This is the second part of my 2018 Top 20 Reading List. To check the first part, click here.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Paperback, 483 pages
Publisher: Perennial Classics, 1998
Synopsis: “The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.”
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Paperback, 1006 pages
Publisher: Tor Book, August 2006
Synopsis: “At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England – until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.
Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership wih Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Paperback, 216 pages
Publisher: Del Rey, 2005
Synopsis: “Seconds before Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Perfect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together, this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by a galaxyful of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian (formerly Tricia McMillan), Zaphod’s girlfriend, whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; and Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he’s bought over the years.
Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? For all the answers, stick your thumb to the stars.”
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Trade Paperback, 288 pages
Publisher: Razor Bill, 2007
Synopsis: “Clay Jensen doesn’t want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made. Hannah is dead. Her secrets should be buried with her.
Then Hannah’s voice tells Clay that is name is on her tapes – and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death.
All through the night, Clay keeps listening. He follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his small town…
… and what he discovers changes his life forever.”
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Trade Paperback, 981 pages
Publisher: Bay Back Books, February 2016
Synopsis: “Set in an addicts’ halfway house and a tennis academy, and featuring one of the most endearingly screwed-up families in modern fiction, Infinite Jest is an unforgettable, life-changing, and often hilarious novel about some of the saddest subjects imaginable. David Foster Wallace’s epic takes place in a near future so commercialized that the naming rights to each year are auctioned off (welcome to “the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar”) and explores essential questions about life in a land of plenty. The people in this novel can make themselves happy at any moment – with a pill, a drink, a smoke – and pleasure themselves with an unending stream of distractions and entertainments. But they have reached, over the years, stages of distress and pain extreme enough to make them consider changing their ways. They struggle now with the agony of living without their long-beloved substance, with the difficulties of making an ordinary life, and with questions like: What do the pleasures we choose say about who we are? What does easy pleasure do to the soul? Is it possible really to know even the people closest to us? Can we find happiness at all?
Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction without sacrificing for a moment its own entertainment value. It is an exuberant, uniquely American exploration of the passions that make us human, and one of those rare books that renew the idea of what a novel can do.”
House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
Translated by Madga Bogin
Hardbound, 488 Pages
Publisher: Everyman’s Library, 2005
Synopsis: “Chilean writer Isabel Allende’s classic novel is both a richly symbolic family saga and the riveting story of an unnamed Latin American country’s turbulent history.
In a triumph of magic realism, Allende constructs a spirit-ridden world and fills it with colorful and all-too-human inhabitants. The Trueba family’s passions, struggles and secrets span three generations and a century of violent social change, culminating in a crisis that brings the proud and tyrannical patriarch and his beloved granddaughter to opposite sides of the barricades. Against a backdrop of revolution and counter-revolution, Allende depicts a family whose private bonds of love and hatred are more complex and enduring than the political allegiances that set them at odds. The House of Spirits not only brings another nation’s history thrillingly to life, but also makes its people’s joy and anguish wholly our own.”
Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Trade Paperback, 295 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books, April 1998
Synopsis: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…”
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Trade Paperback, 205 Pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2011
Synopsis: “The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting, the one from the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, something ancient, something wild. And it wants the truth.”
Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Trade Paperback, 396 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2016
Synopsis: “Nothing in the whole of literature compares with The Master and Margarita. One spring afternoon, the Devil, trailing fire and chaos in his wake, weaves himself out of the shadows and into Moscow. Mikhail Bulgakov’s fantastical, funny, and devastating satire of Soviet life combines two distinct yet interwoven parts, one set in contemporary Moscow, the other in ancient Jerusalem, each brimming with historical, imaginary, frightful, and wonderful characters. Written during the darkest days of Stalin’s reign, and finally published in 1966 and 1967, The Master and Margarita became a literary phenomenon, signaling artistic and spiritual freedom for Russians everywhere.”
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Trade Paperback, 193 Pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006
Synopsis: “One of the most important works of twentieth-century American literature, Zora Neale Hurston’s beloved 1937 classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or fooling romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose. A true literary wonder, Hurston’s masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published – perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature.”
So that completes my 2018 Top 20 Reading List. What do you think of my list? Did any of these books make your personal list? Share your thoughts on the comment box. You might also want to share your own list.