Five Literary Loves

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.

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Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.


  1. I haven’t read all of these, but on your recommendation I read People of the Book, which I found to be engaging, educational, and exceptionally artistic. Thank you for allowing us to benefit from your vast history as an avid reader!

    1. I think you’d love Abide with Me — it’s on my bookshelf in my office. And I know you’d love Soldier of the Great War. I’ll try to get the audio from the library for you. xox

  2. I love that we feel the same way about ABIDE WITH ME – it’s my favorite of Strout’s books, too! I absolutely love it. I haven’t read any of your other suggestions though so am getting organized on doing that asap. xox

    1. ABIDE WITH ME made me cry. The ending was so tender. Sigh.

      Oh, I really think since you were just in Italy, you will love A Soldier of the Great War. And I can only imagine you’d love The People of the Book. It’s stunning. Let me know! xox

  3. I’ve read two of your five. Funny, I have Lonesome Dove on my nightstand. I’m making my way through it again, slowly, but it’s fun to pick up and read after a long day. I am requesting A Soldier of The Great War right now.

    1. I know! Because Lonesome Dove is so long, there’s tons that I miss each time I read it. The last time I read it I thought a lot about the friendship between Captain Call and Gus and how they understood each other and respected one another, even when they didn’t agree with the other.

      Soldier of the Great War has some of the most beautiful scenes ever. Agh! When you read it, let me know and we should talk about it. xox

  4. I hope you circle back to Winter’s Tale – magical on all levels…

    1. Oh that’s such a good recommendation! Thank you. John and I were just talking about you this morning. Miss you guys.


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