My Essential Books (25)

As requested by Moonlight Reader


A few years ago it became obvious to me that my reading wasn't diverse, like at all, and I've tried to correct it, but whether the authors are poc, outside the US/Great Britain, or otherwise non-white, non-male, and/or still alive, those books have predominately been recent titles and with other classics falling into the always-recommended category, its a very white slate I'm offering...Not a great situation, but I'm working on it! What I've chosen may not be perfect works, but have had a significant impact on my perception of the world and reading experience.


No real order, I started grouping things into categories, but it fell apart as I kept swapping things out.


1. 'Villette' by Charlotte Bronte


     Her last novel, full of loneliness, regret, and yearning, and all told by my favorite unreliable narrator ever. For Lucy Snowe I felt a sympathetic kinship that is...hard to explain. It means the world to me, ten stars, eleven!


2. 'The Country of the Pointed Firs' by Sarah Orne Jewett


     A pastoral sketch, could almost be called an American 'Cranford', that initially seemed slight to me, but my admiration has grown with each year.


3. 'The Ordeal of Richard Feverel' by George Meredith


     This bold novel was an important stepping stone for modernist writers. It's also entertaining and subversive.


4. 'The Grandmothers' by Glenway Wescott


     A beautifully written family saga set in the Midwest and a celebration of America untainted by nationalism.


5. 'The Prince of Tides' by Pat Conroy


     Crazy, passionate, haunting. I must have read this a dozen times in high school and couldn't get enough of it.


6. 'Another Country' by James Baldwin


     A chaotic portrait of a specific time and place, but the often fraught and tender relationships of the characters resonate, and the America they live in is shamefully recognizable. Why haven't I read more Baldwin yet?


7. 'The Haunting of Hill House' by Shirley Jackson


     I've now read all of her novels and most of her short stories/essays, and this still comes in at the top.


8. 'Peyton Place' by Grace Metalious


     Purple prose, petty gossip, and hypocrisy in golden, booming America: a small town skinned to the bone. I loved it.


9. 'The Dispossessed' by Ursula K. Le Guin


     I see its flaws, but Le Guin's anarchic novel is the one that I think about the most often. A powerful vision and, in my opinion, her most relevant book today.


10. 'The Greenlanders' by Jane Smiley


     A portrait of the decline of a culture and life continuing to go on.


11. 'Dancer From the Dance' by Andrew Holleran


     So many sad gay novels to pick from....but this one's scope feels broader than its narrow decadent setting. I can't list 'Gatsby', but this at times surpasses Fitzgerald and has more humor.


12. 'The Complete Concrete' by Paul Chadwick


     Chadwick's superhero is not concerned with supervillains or snappy dialogue. He debates human nature, is curious, and if he's working to save the planet, its from us, not any outside threat. An underrated series and ahead of its time.


13. 'The Other' by Thomas Tryon


     A chilling story about evil suffused with nostalgic memories of a small town childhood which elevates the book above ordinary horror.


14. 'Watership Down' by Richard Adams


     Need I say more? That fact may mean it doesn't belong here...damn. Keeping it for now.


15. 'Stories of Your Life and Others' by Ted Chiang


     Still jaw-dropping after all of this time. Absolutely stunning speculative fiction that comes from every direction.


16. 'Night Watch' by Terry Pratchett


     This is my favorite. Personal and full of longing underneath the humor and intricate plot.


17. 'Roadside Picnic' by the Strugatsky Brothers


     Parts of the world are left devastated after an extraterrestrial visit, the land and the people themselves twisted. There is profit to be made in the alien tech left behind in the 'zones', however. A novel about desperate actions and despair and a sliver of hope.


18. 'The Absolute Sandman' by Neil Gaiman


     His novels are an inescapable part of popular culture, but his overall his work on 'Sandman' surpasses them. Surreal, powerful, and far-ranging, the writing was excellent and he worked with some of the greatest artists in the industry.


19. 'The Chosen Place, the Timeless People' - Paule Marshall


     A novel that reveals the lingering effects of colonialism on a fictitious Caribbean island. Full of anger and insight, Marshall's characters, black and white, are forced to examine their motives and what is "best" for the people of Bourne Island. It has some problematic elements, but comparatively much less than my beloved Victorians.


20. 'The Eye of the World' by Robert Jordan


     Does a 14-part flawed epic belong on this list? It does on mine!


21.'Last of the Curlews' by Fred Bodsworth


     Something on this list was going to be a book that makes me dissolve into ugly tears, God, I can't even think about it. This book about the end of species from the perspective of a bird and a series of newspaper articles is brief, compelling, and devastating.


22. 'Girlfriend in a Coma' by Douglas Coupland


     Coupland has written a lot about the ridiculous nature of our existence and the precarious state of the planet, but he nailed something with this novel about grief, the end of the world, and what, if anything, we can do about it.


23. 'I Capture the Castle' by Dodie Smith


     The writer's life and some often bitter wisdom about growing up, wrapped in a breezy novel.


24. 'The Secret Country' by Pamela Dean


     A group of cousins discover that the imaginary world of their games is more real than they ever could have imagined. First of a trilogy, but it says everything it needs to say in the first volume.


25. 'Dark Lord of Derkholm' by Diana Wynne Jones


     This features unlikely heroes, unexpected twists, fond poking at genre conventions, absurd humor, and the strong independent streak that I love in her books. This was my first Jones, and it is still my favorite.


Publishing this list before I stay up all night tweaking it more!