When a story stays with me for years after I read it, I categorize it in my mind as a Literary Love. It’s usually a combination of the characters, the story, and stunning prose that causes it to land in this special category.
Not always, but most of the time, when I find a favorite book, I reread it several times, take down favorite quotes, and give the book away for gifts at Christmas, or birthday parties.
These are a few of my all-time favorite Literary Loves.
In no particular order:
The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.
I was in the middle of reading March, and was plodding my way through, when someone mentioned they liked The People of the book a lot more. I dropped March and picked this one up.
The structure alone of this novel absolutely mesmerized me. The characters tugged at my heart strings, the anticipation clung to me, and the depth of the story stayed with me. Based on a true story, Brooks structured the novel almost like an historical mosaic, or intricate tapestry.
When Australian rare-book expert, Hannah Heath, is asked to conserve a priceless Jewish Hagaddah, she find herself in a multi-layered and quite unexpected adventure to unlock the book’s sacred secrets.
Told in part from Hannah’s perspective, the novel also jumps back and forth in history, weaving a remarkable story that makes it difficult to put down.
A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin
My friend Sally recommended, A Winter’s Tale, but instead of following her advice, I went to the library and checked out A Soldier of the Great War, which was so rich and beautiful I could hardly put it down.
This World War I saga is one of the most brilliant novels I have ever read.
Beginning in Italy, in August of 1964, Alessandro Giuliani, a tired old man, meets an illiterate factory worker on a bus ride, and ends up entertaining him with the story of his life. Alessandro begins his life story with his affluent childhood as the son of a prominent attorney, and heroically narrates the stories of his life as a soldier, deserter, war criminal, and husband and father. There is a scene in a prison cell that absolutely riveted me in every way. Mark Helprin is a master story-teller. If you haven’t A Soldier of the Great War, go to the bookstore and buy it. You won’t regret it.
Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout
I realize that Abide with Me is Strout’s least popular novel, and yet it is my absolute favorite of her stories. This is probably because it’s about a small-town minister who’s dealing with a broken heart. Tyler Caskey is trying to figure out how to get on with his life after his wife died, and also pastor his church as faithfully as he knows how.
It’s so easy for people to believe we have to be strong and soldier on, hold it all together and do everything to not fall apart. Abide with Me, masterfully shows us that our greatest strength comes from learning to be vulnerable and open-hearted, and ultimately by letting people in and love us just as we are.
Elizabeth Strout is a master novelist, weaving rich prose and honest dialogue into the various shades and shadows of people’s lives. I get the feeling that Strout is a really quiet, good listener, because her novels feel like you’re overhearing a long conversation between several people. She manages to reveal some of the most personal grit and pain, along with the most tender redemption in people’s lives without missing a beat. The Burgess Boys and Olive Kitteridge are also excellent novels. She’s also got a couple new novels out that I’ll be reading over the summer.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This novel should be required reading for anyone who has ever gone overseas on any sort of missionary adventure. Narrated by four daughters and the wife of a Baptist missionary, it tells the life-long saga of a American family from the South that moves to the Congo in the 1950’s to preach the gospel.
Kingsolver is such a master novelist that you could pretty much turn to any single page, read one sentence, and know exactly which daughter is doing the talking. This story is absolutely heartbreaking, breathtaking, and stunning. I learned, I wept, and I marveled. Some people really criticize Kingsolver for this sweeping masterpiece. Clearly, I’m not one of them. If you do some research, and read some of the interviews that she did about Poisonwood, you’ll see she was really trying to tell an allegorical story about how America interacted with the Congo during the 1900’s. Right or wrong, good or bad, the novel is magnificent. If you haven’t read it, you’ll find dozen at a used book store.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
So, I love this novel. I read it the first time in the 8th grade, and laughed my head off and got quite a literary education. I’ve read it about three times since then and I think it’s a masterpiece. I don’t normally read Westerns, but this is an exceptional story.
Lonesome Dove won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and became a long-time bestseller for years to come. The mini-series starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones is so true to the book it’s startling.
The other day, my kids watched the miniseries when we went on a long car ride, and they both liked it.
It’s about a long cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the late 1800’s. You’ll laugh, weep, and shake your head. If you’re a writer and are trying to learn how to write good dialogue, McMurtry is one of the best out there. He’s incredible.
How about you? What are some of your Literary Loves?
I’d love to add a few to my list.
See below to share this post.
Please sign up for my Newsletter, Fragments.