So, here's the second half of the list. Yes, it does indeed contain both Louise Erdrich and Barbara Kingsolver.
13. East of Eden, John Steinbeck- A great book for when you're in the mood for some dusty atmosphere. Not quite as dusty as The Grapes of Wrath. I have my limits on depressing, and that one is just too much. This is a retelling of the Cain and Abel story, which while not entirely undepressing, is still a great read.
14. A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson- I struggled to pick a book by Bill Bryson, because everything he has written I think is smart and hilarious. I opted for this classic about the author and his friend hiking the Appalachian Trail. They are not experience hikers, by any means, and you don't have to be a seasoned hiker to enjoy this book. It's just funny and wonderful. I recommend anything and everything by Bill Bryson, but if you're only going to read one book by him, this should be it.
15. A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman- I was so fascinated by this book the first time that I read it. It is essentially what the title says it is. A look at each of our senses, how they work, and how they affect our perception of the world. The writing is beautiful, and Ackerman is just so smart. Even if the premise of this book doesn't interest you, I think you will find a lot to appreciate in its pages.
16. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley- This is a modern day King Lear story. This time the setting is a modern-day farm. I love to read retellings of classic stories, and this one is great. Full of family drama, as is the original. :)
17. bird by bird, Anne Lamott- Anyone who is interested in writing should own this book. Lamott is funny and so very wise. She writes about the craft of writing in a way that makes you feel like she really truly does it, hard work and all. It's a great book to pull out and just read a small chapter or two, if you're feeling frustrated.
18. Nine Parts of Desire, Geraldine Brooks- Before Geraldine Brooks was a novelist, she was a journalist. This is a chronicle of her time spent among Muslim women and gives a fascinating look at their inner lives. If you're female, this is worth a read. It will make you appreciate your own freedoms, but also give you more insight into what is a very stereotyped culture.
19. The Executioner's Song, Norman Mailer- This book is marketed as fiction, but it really isn't. It's fiction in the same way that In Cold Blood is fiction. The events actually happened. These people really existed. It comes across more as investigative reporting and an eye-opening portrait of a killer. It's a very long book, but it is broken up into very small segments and you will finish it in no time.
20. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos- This book is everything you might imagine. It's raunchy and heat soaked. It's full of drama and has a wonderful sense of atmosphere. It's another Pulitzer-winner, so the raunchiness obviously is the good kind, not the smutty kind. haha
21. The Red Convertible, Louise Erdrich- This is a short story collection that basically chronicles Erdrich's entire career. I think if you had to pick one Erdrich book this would be the one to pick, because most of these stories are contained in some form in her novels. The stories are wonderful all on their own, but they also serve as a great starting place from which to explore the rest of her work. And you certainly should explore the rest of her work.
22. Plays Well With Others, Alan Gurganus- Probably best known for The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, Gurganus made me look at writing in a whole new way with this book. I stumbled across it in high school and was obsessed with it for a long time. It is the story of three friends in New York City in the 80's, and all that that entails. AIDS, drugs, etc. But what is most enthralling to me is the writing that Gurganus seems to have just invented. He strings together adjectives and phrases that give this book its very own language. It's hard to describe, but very obvious to see upon reading.
23. The New GRANTA Book of the American Short Story, edited by Richard Ford- Everyone should own at least one really big book of short stories. This is, to me, the most bang for your buck. It's huge, although the drawback is that it's not exactly suitable for carrying with you. Still, if you like modern American short stories, you will find excellent ones here. And plenty of them. On the other hand, if you prefer classic short stories, or British, or Irish, or stories about Latino women going through bad break-ups, there are anthologies for you too. They apparently can anthologize anything these days, no matter how specific. This just happens to be my favorite.
24. The Lotus Still Blooms, Joan Gattuso- The basic beliefs of Buddhism are layed out in this very accessible, practical book. I read it much too quickly the first time through, but it's hard no to speed through it. You certainly don't have to be Buddhist to enjoy this and gain some very valuable insights that you can use in your everyday life.
25. Anything by Barbara Kingsolver- This ended up being last on my list because I couldn't pick a book. I love Barbara Kingsolver and everything she has written. I love that her writing, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, is deeply connected to the earth. I feel I should recommend The Poisonwood Bible, arguably her best. And it's true, I was deeply affected and devastated by its power when I first read it. But I have discovered her other works are no less wonderul. I am partial to Animal Dreams, but I also love her living-off-the-land memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. And her essay collections are warm and witty and earthy. Whatever you pick, just read her. It will simply make you happy.
There you go, that's my list. It has made me very, very happy just to type this all up for whoever cares to read it. What would be on your list?