Advent by James Treadwell
I don’t think you’re a fantasy fan, but modern fantasy is so much more than swords and sorcery Game of Thrones bullshit. The Magicians by Lev Grossman is an example of that (he takes Harry Potter and feeds him crack, essentially), but I’m going to start with Advent. I read this book and loved it – the writing is dark and mysterious, the British setting is terrific, the postmodern nods to Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising) and Ursula Le Guin (both these authors and their works hover over this book like guardian angels guiding his writing). I also mention this one first because I'm taking the second book in the series along on an upcoming trip!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
If you haven’t read any Neil Gaiman, his latest book is a good place to start. Neil Gaiman’s works are a mélange of everything cool written in the last hundred years. Ocean isn’t my absolute favorite (that belongs to The Graveyard Book) but it’s wonderful – a horror book that’s about the end of childhood and the loss of innocence, and what happens when nightmares come true. It starts with a quote from Where the Wild Things Are. Need I say anymore.
Among Others by Jo Walton
Jo Walton is one of our most underappreciated and underrated writers today (although I didn’t care for her last book). She’s a genre-bender; Tooth and Claw is amazing – it’s a Jane Austen book with dragons instead of people – but I would say Among Others is her most literary. And beautiful.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
This book has been stuck in my head for two years. It’s really hard to explain what the book is about – but in a nutshell, a diary from a Japanese girl floats ashore on the west coast of the United States – from the tsunami possibly – and the girl says she’s going to kill herself. The author who finds the diary is going through her own struggles… and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened. It’s brilliant.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This won awards and notoriety all over the place last year, and deservedly so. A plague kills almost everyone in the world, and a troupe of actors and musicians travel around performing Shakespeare. Except it’s so incredibly well written, and the narrative moves all over the place, and you just can’t stop reading it because you want to know what happens.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Whether you know anything about Henry VIII or not, Wolf Hall is a literary masterpiece. The point of view is amazingly difficult; the history even more so – do some Wikipedia research on Ann Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell first. It’s historical fiction at it’s very, very, very best.
A Room With A View by E.M. Forster
If you haven’t read any Forster, A Room With A View is a good place to start. Then move on to Howard’s End, and if you are truly brave, A Passage to India. Forster is supposed to be the greatest novelist of the 20th century – and I think so too.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
He says this is his last book ever. We’ll see. A man goes to another planet as a missionary to aliens. It’s science fiction – sort of. But also philosophy, a love story, a dystopian novel. It’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year (in a year when I’ve had some trouble finding good things to read!)
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
A strange but terrific book, and a book about what sets readers apart from nonreaders. Very short, quick, and wonderful.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Connie Willis is brilliant, quirky, and probably my favorite author. If I could be an author, I would want to be her. Doomsday Book is a good place to start. In the future, history is studied by going back in time and actually being there when it happened. A graduate student goes back in time to the Middle Ages… and that’s all I’m going to tell you about that. Connie Willis writes incredible novels (Passage, about death, is haunting and still lives with me) and her short stories are SUPERB.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout
I know this was a movie on HBO, but I didn’t want to watch it because I didn’t want to ruin it the beautiful feeling the book left me when I was finished with it. I love it when books that look like something I would never, ever enjoy in a million years turn out to be something special. That’s Olive Kitteridge. Stout does this amazing job of turning a very, very unlikable protagonist into someone you love (and occasionally love to hate). See how many Olive Kitteridge’s you can name after you finish the book. She’s in our choir for sure.
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollingsworth
I have something for British novelists, I guess. It’s very, very dense. I was lost most of the time reading it. But I loved every minute of it. I have another Hollingsworth at home, waiting for me, and I’m almost afraid to pick it up! If you can’t find the The Line of Beauty, try The Stranger’s Child by him. It’s just as dense and good.
The Razor’s Edge by Maugham. I don’t think enough people read Maugham anymore. I know I missed out on him until relatively recently, but now my goal is to read everything he’s ever written. I started with his novella, Theatre, which the EXCELLENT movie Being Julia was based on (watch this immediately if you haven’t yet done so), you can probably start anywhere with him and have a great time, but The Razor’s Edge is a good place to begin.
The Pursuit of Love / Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
If you haven’t discovered the Mitfords, they are this daffy famous aristocratic family from the 1930s – One daughter became a communist, another a duchess, two others Fascists (one became very close to Hitler). Nancy was the older sister, an author (and it turns out a spy for the government on her fascist sisters). Her books are SO FUNNY. If you can find a volume with both of them in it, then do so. They are a riot.