A woman came into the bookstore the other day, and she asked me for good book suggestions. I started picking things I had loved, but I would describe them and she would almost immediately dismiss them: "No. Don't want to get into that." (I think she even waved them away.) This happened with book after book after book.
I realized, picky readers are almost as bad as picky eaters.
She said to me, a couple of minutes later, that once she's started a book she refuses to stop reading it, even if it's bad. "Oh," I said. "No wonder you're so picky." I'm the opposite, I am willing to try almost anything, but I put it down easily if I don't like it.
So, here are the books I recommend most:
1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
At the top of my list of favourites. It's a good book for both boys and girls (or men and women, as the case may be) that tells the fictional story of two Jewish cousins in WWII era New York who create one of the first comic books. So well written! Pulitzer prize winner! Really!
2. Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginides
The best book I read last year. Sweeping in scope, fabulous writing, great. Follows generations of a Greek family, culminating in the birth of an intersexed child whose path to adulthood is the focus of most of the novel. Don't let the fact that it's an Oprah book put you off.
3. The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
Whenever I try to describe this I call it "literary chick-lit". I think a better description might be my "rainy weekend novel". I reread this every couple of years or so. It never fails to pull me in and leave me feeling good. Smart. Funny. Follows Jane Rosenal from the age of 14 to thirty-something (twenty-something?). It is kind of a series of short stories, each chapter a piece of her life, moving forward months or years in between. Jane is sardonic, funny, likeable, and infinitely realistic. This book makes me happy.
4. Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
I think I need to re-read this soon, as it's been years since I read it, but I remember it blew me away. Fairly dark, so I hardly ever recommend it, because I know lots of people don't really like reading about incest (not that I would call it my cup of tea), but so beautifully written, and the characters are so well-crafted and true, that it definitely makes my list of favourite books ever.
5. Then Again by Elyse Friedman
This gem of a novel is, unfortunately, not available on Amazon, although Chapters/Indigo seems to have it. Whereas The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing was funny and smart, this is funny, smart and weird. And it's Canadian! Michelle Schaefer's brother, Joel, is an uber-successful Hollywood type who gets his kicks spending his money in the craziest ways possible. This time, he invites his two sisters back to their childhood home in Toronto, for a "Blast from the past" party. The house has been recreated to the minutest detail, including lookalike actors hired to play their dead parents. So good.