There’s nothing like the feeling that comes from reading a really, really excellent book. One whose literary power is so strong that you miss your subway stop, stay up until dawn devouring, or forgo any semblance of a social life just because you’re so damn engrossed. Finding these gems aren’t easy—what makes an enjoyable story is largely relative, not to mention there’s a lot of overrated junk out there, too—so our editors have rounded up the works that we’ve come to love.
From literary fiction by Donna Tartt, Jonathan Tropper, and Phillip Roth, historical fiction by the likes of Hillary Mantle, works of magical realism by Tom Robbins, and even a self-help guide or two, here are are the books that that have caused us to miss our train stop—and ones we recommend wholeheartedly.
A look at the books our editors can read over and over again!
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
While this sprawling novel might not have the most realistic plot, it's one hell of a story. Set in a small, liberal Vermont college, we meet narrator Richard Papen—a lower-class brain from California who immediately is accepted into a clique of five shadowy, sophisticated, highbrow students who study Classics (they quote Greek and Latin ad nauseum.) Eventually, they tell Richard that they've accidentally killed a townie during a Bacchanalian frenzy, but when one of the group's members threatens to spill the secret, we learn the gang—Richard too, now—kills him, as well. (This is all revealed early on, so I'm not giving anything away.)
It's satirical, suspenseful, slightly melodramatic, and a really, really good read.
—Perrie Samotin, Site Director, StyleCaster
American Pastoral by Phillip Roth
Not a light read, but an essential one if you're a fan of Roth—and Pulitzer-winning fiction. It follows Seymour "Swede" Levov, a successful Jewish American businessman and former high school star athlete from Newark, New Jersey whose upper middle class life is turned upside down by an act of political terorism by his shy, beloved daughter.
The novel exhaustively references social unrest throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but does so in a compulsively readable way. I really reccomend this book, which pretty much lives on every "Best Novels of All Time" list known to man.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
I love social satire, and this fantastic novel's got it in spades. Set in Texas during America's war in Iraq, it follows the surviving members of the Bravo Squad, who become national heroes after Fox News footage of their firefight against Iraqi insurgents surfaces. The novel takes place during one day of their media-friendly "Victory Tour" at Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. The squad meets a number of characters—big-shot businessmen, cheerleaders, fans, even Destiny's Child plays a small role, all of whom will make you cringe at how spot-on Fountain's observations are.
A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan
A collection of time-hopping linked stories about people on the fringes of the music industry, Egan's novel is smart, daring, and very modern (one chapter is told entirely in PowerPoint.) I blew through this one a weekend, and highy reccomend it to pretty much anyone—even those who don't love reading thanks to the keep-you-on-your-toes format and quirky characters.
Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins
I'm a huge fan of magical realism, but I'm kind of picky—it's tough to find good, relatively new novels in the genre… that I haven't already read (holler at Haruki Murakami). Published in 2003, 'Villa Incognito' isn't quite brand new, but Tom Robbins is pretty much the master of bizarre fiction that blends the impossible with the historical and very, very realistic. As with many of Robbins's other works, 'Villa Incognito' is hyper-sexual, hilarious, and filled with delicious wordplay and riveting scenarios that devoted readers will love.
—Rachel Krause, Associate Editor, Daily Makeover
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
In the style of the great, also Latin American Marquez before her, Isabel Allende's 1982 debut novel is rich with history and gorgeous prose that sparkles, even when translated from its original Spanish. 'House of the Spirits' is loosely autobiographical—the manuscript was adapted from a letter Allende penned to her 100-year-old grandfather upon hearing news of his failing health—and it tells the story of four generations of the Trueba family, and is rife with political commentary set in Allende's native Chile. In 1993, it was also made into a film starring Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Winona Ryder, Glenn Close, and Antonio Banderas. Yes, that movie exists.
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
I'm ashamed to say I don't read as much as I should, but one book I'd love to recommend is called Empty Mansions. It's about the mysterious (and very long) life of the massively wealthy Huguette Clark, who lived most of her days in a New York hospital—on her own free will—instead of in one of the many multi-million dollar homes she owned around the country. If you like history and the fabulous lives of New York City's elite Gilded Age families, you'll love this book.
—Emily Kanoff, Writer
Here is New York by E.B. White
Though this short book was published in 1949, it perfectly captures a snapshot of the spirit of New York in 56 pages. Witty, poignant, and downright true, E.B. White manages to put into words the wonder of New York: That it bestows the gift of privacy and the gift of loneliness; That there are three kinds of New York: The New York of the man or woman born here, the New York of the commuter, and the New York of someone who has been born somewhere else but came to New York in quest of something. The words may be 65 years old, but knowing that New York's spirit is the same today and that White could capture that so long ago makes the book magical.
—Augusta Falletta, Associate Editor, Beauty High
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
I hadn't originally planned on reading this, but once I started I couldn't put it down—and wound up finishing it in one day. The main character takes himself on a quest for learning the truth behind a recurring dream and cashes in his entire life's savings to follow his Personal Legend to find treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. Through meeting an Alchemist, the love of his life, and a slew of other characters who help him grow, he continues on and learns about the Soul of the World while fulfilling his personal destiny. If you get to the end of this book and it doesn't inspire you to go change the world, nothing will.
Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins
Part love story, part self-discovery story, and completely blow-the-top-off-of-everything-you-thought-you-ever-knew, Tom Robbins' Skinny Legs and All takes you on your own journey to learn more about yourself through this ridiculously entertaining, thought-provoking novel. Through seven "veils," each of which represents a piece of society that masks truth, the book peels away everything that may block or distort the truth in the world, all with some relatable characters (and even some inanimate objects as characters — namely, a Can o' Beans).
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking By Susan Cain
I'm an introvert. I used to feel guilty for not being able to mold to the "extrovert ideal". Introverts are most definitely stereotyped (in the workforce especially). Cain has been getting a lot of attention in the past couple of years with this book as well as a recent Ted Talk on the same topic. Tara Gentile, a business strategist and speaker) has also been targeting the "quiet" community. I think it's pretty buzzy.
—Candice Napier, Graphic Designer
Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky
I love finding ways to stay organized and effective. I'm a full-time freelance designer, and throughout the week my head becomes so filled with new ideas (for different clients, mind you) that without a streamlined processes I'd be lost. This book had a ton of great tips on how to get the ideas out of your head, and into the real world.
And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
If you've ever worked in an office, there will be parts of this book that you will make you sigh out loud with recognition. (Ditto if you've ever been laid off.) It's a hilarious ode to the modern office, with all its myriad quirks and characters, and will no doubt help you laugh at any of your own workplace disorders.
—Laurel Pinson, Editor in Chief
Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez
A terrific read for anyone that works in a city and spends too much time sitting at a desk and/or on social media: Lopez offers an insightful, almost meditative journey through (arguably) the last truly wild part of the world: the Far North. You'll get so engrossed in the way he describes this enchanting landscape that you may just miss your transit stop.
A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin
Poke fun all you want, but the series of fantasy books that inspired the hit HBO series "Game of Thrones" really are freaking awesome. You will get hooked so fast it will make your head spin, and the good news is you won't run out of ammo to fuel your addiction for months. Then, hopefully by the time you finish the fifth book in the series, Martin will be close to releasing Book 6 ....
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
The book jacket may seem stuffy—Wolf Hall is the first in a series that reimagines life in 1500s England, under Henry VIII—but Mantel's writing is an absolute feast, and makes this History 101 topic come alive in fresh and modern ways. Kings! Courtly intrigue! Torture!
Paper Towns by John Green
Green—the guy behind "The Fault in Our Stars"—is one of the best authors writing today, because he really knows how to take you there. When you read a scene in this book, you can picture exactly what he's talking about.
—Kristen Bousquet, Writer