Reading Checklists and Recommendations

Nothing brings joy to my heart quite like book recommendations and lists. Combining both is about as good as a Tuesday gets.

I may not have any specific intentions (yet) to follow PopSugar’s Reading Challenge checklist for 2015, but I CAN examine my bookish efforts from 2014 and make recommendations as appropriate.



I’ll avoid repeating answers as much as possible to broaden the range of recommendations. Happy reading!

A book with more than 500 pages: Anna Karenina. A true masterpiece, and a surprisingly readable one if you get the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation.

A classic romance: Wuthering Heights. Spare me the retelling of this awful book, please.

A book that became a movie: Women in Love. Apparently the 1969 film version was one of the first movies to show male genitalia. I was decidedly not a woman in love with Women in Love, but who could forget the naked wrestling scene?

A book published this year: Here’s Looking at You by the glorious Mhairi McFarlane. It’s my least favorite of her books, but all of them make me laugh out loud.

A book with a number in the title: One Hundred Years of Solitude. I can’t say enough good things about this strange and beautiful history of the (fictional) Buendía family in the (fictional) town of Macondo.

A book written by someone under 30: Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, is very young (26). It shows.

A book with nonhuman characters: The Call of the Wild, a.k.a. the dark horse of The 100 Greatest Books Challenge. I really didn’t see it coming, but this book is fascinating.

A funny book: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. There’s a scene where she interviews Colin Firth that had me in hysterics. I choked on air.

A book by a female author: The Husband’s Secret. I sprinted through this on vacation, vaguely enjoyed it, and have not thought about it since.

A mystery or thriller: Gone Girl. A surprising read in all the most sinister ways. The first half is slow, but the second half more than makes up for it.

A book with a one-word title: Only Bossypants and Hamlet fulfill this one. And Hamlet is technically The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

A book of short stories: Does Winnie-the-Pooh count? That’s the best I can do for this one. It’s hilarious and adorable and one of the best books I read all year.

A book set in a different country: The Sun Also Rises. All the characters start off in Paris, and then travel to Pamplona for the bullfights. I’m anti-Hemingway but maybe not his target demographic? Shrug.

A nonfiction book: U.S. History for Dummies. My husband immigrated to the States this year, and I thought learning about the Boston Tea Party and William Howard Taft’s enormous bathtub would really help him understand his adoptive country. We read this together.

A popular author’s first book: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Would we call James Joyce “popular,” though? Or just famous? Anyway, it was a tedious read.

A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet: A Long Way Down. Nick Hornby is just brilliant, and A Long Way Down—along with its four suicidal protagonists—is beautifully, hilariously, insightfully written.

A book a friend recommended: The Book Thief. Very unique—I am a fan of Death as a narrator. I wasn’t completely won over by The Book Thief, but I’d like to read more from Markus Zusak.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning book: Apparently nothing I read this year has won the Pulitzer. But I’d recommend The Age of InnocenceTo Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved, and The Hours.

A book based on a true story: On the Road. The definitive American roadtrip and Beat novel. I was neutral about it at the time but remember it fondly now.

A book at the bottom of your to-read list: Absalom, Absalom! I’ve been putting off Faulkner’s books as much as possible, mainly because I have to read SO MANY of them for the 100 Greatest Books Challenge. It was better than I expected, but my feelings about Faulkner remain complicated.

A book your mom loves: I failed here. Sorry, Mom. I promise I’ll read Unbroken eventually.

A book that scares you: Dangerous Liaisons. It’s an excellent book, but the social dynamics and gender politics of 18th-century France are pretty disturbing.

A book more than 100 years old: Don Quixote. Published in 1605, this is one of the oldest books I read in 2014. It’s longer than it needs to be, but still feels fresh and fun 400+ years later.

A book based entirely on its cover: I had to read The Trial anyway, but I bought it on an impulse one day because I loved this cover. It’s a murky and infuriating story, as well as anticlimactic, but nevertheless an interesting look at the “justice” system.

A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t: I am guilty of this with Absalom, Absalom! It scared me off Faulkner for years.

A memoir: Bossypants. I listened to the audiobook (Tina Fey reads it herself) and loved it—particularly the story of her honeymoon.

A book you can finish in a day: Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s a little underwhelming overall, but short enough to tackle just “because.”

A book with antonyms in the title: It’s Not Me, It’s You—but this is probably a stretch as antonyms go. Mhairi McFarlane does chick lit right, with an emphasis on wit. Best line:

They’re babies. Twins. Ugly ones, actually, they look like haggis.

A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit: A Passage to India. Hopefully India itself will not be as boring as this book.

A book that came out the year you were born: Apparently the big names in 1989 were John Grisham, Amy Tan, Lois Lowry, John Irving, and Stephen King. I am ashamed to say that I have no relevant suggestions here.

A book with bad reviews: The God Delusion. Like most books with religious themes, this one had plenty of critics. I liked it.

A trilogy: I skimmed the Divergent trilogy last spring. Thumbs down.

A book from your childhood: The Princess Diaries. I’ve reread it every year since I was twelve, usually when I’m sick. Actually, I think it’s my cure-all.

A book with a love triangle: The Good Soldier. There are multiple love triangles in The Good Soldier, but as a reader I didn’t feel particularly invested in any of them.

A book set in the future: Brave New World. Not a favorite, but worth reading.

A book set in high school: The Mediator series. Old YA from Meg Cabot that saved me from boredom on several long-haul flights this year.

A book with a color in the title: The Golden Notebook. According to Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook is accidentally feminist. It’s also anti-war, intentionally (I think). I was happy with both themes.

A book that made you cry: I probably cried reading The Book Thief. I avoid sad books whenever possible.

A book with magic: I’m going to repeat One Hundred Years of Solitude here because it is an iconic work of magical realism, and because I have no other answers.

A graphic novel: Umm… none that I can recall. I like Pénélope Bagieu’s Joséphine, though. It’s like Bridget Jones’s Diary, but French. And a comic book.

A book by an author you’ve never read before: The Secret Keeper (Kate Morton). Intriguing but ultimately forgettable.

A book you own but have never read: I suppose I owned A Long Way Down for a while before picking it up. The book that has been sitting unread on my shelf foreeeeeever is A Tale of Two Cities.

A book that takes place in your hometown: I don’t think there are any books set in Carmel, Indiana. If there were, I’d be sad.

A book that was originally written in a different language: The Divine Comedy. Dante’s chef-d’oeuvre helped to standardize the Italian language. Inferno is the best cantica by far, and well worth a read. If you’re the can’t-leave-a-book-unfinished type, you might as well continue on to Purgatorio and Paradiso.

A book set during Christmas: I want to say there was a Christmas scene in The Book Thief? Maybe? OK, I’ve got nothing. Carry on with your lives.

A book written by an author with your same initials: The Call of the Wild (Jack London). Didn’t think I’d get this one! But yes, my claim to fame is sharing Jack London’s initials. We’re basically best friends AND siblings. I’m the Kourtney to his Kim.

A play: Hamlet. This one should speak for itself, but I won’t let anything speak for me. I like Shakespeare generally, but I have a hard time seeing real, genuine, human motivations in his characters. It’s excellent (if melodramatic) writing, but it never makes me feel anything. That said, if you’re going to write a tragedy, you might as well outdo everyone and write the tragedy to end them all.

A banned book: Invisible Man. This is one of a handful of books that I’ve whipped through in a few days thinking they were nothing special, but that lingered in my mind long afterwards. Read it. It genuinely transports you to another world.

A book based on or turned into a TV show: Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. A fun mystery, but one with a significant lack of LOGAN.

A book you started but never finished: I revisited The Aeneid this year, having only read the “Dido” section for a college assignment. If you’re into legendary figures, the glorification of war and violence, and squabbling Greco-Roman gods, this might be your Thing. If not, you might be me.