believable men and women. Ellen Feldman weaves a compelling narrative and delicately handles sweeping topics such as war, love, grief, and equality. This book grew more powerful in my imagination in the weeks and months after finishing it, and even now I find myself thinking about the characters and their stories.

8. The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber
Ann Wesigarber’s first book, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, is a welcome addition to my collection of well-loved pioneer stories. Weisgarber manages to cover race, class, women’s rights, and war in powerful and spare prose without losing sight of her main character’s compelling narrative. Rachel is well-developed, personable, authentic, and powerful, and the book’s layers of complexity unfold with perfect pacing.

7. Holy Ghost Girl by Donna M. Johnson
Donna Johnson’s account of her unusual life with Holy Rollers is surreal but convincing, powerful without seeming overwrought, and insightful without being judgmental. Johnson ably demonstrates the complexity of faith and offers an explanation for why people choose to follow charismatic leaders, teasing out the complexity of a black-and-white world. Though the details of my upbringing were drastically different from Johnson’s, this book hit countless familiar notes for me.

6. The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
One of my regrets in 2011 is that I haven’t yet reviewed three of the best books I read this year. Thankfully, Jack already reviewed the series as a whole. I promise to post my own thoughts of the books next month, but Jack’s observations are pretty spot-on. Abercrombie expertly turns the reader’s understanding of the tropes and expectations he may have about the fantasy genre against him. And the series is fun—Abercrombie’s story balances historical allegory and social commentary with more standard fantasy fare to keep the narrative from getting bogged down. The final book ties it all together for a finish that is both climactic and unexpected.

5. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
In a world where pain is visible, love must also be palpable, and Kevin Brockmeier expertly balances the two. Brockmeier is a skilled storyteller, and he makes each character incredibly endearing, painfully insightful, and wonderfully human. I enjoyed every page of this well-crafted and imaginative book.

4. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis Sittenfeld had her work cut out for her when she began writing a book about the fictional inner world of former First Lady Laura Bush. Luckily, she succeeded. American Wife presents an incredibly empathetic and deeply complex heroine who is fully aware of the contradictions of her own life. It quietly tackles love, grief, compromise, and character with subtly powerful prose. It is masterfully constructed and beautifully written, and it will make you think twice about our controversial president’s spotlight-shy wife.

3. The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst
The Nobodies Album is an unconventional murder mystery whose the slow suspense is accentuated by the unfolding of the characters’ personal tragedies. The bonds between a mother and her child, the pain and power of loss, and the healing power of time are all prominent themes, but Parkhurst succeeds in simultaneously telling an intriguing story that had me questioning the motives of each character and wondering how it will all end. The Nobodies Album is the perfect blend of literary artistry and suspenseful storytelling. Lost and Found, Parkhurst’s second novel, appeared on my Top 5 Books of 2010 list, and with this novel Parkhurst has confirmed her place as one of my favorite authors.

2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Don’t let Delirium fool you. It may look like a dystopian Young Adult romance, but this book effortlessly transcends those genres and succeeds in telling a fascinating story very well. I was swept into the story, feeling utterly in sync with the heroine as she makes discovery after wrenching discovery. Although Lauren Oliver is a masterful world-builder, it wasn’t just the story that sucked me in; it was also Oliver’s writing. I really enjoyed Before I Fall, but Oliver has truly honed her craft in this, her second book.

1. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Bossypants is one of the funniest books I have ever read. But this book isn’t just about humor. It’s about making it. Fey’s rock-solid work ethic and unbeatable ambition are what vaulted her to the top of the old boys’ club of comedy, and her life story–infused with her signature slapdash humor–is inspiring to anyone pursuing her dreams. But it is also very, very funny. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author, and I laughed for about five hours straight. It’s a must-hear/must-read!

I was surprised to note that all but two on this list are from women writers. I suppose I’m a bigger fan of women’s fiction than I’d thought; next month, I will be celebrating winners of the Orange Prize, which is awarded to women who write fiction. But more on that later!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Books on My Christmas List

This week, I’m listing the top ten books I hope Santa brings. Of course, if Santa has already purchased a book for me that’s not on the list, I’m sure I will be no less joyful on Christmas day.

10. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
According to the Boston Globe, “This graceful memoir describes a true love affair with books.” I love memoirs and reading, so what could be better than a book about one reader’s year of grief and renewal? It’s the book I wished I had written.

9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated​ Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
I discovered this book on NPR’s top five sci fi/fantasy books of the year, and I immediately added it to my wish list. According to NPR, Neil Gaiman dubbed it “a glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian Fairy Tale.” Yes, please!

8. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
This book stayed pretty low on my radar until recently, when it appeared on several “Best Books of 2011″ lists. Promising more than 460 pages of original artwork–which explains why the book looks so long–it seems creative and fun, and Selznick is an author to watch.

7. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
A National Book Award finalist, a top ten book from the New York Review of Books, and winner of the 2011 Orange Prize, this book has scooped up almost every accolade that matters to me. (There’s still time for it to win the National Book Critic’s Circle award, too.) I haven’t wanted to read a book this doused in praise since A Visit From the Goon Squad!

6. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
This slim book went entirely unnoticed by me until it won the 2011 Man Booker Prize. (To be fair, I don’t follow that prize very closely.) Then Carrie at nomadreader gave it 5 out of 5 stars, and it zoomed to the top of my wishlist.

5. Charles Dickens: The Classic Radio Dramas
This collection includes Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, and Hard Times. Admittedly, I’ve already read all but the first and last titles, but man! This collection would look so good on my shelf, and it’s only $24!

4. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Again, this book was highly recommended by Carrie, who goes so far as to say that Tom Perrotta is her favorite author. Others I know have also read and recommended it, and it was a New York Times Notable Book for 2011. The premise is extremely interesting to me: A small town loses a hundred of its citizens in a Rapture-like event. It reminds me of The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier, one of my favorite books of the year.

3. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
A colleague walked into my office a few months ago and told me I need to read this book, and since then I’ve seen it popping up everywhere. I loved Donia Bijan’s foodie memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie, and this volume seems very similar.

2. Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Millie, my unerring book recommender, had great things to say about Campbell’s first offering, American Salvage, which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. This book is also getting rave reviews, and it seems right up my alley.

1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Named one of The New York Times‘ Best Book of the Year, nominated for the Orange Prize, this book is my kryptonite in 2011. I’ve been dying to read it, and I’ve even gotten it out from the library, but couldn’t read it in time. Every glowing review I read of it reminds me of how I haven’t finished it yet!

I’m on the library wait-list for most of these books, but it’s only a matter of time before I claim a copy for my own!

So, what about you–what books are you hoping to find under your tree?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Childhood Favorites

It may not surprise you to learn that I was a voracious reader as a child. Some of my fondest memories are of curling up in an armchair and polishing off the latest Babysitter’s Club book; exploring the protected forest surrounding our farmhouse with the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder in hand; and acting out the misadventures of Anne Shirley and Trixie Belden with my friends and siblings.

I was drawn to endless series like Nancy Drew–names I could trust, characters I could grow with. And I count these characters among my closest childhood friends. That’s the mark of an excellent children’s book.

A few disclaimers: Because I read so frequently and quickly, my local librarians couldn’t contain me to the children’s section. I often ventured into the adult stacks, and since my library was in an almost entirely Mennonite town, I ended up reading a fair bit of Christian romance. So there’s that. Also, it’s pretty clear I was a product of the 80s, judging by these covers. Ye gads!

Anyway, I present to you my top ten favorite series when I was just a tyke.

10. “Brides of Montclair” by Jane Peart
Let’s dive right into the heavy-duty Christian romance, shall we? The Brides of Montclair series, set in “the Old South,” follows willowy young women and foolhardy, dashing men as they dash and willow about. Hardly classics, these books enchanted me as a child with undertones I fought to understand. Even though they were Christian, I sometimes had to hide them from my mother when there was a particularly racy plotline.

9. “The Boxcar Children” by Gertrude Chandler Warner
This was one of the best books to read up in the garage loft that my brother and I turned into a home-away-from-home. Our “clubhouse” was, we imagined, the spitting image of a boxcar, with rough wood planks and sunlight peeking in through the tar-paper roof. Cleaning and decorating that old loft was one of the first times in my life that I felt self-sufficient. Dennis and I were confident that were something to happen to our own parents, we could take care of at least a few of our siblings like Henry and Jessie.

8. “The Babysitters’ Club” by Ann M. Martin
With so many siblings, I was a born babysitter. I liked the Babysitters’ Club because for them, staying at home with the young’uns was not only a choice, it was a pleasure. They turned a dull after-school job into adventures to remember, and they taught me to see children as gifts to cherish–even when they had stinky diapers and colic.

7. “The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle” by Bill Myers
Wally McDoogle, the “walking human disaster,” is the kind of kid that makes the average klutz look like a graceful butterfly. He always seems to find himself in the worst of situations… but he always finds a way out of them as well. A lesson in both resourcefulness and self-esteem, these books were really, really funny to a 9-year-old me. And because they are overtly Christian, they were never crude.

6. The Seven Sleepers by Gilbert Morris
Dennis and I read read this seven-part series more times than either of us can count. Despite Christian overtones and glaring inconsistencies (one of the characters is a blue-eyed brunette in one book and jade-eyed and raven-haired in the next), we loved how characters like ourselves–the misfits–were plopped into exciting adventures and proved that they had the mettle to take on any challenge.

5. “Trixie Belden” by Julie Campbell
One of my childhood best friends had an almost-complete collection of Trixie Belden novels. Though I was initially put off by “sweet” characters named “Honey” who drive around in “jalopies,” I quickly came around. Trixie and her friends are like an empathetic Nancy Drew, and their stories are much more fun to act out!

4. “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery
Anne was another favorite to act out with my friends. Carey, one of the most willful and outgoing kids I had ever met, found comfort in Anne Shirley’s antics, and I was a born Diana. We read all of the sequels and prequels together, and imagined that our lives would turn out just like Anne’s does.

3. “The Golden Filly Collection” by Lauraine Snelling
The title doesn’t impart it, and the cover certainly doesn’t help, but this was an excellent series, perfect for the horse-crazy pre-teen. It brings up a surprising number of difficult issues–illness and death, rebellion and rapprochement, ambition and sacrifice, faith and doubt–without seeming like it was trying too hard or preaching too much.

2. “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I love pioneer stories, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone; this series would be on most little girls’ best of lists, if you were to ask. Ingalls Wilder so completely transports the reader to another world, one encountered in history books but marvelously fleshed out in these children’s books. (I even read the spin-off novels.) I can think of few literary works that had such an effect on my tender psyche.

1. “Love Comes Softly” by Janette Oke
Oh, Janette Oke. There was a time when you could have written a grocery list and I would have read it over and over again. I’m not sure what struck me so about these books, but I was hooked. I kind of thought of the main character, Marty, as a grown-up Laura Ingalls Wilder… only more Christian and more naive, if possible. Oke has written more than 70 books, and I’ve read a good many of them, following the Davis family through generations of hardy, God-fearing folk. And I kind of miss them.

Now I want to go read some of these throwbacks! What about you–what were your favorite books or series?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Cookbooks for Thanksgiving

This is one of my favorite holidays–between eating all the food, hanging out with family, and, of course, making everyone wish me a belated happy birthday, I love Thanksgiving!

This week’s top ten theme is “authors I would love to have at my Thanksgiving feast,” so I’m highlighting some awesome cookbooks and foodie memoirs. Of course, if these guys actually came to my house for Thanksgiving, I’d make it a potluck. Two reasons: 1. Their food is guaranteed to be better and 2. From what I hear, it’s kind of a faux pas to give a chef food poisoning on the biggest food holiday of the year.

But anyway, my list!

10. Eater’s Choice: A Food Lover’s Guide to Lower Cholesterol by Dr. Ron Goor and Nancy Goor
I don’t have a cholesterol problem (at least, I don’t think I do), but the holiday season is young; it’s never too soon to start listening to the good doctor. Plus his recipes are pretty damn good–not just good for you–if you can get past the seventies-style cover design. I like that the authors included an entire section of week-by-week dinner planning tips… not that I’ve ever followed them. We’d probably have to ask these guys to leave before the ice cream is served.

9. The Lean Mean Fat Grilling Machine Cookbook by George Foreman and Connie Meredith
Look, before you get all snobby and foodie on me, hear me out. This is actually a pretty decent cookbook, even if it did see more play during Jack’s bachelor years. We use our Foreman grill regularly (I’m sure the doctors above would be thrilled), and this book has some great ideas for spicing things up. Also, it makes me think of this:

8. 5-Ingredient Slow Cooker Recipes, edited by Carrie E. Holcomb
This is a great little recipe book, especially in winter when the days darken early and all you want when you get home from work is an already-cooked dinner to warm you up. The five-ingredient part makes it different from other slow cooker recipes. After all, slow cookers are all about slacking off! You might as well be “efficient” with the ingredients too. I just hope Ms. Holcomb brings her delicious Tuscan Bean and Sausage Stew, and doesn’t try to get all fancy with a slow-cooked dessert.

7. Sweet Magic by Michel Richard with Peter Kaminsky
In fact, let’s save the dessert-making for this guy. I salivated my way through this delicious dessert cookbook last year around this time, but I still haven’t worked up the nerve to make any of the dishes. They all sound so good, I’m worried I’ll ruin their reputation. (Also, I don’t have some of the crazy gadgets he mentions, like an “electric mixer.”) I’d be happy to leave the cooking to this classically trained chef this holiday season.

6. Blood. Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
OK, so technically I haven’t read this one yet, which might make for an awkward conversation starter with the author. But I’ve heard good things about it! Several of my friends who enjoy both food and writing have scolded me for not reading it yet. Which is harder: Reading a book, or being chided for missing one of the best foodie memoirs of the year? I thought so.

5. Maman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan
Speaking of great foodie memoirs–I read this one recently and loved it. Bijan, in addition to being an award-winning chef, is also a great storyteller, and the only thing better than the 30 delicious recipes sprinkled in were her stories about growing up in Iran, the United States, and France. If Ms. Bijan showed up at my Thanksgiving, I would be sure to ask her what her mother would cook every year; once the family immigrated to the United States, Bijan wrote in her book, Thanksgiving was one of her mother’s favorite times of year.

4. Dishing Up Maryland by Lucie L. Snodgrass
Since Jack and I celebrate Thanksgiving with his family in Maryland, it’s nice to have a cookbook that celebrates local food. My favorite recipe in this is the corn and crab chowder–you gotta try it! This cookbook is a little more challenging than, say, George Foreman’s, because it calls for unique ingredients that are only in season for a few weeks out of the year. But when I want to make something a little fancier than usual, I flip through this cookbook’s glossy pages and gorgeous photographs for inspiration a little closer to home.

3. Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home by the Moosewood Collective
How do you make relatively easy dishes with healthy ingredients and not a lot of fuss? You buy this book. The dishes are never too difficult to make, but we always receive glowing compliments when we serve a recipe from this cookbook. And if a recipe calls for a particularly exotic ingredient, the book’s editors explain what it is and offer potential substitutes. This book is all vegetarian, which is great if you’re a veg. If you’re an omnivore like me, simply add you protein of choice and voila! Dinner is served.

2. Betty Crocker Cookbook by Betty Crocker
Some of my fondest childhood memories include pulling a chair up to the kitchen counter, reaching for my mom’s ancient, heavy Betty Crocker cookbook, and opening it to breathe in the scent of old pages pressed with flour. This is a fantastic go-to cookbook, so it’s a real shame that I actually don’t own one myself. (Especially since Ruthie got about five copies of it when she got hitched.) Maybe I’ll find one under my Christmas tree? (It’s possible, I suppose, especially if I put it there myself.)

1. Cooking Smart for a Healthy Heart by Reader’s Digest
Imagine it: Jack and I are in the checkout line at Goodwill, arms loaded with clothes I’m sure I don’t need, plus one shirt for Jack. This book catches both our eyes. We love cooking! And hearts! We hastily flip through the recipe cards in the binder, and already I’m planning to make that golden risotto and the German potato salad. The cashier was tapping her little toes, and another customer behind us began looking interested in that risotto too. And with that, our favorite cookbook came to live with us. In case you were wondering, the risotto and potatoes were both a big hit. In fact, I’ve never made a recipe in this book that didn’t at least live up to my expectations. (No pressure.)

OK, now I feel like cooking. But before I go… what are your favorite cookbooks and authors? I’d love to fatten up the cookbook shelf for the holidays!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Books on My TBR List

I love adding books to my TBR (To Be Read) list. My Goodreads TBR list alone is an impossible 467 books, and I have many more on my wish list. When I know I really want to read a book–and will probably like it quite a bit–I buy a copy, so that it will taunt me from the shelves until I read it. This works, until it doesn’t.

That’s why I devised my ongoing Bookshelf ROWDOWN challenge (with the help of Jack, who is always eager to pare down my shelves). Even so, there are a handful of books that beg me to be read whenever I walk into the office. The tragedy is that I know I will enjoy these books. For some perverse reason, I am waiting to read them, like a kid who scrapes all the icing off her cake to eat last. (Anyone else do that? No, just me and my crazy siblings? Oh.)

This week’s top ten theme is “Books That Have Been On My Shelf For The Longest But I’ve Never Read.” Aside from a metric ton of classics I haven’t yet picked up, these books are all on the top of my TBR list. And today, I’m making a vow: By this time next year, all of these books will be read–and reviewed! Hold me to it, readers.

10. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
I slogged through Fellowship of the Ring. It took me the better part of last winter, but I did it, and when I finally emerged–a little wild-eyed, but victorious–the last thing I wanted to hear was that the story was nowhere near over. (To be more accurate, the last thing I wanted to hear was epic poetry. Hearing about a trilogy was the second-to-last thing.) Alas, I’ve finally accepted that fact, and now I vow to jump in the ring (get it?!) with Tolkien’s next heavyweight, The Two Towers.

9. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The problem with this book is that it is perfect for reading in increments. I’ve read a chapter here and there since I bought the book, but I feel like I’m not getting the maximum effect of the book’s message. Now I’m committing–it’s time to read the whole thing. Happiness, here I come.

8. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
I admired Krauss’s rich characterization and gorgeous writing style in Great House, but it meandered a little too much for me, like a story my grandfather might tell me–full of details, but not really going anywhere until I get too bored to take it and he hurriedly adds a conclusion. I’ve heard great things about this, her first book, but I’ve been a little scared to touch it. Maybe I’ll just get drunk first; that usually helps me approach love.

7. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
When I read Ehrenreich’s article “How America Criminalized Poverty” back in August, I was entranced. These are the issues that really get me stirred up, I realized. This is something I’d love to write about. And then I realized I’d had Ehrenreich’s book pining away on my shelves, a recommendation from Millie (who has never been off in her recommendations). Pine no longer, book. I’m coming for you.

6. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
I have no excuse for not having read this book. I’ve started it a number of times, but something inevitably distracts me. Krakauer is a master of nonfiction, from whom I could learn quite a bit. Plus, I devoured Into the Wild, so I have good faith that this book will be similarly fascinating.

5. Tinkers by Paul Harding
This book is amazing. This book came out of nowhere and neatly scooped up a Pulitzer Prize. This book is deliciously bite-sized and compact. This book will change your life, your mindset, even that light bulb that’s been burned out in the bathroom for months that you keep forgetting to replace. For Christ’s sake, the book is named after my dog! (Or so she thinks.) The critics all agree that I am missing out by not having read it. Now I just have to do that.

4. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Oy. Look, Mr. Franzen, I know you’re book is awesome. Linden read it, and Linden doesn’t read fiction. But my God, did you really have to make it so very long? You, sir, seem intent on making me work out the ol’ biceps, and I’m not having it. After resisting reading this door-stopper for at least a solid year, I just requested the e-audiobook. Bam.

3. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
I comfort myself over not having read this trilogy by saying that I haven’t had it all that long, but these are empty words. Everyone I know has read the trilogy in about a day, so it’s not like I’m worried this will be another Lord of the Rings (see above). I’ve just been really busy, and I know I’ll get sucked into these books. (Can you tell I’m beginning to run out of excuses in this post?)

2. Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst

I love Carolyn Parkhurst. Like, inappropriately. Luckily, she seems OK with it. But maybe she wouldn’t be if she found out I have never read her first novel. I know. I’m embarrassed just to type that, and I will never say it out loud. But I’ve been saving this gem to enjoy on a rainy day when I really need a pick-me-up. Now that I know she’s working on a fourth book, though, I think I’m ready.

1. Lit, The Liar’s Club, and Cherry by Mary Karr
These three memoirs by Mary Karr have been recommended to me by pretty much everyone I respect in life. And I own all three. I love memoirs, and she seems like a writer from whom I could learn so much. So why have I waited to read her work? It’s time for the truth: I am afraid she’ll be so much better than me, I’ll never write my own memoir for fear of not measuring up. Whew. OK, I said it. Now we can pretend that it never happened–just like we pretend that saying things into the interwebs makes those things go away.

So, what about you? What books have been high on your to-read list for a while?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!