So you've been out of the reading habit for awhile; life has gotten away from you and although you used to read voraciously, these days it's just harder and harder to find the time. But you're committed — you want to get back into books and the escape they offer. You also want to be smarter and nicer.
But to kick off this renewed habit, you want to read something really good. Really juicy. I mean like, grabs-you-and-doesn't-let-go kind of amazing. Look no further — I've compiled a list of some of the very best books that have compelled lapsed readers and nonreaders alike to leap back into the reading habit, reigniting their love of books.
I've categorized them a bit so you can make decisions based on what you like to read. I haven't read all of them, but you can bet the ones I haven't are on my TBR list. If you want even more suggestions, be sure you check out Goodreads' Popular Fast Reads.
I know that I've missed some — be sure to add your favorite fast reads in the comments!
And so without further ado...
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Dark)
If you like dark, ambitious, slightly creepy fair tales, Neil Gaiman is your man. I haven't read this one, but for my friends who love Gaiman, many of them recommend starting with this one. Amazon calls it an "imaginative romp;" Booklist calls it "a lovely yarn."
Lamb by Christopher Moore (Humor)
The subtitle says it all: "The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal." The Philadelphia Inquirer called this book "reminiscent of Vonnegut and Douglas Adams" and a guy I used to date was a big fan of this book as well (which means this might be a good starting point for guys looking to read more literary fiction). If you think you've read everything there is to know about Jesus (and really, who has?), this might be something new to add to your list.
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb (Literary fiction)
I read this years (and years and years) ago, and despite it's considerable length, I plowed through it. The book was listed as an Oprah Book Club pick way back in 1997, if that says anything. A coming of age novel and a redemption story, She's Come Undone tells the story of overweight 13-year-old Delores Price. Described as a "dysfunctional Wonder Years," the book eloquently (and often with humor) deals with issues such as divorce, mental illness and forgiveness.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (YA)
This is a book I picked up for my then-15-year-old daughter, who is probably one of the toughest reviewers I know. So many people who love Young Adult fiction have recommended this book because of its writing and its new take on teen angst. The book tells the awkward love story between two "star-crossed misfits," the wild-haired, new kid in town Eleanor, and the nerdy but loveable Park. I picked it up last summer, then got distracted with another book (happens all the time), but I definitely plan on picking it back up soon.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Thriller)
There are very few books that I tell people that they have to read, and this is one of them. Not because the book is so, so amazing, but because the plotting in it is fantastic. Blow-your-mind good. If you've seen the movie, fine, you know what happens, but go back and read the book anyway. It's fascinating to watch how Flynn sets all the characters up and then, bam, knocks them back down again.
The Hunger Games By Suzanne Collins (YA)
The closest I've ever come to getting in a fistfight over this book (why yes, there was liquor involved!). Which is curious, because I thought it was a "shitty book." I know, I know, this isn't the best way to start off describing a book that's on a "must read" book list. But thanks to Jennifer Lawrence, we've all become fascinated by the dystopian, bow-wielding herione Katniss and an older, wiser self now thinks it's worth picking up. I've only read the first in the trilogy (see above "shitty book" reference), and it was indeed a fast read. If you're looking to get back into reading, this book will get you back in the groove.
Bossypants by Tina Fey (Humor)
Here's another one that I recommend to people all the time. I love Tina Fey. I'm pretty sure we would be besties if we actually knew each other (I have this reoccurring daydream of her, Jennifer Aniston, and me — maybe Louis CK is there too — all sitting at a booth at Stella's, telling jokes and throwing back whiskey). This book is fast, smart, choke-on-your-tea hilarious and just so, so good. Buy the hard copy; you'll read it and pass it on to all your smart, funny friends (who have actually probably already read it, because it's that damn good, so nevermind.)
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsen (Thriller)
This is one of the few books that I can say that I've seen the movie, but haven't read the book. Again, I once started it, but as is my habit, got distracted by a shiny other book — which goes against Amazon's claim that "Once you start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there's no turning back." It tells the story of anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander, a "a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues." A thriller filled twists and turns, Booklist laments that "What a shame that we only have three books in which to watch the charismatic Lisbeth Salander take on the world!"
The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell (Nonfiction)
Here's one for you nonfiction fans. Gladwell, the grandfather of pop sociology, describes the tipping point as a "magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire." Using examples such as the drop of violent crime in New York and the comeback of Hushpuppies shoes, this book has already changed how the world thinks about ideas. An engaging, highly readable book.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Dark)
So many people loved this book. So many. I think it has to do with its YA-ish style romance and magical setting, but who knows? I thought it was meh (check out my video review to see why). Still, I think it's worth mentioning as a good book to get you back in the habit if you've been out for awhile.
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet (Historical fiction)
The first book in a series about a cathedral being built in the middle ages. Brilliantly written, with plenty of romance, thrills and historical context to go around. This may not be exactly a "quick read" at over 1,000 pages, but it's still a good one. The Library Journal says the book "will appeal more to lovers of exciting adventure stories than true devotees of historical fiction." Sold.
Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (Chick lit)
Meet Candace "Cannie" Shapiro, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who one day opens up a magazine and finds a column penned by her ex-boyfriend that proclaims "Loving a larger woman is an act of courage in our world." Thoroughly humiliated, Cannie takes solace in tequila and her rat terrier Nifkin, and then proceeds down the road of redemption. "This is a must-read for any woman who struggles with body image, or for anyone who cares about someone who does," said Publisher's Weekly. I'm saving this one for the next time I'm sick, and need something engaging and fast to read.
Okay, so let me know: what did I miss? What did I list that should've been left off this list? Leave a comment below.
Like this post? Do me a solid and share it.
So here's my first foray into the world of video blogging and the world of BookTube. However, I decided to add a little twist to my videos: combine book reviews with an outdoor settings. Today I got out in the snow and reviewed Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus at Blandford Nature Center. Enjoy!
Two young illusionists are tapped at a young age to compete in a life-long challenge until one of them wins — meaning the other one dies. There are no rules, and it’s not clear how the game is played, only that each illusionist must use his or her magical powers on a “chessboard” which, it turns out, is the circus itself (called Le Cirque des Rêves). The story jumps around in time and perspective (I believe there are 16 different points of views in the book), but everything comes together in the end.
The book has a very ethereal feel to it through all 400 pages, making for some intricate and other-worldly scenes. It all felt very “steampunk” to me, if you’re familiar with that term. The book is not a quick read — it spans 30 years of the characters’ lives (more if you consider back stories), and it jumps around not only in perspective but in time as well. If you’re one of those people that can read books twice, this might be a good book to read over again with new perspective. There’s a lot going on in the plot that doesn’t make much sense until later, and I have a feeling I missed a lot of things reading it the first time.
(Personally, I have too many books on my to-read list to read the same book twice, although I understand why other people do it.)
So here’s what I thought about the book — no spoilers:
Generally speaking, I thought the book was well-written; Morgenstern does an excellent job setting the mood and atmosphere with her language and structure choices. There were several references to Shakespeare, and I liked that this book forced me out of my comfort zone a bit. I’m not usually a fan of the supernatural or romance, and this book had a lot of both of those genres.
My favorite character was Poppet. She felt the least flat and cardboard-like, and Morgenstern allowed her to be a real person. But honestly, the main reason I liked reading this book because it was recommended by so many people I know, so now I can join the conversation — and let’s face it, there are a lot of conversations going on about this book.
This book felt really scattered and unfocused to me. I got the impression from all the positive reviews of this book that most folks actually enjoyed that element of the book. It feels like many of the people who loved this book spend a lot of time reading the the Young Adult genre; this isn’t a young adult book, though it has a lot of elements from the genre that appeal to its readers (fantasy, romance, mysterious goings-on that are never fully explained). The difference between this book and most YA books is that it moves fairly slowly. There’s lots of description and scene-setting, which if you’re not used to that kind of style (i.e. read lots of YA books), this book might seem sort of unique and, well, magical.
When it comes to the characters, I’m not sure I was ever fully engaged in the actual competition between the two protagonists. The stakes never seemed very high, because 1) it was never fully explained what the stakes were and 2) there was no ending of the competition. Supposedly the game doesn’t end until one of them dies, but how can you die when all you are doing is creating cool tents? (And believe me, these are some pretty cool tents — probably my favorite part about the book was reading about the various magical tents.)
The love story really could’ve used some more development (though I’ll admit a couple of stirrings deep in my chest at certain parts). I wished that each of the main characters, Celia especially, had more flaws to overcome (maybe that’s why YA folks love this book so much — I feel like, generally speaking, the YA genre doesn’t like its main characters to be too complex).
I also had a hard time following the timelines of this book, so if you haven’t read it yet, it might be worth it to take some notes about what happens when, at least mentally.
All in all, the book was worth reading. I’m giving it 3 snowballs out of 5, because of the risks the author took in writing it, and because it forced me out of my literary fiction genre a bit. Pick it up on sale if you get the chance, and definitely go see the movie when it comes out (because although there’s only just the beginning of a glimmer of a movie, we all know this book was written to eventually be a screenplay. Good for Morgenstern: I think all authors should make gobs and gobs of [ethical] money.)
Blandford Nature CenterI’m biased about Blandford Nature Center for several reasons: first, it’s really close to my house, and I love that there’s this bit of nature nestled in the middle of the western suburbs of Grand Rapids. I walk Howie here, I run here, I’ve even ridden my mountain bike on the trails (though I learned later that you are NOT supposed to do that — so please don’t be a jerk and ignore their rules).
I also love Blandford because it’s connected to my stepson Henry’s school, CA Frost Environmental Academy, which puts an emphasis on outdoor learning for kids, which I’m all about. Our family has a membership here, which is very affordable and goes to support a very good cause. I highly recommend you invest in a membership if you can swing it, because of the amazing resource this organization offers the community.
Blandford’s educational programs are also pretty fantastic, especially the SugarBush festival the Center puts on every year.
You can visit Blandford at 1715 Hillburn Ave NW in Grand Rapids, MI 49504, and cost of admission is $3 (which, come on people, is amazingly affordable, but if you’re a Grand Rapidian, you should definitely buy a membership).
Have you read The Night Circus? Let me know what you thought in the comments.
Like this post? Do me a solid and share it:
Jill Hinton Wolfe