This is one my all time favorite books. Zusak is probably best known for The Book Thief (which you should also read!), but this book deserves attention all its own. It follows a 19 year old cab driver named Ed who unwittingly stops a bank robbery and then begins to receive playing cards in the mail. Always aces, with clues written on them. He goes through a journey of self-discovery (blah blah), and he learns that the world is much bigger, more broken, and much more beautiful than he imagined. But what really kept me around was the writing. Zusak has this way with words that brings a poetic edge to everything he writes, and it paints the most beautiful pictures in my head.
“Sometimes people are beautiful. Not in looks. Not in what they say. Just in what they are.”
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
This one really caught me off guard. I am a huge fan of Gaiman as a writer and as a person. I follow him on different social media platforms, and he comes across as a very calm, genuine, and relatable person. And I’ve been meaning to pick up some of his books for a long time now, but you know how that goes. Anyway, I started with his novel Neverwhere, but I was a little unimpressed. Not that it was bad. I just had built up what I thought Gaiman was in my head. And believe me when I tell you that American Gods went above and beyond the image I created. This novel is about a man named Shadow, an ex-con and widower, recently released from jail, who is whisked away by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday on a road trip through the backroads of America to collect all of the old gods that have been pushed aside by the new (TV, Media). Exciting, thrilling, and dark, you will not be disappointed in this pick.
“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
This one. It gives me chills thinking about how relevant this book has become in the past few years. I read this one for the first time about 3 years ago now, and it gave me so much to think about. The Handmaid’s Tale comes across as a cautionary tale about what it means to give up our rights as women and what can be taken away from us so easily. It’s set in the (not so distant?) future where women have become infertile and those who can bear children are forced to become vessels for the rich to procreate. It follows the story of one handmaid in particular and her daily struggle to remain alive and well in a world that is so decidedly anti-woman and anti-choice. I think it’s an important book for everyone to read, not just women.
“There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”
“‘Ordinary,’ said Aunt Lydia, ‘is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.'”
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
I am not generally one for post-apocalyptic novels. There have been and continue to be so many of them, they all start to blend together for me. However, I was drawn to Station Eleven because it placed its focus on something more than just a group of survivors. There are several story lines from different time lines that don’t seem very cohesive, but they form a tangled web that slowly make sense as the story progresses. And the point of the novel is something greater than survival because “survival is insufficient.” It’s about how humanity needs something to live for in order to truly be human, be it art, religion, or a simple belief.
“I’ve been thinking lately about immortality. What it means to be remembered, what I want to be remembered for, certain questions concerning memory and fame. I love watching old movies. I watch the faces of long-dead actors on the screen, and I think about how they’ll never truly die . . . First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt has quickly become one of my favorite writers. I read one quote from this novel online once, and I was hooked. It’s a hefty read, but the world she creates is imaginative and dark and so gorgeous. The Goldfinch is the story of a boy whose life is torn apart by tragedy and misfortune and neglectful guardians, and he quickly slips into the world of drugs, antiques, and art forgery. Her writing is beautiful, and her characters are terrifically complex. I highly recommend picking this book up from your local book store.
“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life”
“—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.”