Musings

My Favorite Reads:

Sophie Kinsella: Shopaholic Series is close to my heart. I fell in love with this author after the first chapter and have read all her books except for the newest one (I am 140th on the hold list at the library). She is funny and her heroines are infinitely likeable. Her stand alone novels are also great so if you like her style, read them all! She also wrote several books before she became famous, under the name of Madeleine Wickham. These are written in a very different style and not as great, but still make for nice bathtub reading.

Douglas Adams: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an amazing series that is imaginative and funny and a complete work of genius. It’s sci-fi without the nerdy aspect, so anyone and everyone would enjoy it. He’s a genius.

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter Series is great for bathtub reading. It is pure entertainment and can be read over and over and still be entertaining. Even if you hate reading you will love these books (and the movies).

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is the best sci-fi trilogy I have ever read. The guy even made up a whole new language. The movies are also excellent, so if you’re feeling lazy…

C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia is a seven book fantasy series that is a thinly veiled story of Christianity. Even so, it’s entertaining and creative.

Phillip Pullman: His Dark Materials is a wonderful trilogy. The books are highly imaginative and not just for kids.

Sara Gruen: Water for Elephants is the best book about the circus I’ve ever read. If you’re curious about this subject definitely give this a go.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love is a bit cheesy and ok, a bit of a self-help book but I like it. It’s the kind of journey I would undertake if I ever felt the need to “find myself” after a painful divorce. Good light-hearted reading. In the sequel Committed, she examines the institution of marriage. It is also very insightful and well worth reading.

Curtis Sittenfeld: Prep is a very entertaining account of life at a typical New England prep school. This girl’s experience boarding school is somewhat similar to my own, and indeed anyone who went to boarding school or is curious about it would enjoy reading this. Though some may find the protagonist a bit obsessive and annoying, I believe this is how the author means to portray her and in fact this lends another rare dimension to the book. Well-written and easy to read, it is also something of a modern coming of age novel. Her articles for Salon, her new book American Wife, and her other novel The Man of my Dreams are also worth reading.

David SedarisMe Talk Pretty One Day is the first Sedaris book I ever read and it remains my favorite, although in all his stories he manages to be hilarious and serious all at the same time. He can make the most mundane things interesting- I especially love his story Big Boy on taking a dump. He is a master of humor writing.

Nora Ephron: I feel bad about my neck is a great book about aging. She’s witty, honest, and easy to read. This is a must read for humor writers and anyone going through menopause or aging. I’m nowhere near menopause but after reading this book I feel that I can really to women who are going through this. The daughter of screenwriters, she was also a writer for many well known films, most notably When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle. During her career as a journalist, she also published many articles, essay collections Crazy Salad, Scribble Scribble, Wallflower at the Orgy, and a novel Heartburn. Her newest book, I Remember Nothing continues along the same lines.

Augusten Burroughs: Dry is heart-wrenchingly truthful account of the author’s struggle with alcoholism. All of his books are based on his crazy life. Running with Scissors, an account of his childhood was the book that put him on the map. It was made into a movie in 2006. All of his books are incredibly gripping and of course, worth reading: Sellevision (about his career as a copywriter), Magical ThinkingPossible Side Effects, and A Wolf at the Table (about his father).

Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code is of course the book that made him famous, but all his books are page-turners, particularly for those interested in symbols or history.

Rick Bragg: All Over but the Shoutin’ is a beautifully written memoir about the author’s childhood in Alabama. The author writes with honesty and uses powerful imagery that I can still remember today.

Tony Parsons: Man and Boy is a beautiful story based on the author’s own life about a man who has to suddenly learn how to be good a single-dad. Man and Wife the sequel, and One for my Baby, are also worth reading. The protagonist is flawed but endearing. This one is quite a tear-jerker but superbly written and insightful. I also really enjoyed his book My Favorite Wife about an expat family in Shanghai.

Wally LambShe’s Come Undone is a poignant and funny story about a girl who battles with obesity. His other book is good but not great.

John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces is a hilarious read that takes place in Louisiana. I consider it the great southern novel. It’s a classic, the characters are deeply flawed, the story is awesome, and it’s funny as hell. What’s not to love?

Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes were Watching God is my favorite piece of African-American literature. She is an amazing writer and this story is an absolute page turner.

Alan Paton: Cry the Beloved Country is a beautifully written book about South-Africa. Written pre-apartheid, Paton explores the conditions that led to it in almost poetic prose. I read this in high school and have never forgotten it.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun takes us back in history to the Nigerian-Biafran war. This compelling novel stands out from other stories about the horrors of war and genocide- it offers that little something extra.

Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness is the first book I read about Africa and it is still one of the best. It is a bit racist as it from a white man’s point of view, but it is nonetheless masterfully written. Kurtz is a dark and fascinating character.

Robert Penn Warren: All the King’s Men is about the rise of a politician named Willie Stark, inspired by Huey P. Long, a governor and senator of Louisiana in the 1930’s. It is a brilliant book that delves into the depths of human character, its desire, hubris, and vulnerability to change.

Edith Wharton: House of Mirth is a classic that I never tire of reading and also my favorite of all her books, although she wrote many great ones, including Age of Innocence. This book gives us an insightful view of what it really costs to “keep up with the Joneses”.

Henry James: The Wings of a Dove has a truly great plot and is written by a masterful writer. You can’t go wrong with Henry James- he’s an oldie but a goody. The movie is also excellent. Helena Bonham Carter plays a terrific Kate. If you love this story, check out his other ones: The American, Daisy Miller, The Turn of the Screw, The Ambassadors, and The Portrait of a Lady.

Charles Dickens: Tale of Two Cities is the easiest to read of Dickens’ books. He’s brilliant of course and one should read them all but start with this one.

Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights is dark and haunting. I prefer it to Jane Eyre, although both are great. Heathcliff is a fascinating character.

James Joyce: Dubliners is an easy to read collection of short stories by arguably the greatest Irish author of all time. Ulysses, of course, is his masterpiece but it is a gargantuan and complex work best understood through taking a class. That being said, it is well worth reading, and if you choose to tackle it on your own, there are plenty of books about Ulysses that can help you out. If you’ve heard of “stream of consciousness” writing, he invented it.

Herman Melville: Moby Dick is a book about whaling that is heavy with symbolism and thick of narrative. If you can trudge through all that, it is beautiful. The struggle between man and beast, the ferocious ocean, and Captain Ahab make this book an unforgettable classic.

George Eliot: Silas Marner is the easiest of her books to breeze through, although Middlemarch is arguably better. It is very entertaining for a classic.

J.B. Priestly: An Inspector Calls is a gripping play that studies the question of guilt and responsibility. It is amazing! See it in the theatre if you can, failing that, read it.

Arthur MillerDeath of a Salesman is (along with the previous entry) the best play I’ve ever read and seen. Willy Loman is a poignant example of the working man who tries all his life to bring home the bacon, to be a good father, to be a good man.

John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids is a well-written old school example of the ever pervasive post-apocalyptic genre. Inspired by H.G.Wells The War of the Worlds this is a much lesser known but very entertaining sci-fi novel.

David Guterson: Snow Falling on Cedars is a haunting book with complex and intriguing characters. Set in a remote island of Washington state, the book explores issues of racism against Japanese-Americans.

Murakami: Dance, Dance, Dance is typical Murakami in its most surreal and fantastical form, but a bit easier to read. This well-known Japanese author has written a plethora of books but many of them are hard to understand. If you enjoy this one and feel adventurous, go ahead and attempt one of these: Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase. For a more realistic read, Norwegian Wood is the riveting coming of age novel that first catapulted the author into fame.

Sebastian Faulks: Birdsong is a classic war romance story and a must-read.

Jostein Gaarder: Sophie’s World is philosophy 101 in an easy to read book.

Anita Shreve: The Weight of Water is my favorite of all her books, although she wrote many great ones. It is both haunting and moving, altogether unforgettable.

Nick Hornby: About a Boy is his best book. Great and easy read.

Barbara Kingsolver: The Poisonwood Bible is a story of missionaries in the Congo. It is an eye-opening if not outright life changing book and one of my favorites of all time.

Diana Gabaldon: Outlander is a long but very entertaining series of novels set in Scotland. Rife with time travel, adventure, and romance, they are scintillating bodice rippers with a historical twist.

Alexander McCall Smith: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a great series starring a big lady in Botswana who starts her own detective agency. His other books are more difficult but these are outstanding.

Colleen McCullough: The Thorn Birds is THE epic Australian family saga. I read it as a child and still remember it. You must read it or at least watch it.

Jhumpa Lahiri: The Namesake is a beautiful account of an Indian couple that immigrate to England to start a small family. All her books are great, and she is my favorite Indian writer.

Amy Tan: The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Saving Fish From Drowning, The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. I actually couldn’t pick just one of her books because they are all awesome. She is hands down my favorite Asian-American author of all time. In the last book, one of my favorites, the author shares her thoughts on her life and work.

Maxine Hong KingstonThe Woman Warrior is a powerful mix between memoir and Chinese folk tales. It is a classic in Asian-American literature. She examines what it means to be a woman in Chinese culture. A must-read.

Pearl S. BuckThe Good Earth is a great book written by a white woman who grew up in China. It tells the story of a family in a poor Chinese village before the 1949 revolution. Written in beautiful and simple prose, this is a classic.

Yiyun Li: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, is a book of moving short stories. She is a bit of an unknown but I discovered her at one of Hong Kong’s literary events. Her novel The Vagrants is an excellent account of young Chinese citizens struggling to emerge under the dark cloak of communism. Her newest publication, Golden Boy, Emerald Girl is another collection of memorable short stories. She is a young writer to watch for sure.

Lisa See: The Interior is a gritty mystery novel set in China. It’s not one of her more well-known works, but I found the others to be a bit girly and tragic in the Dream of the Red Chamber way. But they are still worth reading because despite the sappy tragic tone, they do teach you a lot about Chinese culture.

Jung Chang: Wild Swans is the best written saga I have ever read, and it spans three generations of women. If you want to know about China, read this!

Daphne Du MaurierRebecca is her best and most well-known work. All her books are amazing but this is one of my favorite books of all time.

Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express is my favorite of all her books, because it takes place on a train. She is the best and most prolific mystery writer of all time, so there is no shortage to choose from.

Dorothy Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries are some of her best works. She’s almost as good as Agatha, albeit not as prolific.

Yann MartelLife of Pi is a story about a boy who survives a sinking boat. It is darkly imaginative and allegorical. One really gains insight into the character of humanity, instinct, and survival.

Gabriel Garcia MarquezOne Hundred Years of Solitude is my favorite of his books. It is a true family saga but the skipping around in time makes it interesting. As a bonus you get a little history lesson on Latin America.

Isabelle AllendeHouse of Spirits is another Latin American family saga but a very different one, I swear. This is my favorite of her books although she has many great ones.

Steve Martin: Shopgirl is a dark novella by a famous actor, which was turned into a movie. It’s a short but entertaining read about a lonely shop girl.

Alice Sebold: The Lovely Bones is the book that put her on the map. Narrated by a murdered teenage girl, it is a unique and extremely well-written story. Check out her other books: Lucky and The Almost Moon.

Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita is his best known work and is racy as hell.

Lionel ShriverWe need to talk about Kevin is a very dark but well-written book about a school shooting. We get a look at the mind of a killer from the mother’s point of view. This is a riveting and unforgettable book.

Peter SagalThe Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them) is an insightful book about vices. This is a highly entertaining read even for someone who has few (or even disapproves of) vices. I especially love the section on swinging.

Marshall Rosenberg: Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life

Augustus Napier and Carl Whitaker: The Family Crucible is a must-read for anyone who grew up in a less than perfect family. Educational yet entertaining, it is a sort of science book that reads like a novel, providing an insightful view of family dynamics through a case study of one family in therapy. Best psychology book I’ve ever read.

Jon Krakauer: Into Thin Air is the book that inspired me to want to climb Everest. After huffing and puffing through the Inca Trail I have since given up that dream, but it is truly an inspiration to those who have always wanted to brave the unpredictable forces of nature. His book Into the Wild is also a captivating account of the same sort of principle. Moral of the story, Mother Nature usually wins. He has also written Under the Banner of Heaven and Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman–as well as numerous magazine articles.

Donald Richardson: Great Zeus and all his Children is a great book to get started on Greek Mythology. I have always been fascinated with mythology, Greek or otherwise and it started with this book, given to me by my favorite English teacher over 10 years ago.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince, which has been translated into more than 190 languages, is an absolute classic for children and adults alike.

Terry Laughlin: Total Immersion is the book that taught me how to swim properly. Even after years of lessons and being a lifeguard, I still wasn’t a terribly efficient freestyler. Nobody believes me when I say a book changed my swimming life, but it did, I promise!

Levitt & Dubner: Freakonomics was a unique and revolutionary book on economics that was easy to read, entertaining, and educational. I have no interest in economics and I devoured this book. SuperFreakonomics rocks too.

Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers tells us the story behind a genius. All of his books provide an interesting perspective and are well worth reading.

As a side note, I rarely read poetry, but of all the poets I have read, these the best: W.H. Auden, William Butler Yeats, and Seamus Heaney. If you have time, read one of their poems, study it, and contemplate it for a while. My advice is, don’t try to digest more than one poem at a time.

About Jean C Wong

I am a world traveler, writer, photographer, and teacher. I've lived all over the world and speak 5 languages.

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