As an intern at a literary agency, I get asked a lot about what sort of books I like to read for fun. Generally I just make up something because that’s a really hard question that I’m still not entirely sure how to answer. Recently, however, I’ve been putting together a list of books I’ve read over the years in hopes of finding some kind of pattern. Thanks to online library records and a half-decent memory, I was able to put together more than 50 that I’d read over the past three years or so. Of those 50, here are the ones that stand out in my memory, organized from most to least recently read. All of them are highly recommended, though some people will no doubt appreciate a few more than others. Enjoy!
On the surface, Joshua Ferris’s third novel is about a dentist who suddenly finds himself being impersonated online. Underneath, however, it’s an in-depth and fascinating look what it means to feel disconnected in an ever-increasingly connected world. Funny, emotional and thought-provoking, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is one of the most uniquely written novels I’ve read in quite some time.
Though many will take issue with the book’s conclusion, I had an immensely enjoyable time reading this one. The book’s plot unfolds masterfully in a manner that will leave you feeling manipulated in the best of ways, with enough twists and turns to satisfy just about anyone. Along with intriguing characters that you will either love or despise — not to mention a heavy dose of mystery — Gone Girl is very difficult to put down.
The biggest impression I got from the HBO series of Game of Thrones is that a lot of people die, often in gruesome and unexpected ways. What I wasn’t expecting was for the first book in Martin’s epic saga to be so simultaneously wonderful and beautifully written. There’s a tenderness to it that isn’t found in the book’s sequels, as the peace and order of Westeros slowly begins to unravel. And while there’s still plenty of gore and violence, the near-constant dread still hasn’t taken hold, making A Game of Thrones a standout in the Song of Ice and Fire saga.
Chances are you’ve never seen a book quite like S. Straight from the bookstore, the pages are worn and yellowed, the margins are covered in handwritten notes, and tucked in its pages are newspaper clippings, a napkin with a map drawn on it, postcards, and a ton of other paraphernalia. At times it can seem like the book is greater than the sum of its parts, but S is something that simply needs to be experienced. Plus, it’s hands-down the coolest thing I have sitting on my bookshelf right now.
If you ask me, solid characters are ten times more important than any plot you could come up with. Perhaps that’s why I loved The Cuckoo’s Calling so much. Robert Galbraith (a pen name for the brilliant JK Rowling) is a pro at crafting lovable characters, and effectively manages to turn the detective genre on its head with not a single dull or meaningless character along the way.
If you consider yourself a creative, this book is 100% a must-read. It’s not a very big book, yet every page is packed with good advice about executing ideas, developing routines, being productive, and sharpening your creative mind. Featuring short segments from experts in a number of different fields, Manage Your Day-To-Day is one of the most powerful and helpful books I’ve read for my own creative process.
As one of the greatest voices in Christian culture today, Jon Acuff is somebody well worth paying attention to. His undeniable sense of humor makes this book on getting the ball rolling with your personal aspirations, creative goals, and professional work—an admittedly simple and obvious sounding concept—a very enjoyable read, not to mention a helpful and insightful one.
To be perfectly up-front: if you are offended by any sort of objectionable content, this book will offend you. It is disturbing. It is graphic. But good Lord, it makes for a compelling read. I devoured Under the Dome’s 1,088 pages in under a week last summer, and enjoyed every minute of it. Just don’t expect it to be anywhere near as dumb as the CBS series.
Okay, if you’re one of the more sensitive readers out there, this Stephen King book will appeal to you much more than Under the Dome. One part memoir, one part advice on writing, this book is essential for anyone looking for a glimpse into the mind of one of the most successful authors of our time. Many would even go so far as to say it is one of the greatest books on writing ever. I would agree.
Ever hear of blackout poetry? Basically someone takes a work they like and runs a Sharpie over several lines of text, so that the remaining words form something of a poem. Well that’s what Jonathan Safran Foer did with his favorite book, Street of Crocodiles, and ended up with Tree of Codes. Instead of using a Sharpie, however, he cut out the words he didn’t want. Literally—the pages of this book are filled with gaping holes where the original text once was. It’s more fun flipping through the pages than anything, but it’s still worth checking out.
If you ask me what I thought, I’ll probably tell you that The Fault in Our Stars wasn’t really that great. That does nothing to dispel the fact that I read it in a single sitting, finishing in under 10 hours. Hazel is a brilliantly-written protagonist, and you have to admit that John Green just gets it. I’m just not the type to get all emotional if I’m anticipating a sad ending.
After reading reviews for the new HBO series The Leftovers, it’s clear that people are expecting the story to move towards something—as if there is an explanation or justification for the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. In truth, there isn’t. At least, not in the book. Perrotta’s novel is content to sit back and explore the ramifications of such an event, offering an in-depth examination of how that plays out in the lives of several people. It’s completely mundane, completely unextraordinary, but uniquely fascinating on numerous levels. If you’re looking for a slow, intimate, complex sort of book, this is a good one for you.
If your faith isn’t controversial, you’re doing it wrong. That’s one of the many reasons I wish less people would outright reject Rob Bell for rocking the boat on occasion. I have a great deal of respect for Bell as a thinker, and What We Talk About When We Talk About God is a bracingly refreshing and authentic read that will leave you thinking long after the last page.
The Hobbit will always hold a very special place in my heart. If you don’t have the time or he patience to make it through Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, this short prequel is a thousand times more light-hearted and fun, anyway. If you’ve yet to read it . . . what are you waiting for?
Let’s be honest . . . Christians do some pretty funny things sometimes. For example, shot-blocking a friend’s prayer request because she’s asking God to bless an obviously bad dating relationship. Or wishing people knew you direct-deposited your tithe so they wouldn’t secretly judge you. These are the sorts of things Stuff Christians Like is all about. It’s hands-down one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, full to the brim with brilliant satire on Christian culture.
Ever wonder what a movie of your life would look like? Would it be something worth watching? Or would it put you to sleep before you were even fifteen minutes in? Donald Miller found himself asking these questions when his memoir Blue Like Jazz was being adapted into a film a few years back. His book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years documents what he learned along the way, as well as his various attempts at living a life worth telling about. A few minutes ago I made the mistake of pulling this book off my shelf and reading the first few paragraphs—before I knew it, I was 30 pages in. So I don’t recommend it if you’re trying to, say, write an article or be productive.
Yes, I’m being completely serious. While the movie turned out to be one the biggest flops I can recall seeing, the book was brilliantly executed in every way. With Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Grahame-Smith managed to take a ridiculously silly concept and create something worthy of sincere respect. You might expect something like this to be campy or laughable, but the serious tone is totally believable and makes for a highly entertaining read.
The premise of this book is about as shallow as you can get—a high school girl falls for the captain of the basketball team, they get together, and he inevitably breaks her heart. Yet in the hands of Daniel Handler (commonly known as Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events), Why We Broke Up shines bright. Endlessly witty, beautifully written, and surprisingly emotional, this might just be one of my most favorite books ever.
If you’re looking to have some interesting conversations about the afterlife and what that means for the here-and-now, this would be a good place to start. Rob Bell’s magnum opus Love Wins remains controversial in Christian circles, if only because of how misunderstood it is. Bell’s main message here is that Jesus’s words about the afterlife were always about what we ought to be doing in the present. Let’s not get too focused on something that we ultimately have no control over.
I’m a sucker for a good memoir, and Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me is just about as good as it gets. Granted, the author makes it clear that his book toes the line between memoir and autobiographical fiction, but his story is just too good for me to care. Ian Morgan Cron is a fantastic storyteller, and his deeply personal account of growing up is sure to connect with readers from all different walks of life.
From Relevant Magazine: “Perhaps more than any other modern read, Blue Like Jazz gave Christians permission to wrestle with the faith they’d been given and, in turn, to reshape it into something authentic, messy and altogether new. Miller put words to a restless doubt he thought was his struggle alone, only to find readers echo those same thoughts in a rallying cry for the rebirth of Christian spirituality.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
We all experience resistance when moving into bigger and better things. There wouldn’t be anything bigger or better about them if they didn’t stretch us and cause a few growing pains. In The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield addresses this resistance and offers solutions to overcoming it. If you are a creative who is wrestling with a dream of sorts, this just might be the single most important book for you.