We love books. We love talking books. And we love discovering future-favorite books. But we also like to stop occasionally and remember the novels that we have LOVED in the past. The ones that moved us. The ones that have a permanent spot on our ‘keeper’ shelves. So, according to a few members of our little team, here are four novels that your home library should not be without.
Ariel Lawhon, She Reads co-founder, recommends THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger
This novel evokes something in me that I find difficult to express. It’s not uncommon for me to pass my bookshelf, run my fingers along its spine, and close my eyes. I summon the emotions I felt the first time I read it. Sometimes I even pull it from its spot and read a passage. The final scene is one of my favorites of all time:
“The curve of her shoulders, the stiffness in her posture say here is someone who is very tired, and I am very tired, myself. I shift my weight from one foot to the other and the floor creaks; the woman turns and sees me and her face is remade into joy; I am suddenly amazed; this is Clare, Clare old! And she is coming to me, so slowly, and I take her into my arms.”
Five years later and I don’t remember much of the plot, but I do remember how I wept my way through the last 50 pages. Audrey Niffenegger broke my heart and then patched it together with that last scene. My devotion to this book is irrational.
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A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger’s cinematic storytelling that makes the novel’s unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant.
An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler’s Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come.
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Melissa Carpenter, our YA reviewer, recommends THE GIVER by Lois Lowry
With all of the more current dystopian YA novels finding success – The Hunger Games, Across The Universe, Matched, Divergent, and many, many more – I thought it would be fun to look back at a story so important that its influence can be seen in all of these recent novels: The Giver.
In Lois Lowry’s modern classic, a twelve year old boy named Jonas is elected as the next Receiver of Memory, a prestigious position within a future utopian community. In an instant, he goes from typical boy, playing and going to school with his friends, to a mysterious future community leader. He wrestles with the distance this puts between him and his family and friends, but dutifully reports for training hours. Jonas learns more and more about the community, the past, and the reality of all that makes it anything but a perfect place as he works with The Giver, the community’s previous Receiver of Memory. It doesn’t take long for Jonas to realize that things need to change, and that he’s the only one able to make them change. It’s a heavy and heroic journey that he takes, and Jonas is nothing short of inspirational in the end.
This book is absolutely one of my favorites. As a teacher of students around Jonas’s age, I relish the chance to use his story to inspire young people… but if I’m being honest, it’s equally inspirational to me and other adults. Jonas is a young man who learns the truth and stands up for what’s right, according to the truth he’s learned, and ultimately risks everything to help those he loves. The Giver is a wonderful book that reminds us all of the power of love and sacrifice, and Jonas is a character that will stay with you long after the final page.
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Lois Lowry’s The Giver is the quintessential dystopian novel, followed by its remarkable companions, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.
Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.
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Alison Law, Blog Network member and our newly appointment publicist, recommends A GOOD HARD LOOK by Ann Napolitano
Fill a dinner table with southern lit lovers and see how long it takes one of them to invoke the name of Flannery O’Connor. I wager you won’t make it past the appetizer course. At least that was my experience a few weeks ago when the glorious FO’C wandered into just such a dinner conversation. As my companions and I talked about O’Connor and her home in Georgia, I remembered my most recent trip to Milledgeville, courtesy of Ann Napolitano’s novel, A Good Hard Look.
A Good Hard Look is a fictionalized snapshot of the time and town in which O’Connor spent her final days. Crippled by lupus, Flannery writes, tends to her peacocks on the family farm, and attends mass with her mother. But O’Connor’s life is not the only one up for inspection. Napolitano has created richly textured characters who struggle with their own afflictions as all try to answer the question, “How am I going to spend this one life that I’ve been given?” Their choices crescendo into consequences rather quickly in the second section of the book.
I recently ordered two copies of A Good Hard Look: one for my dinner companion who hadn’t read the book and one for myself. I plan to re-read the novel during the holiday break.
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Forced by illness to leave behind a successful life as a writer in New York, Flannery O’Connor has returned to her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. She desires a quiet, solitary existence, but her mother, Regina, drags Flannery to the wedding of a family friend.
The embodiment of southern womanhood, Cookie Himmel is Flannery’s antithesis and has returned from her time in Manhattan to marry rich fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. Lona Waters, a dutiful housewife, is hired by Cookie to help create a perfect home, but when she is given an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be truly alive, and she seizes it with both hands.
In the course of one tragic afternoon, these characters must take a good hard look at the choices they have made and face up to O’Connor’s observation that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
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Tamara Welch, Blog Network member and leader of our Online Book Club, recommends DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD by Rebecca Wells
The year was 2002- and I was in college. A reader, but not yet a lover of Southern Lit, I was watching TV one day and saw the movie trailer for Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. After watching it, I knew I wanted to see the movie- because it looked good and one of my favorite actresses, Sandra Bullock was in the movie. Still, I was not aware that this movie I wanted to see was based on a book. A trip to Walmart changed that, though. Seeing the mass market paperback, the beautiful cover with sunflowers and pictures of the cast- my heart beat a bit faster as I grabbed the book and took it home.
I began reading and within a few pages was engrossed in Vivi, Sidda’s and the Ya Ya’s lives. The stories, the phrases- all were magical to me. Reading the stories of the Ya Ya’s, feeling the love between the ladies, made me wish I was a Ya Ya! I wept as I read, I cried for the loss of Jack, the loss of young love. I ached for Sidda and Vivi to find common ground. I howled with laughter at the story of Vivi cancelling her library card and reapplying under a different name. I devoured the book. I wanted to live in the book! After reading, I regretted 2 things- that I did not have a Ya Ya sisterhood and that I did not have a Cajun accent.
I did watch the movie- and while it was good- it did not live up to the book. Thank you Sandra Bullock for your role in introducing me to the wonderful world of Southern Lit.
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The incomparable #1 New York Times bestseller—a book that reigned at the top of the list for an remarkable sixty-eight weeks—Rebecca Wells’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is a classic of Southern women’s fiction to be read and reread over and over again. A poignant, funny, outrageous, and wise novel about a lifetime friendship between four Southern women, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood brilliantly explores the bonds of female friendship, the often-rocky relationship between mothers and daughters, and the healing power of humor and love, in a story as fresh and uplifting as when it was first published a decade and a half ago. If you haven’t yet met the Ya-Yas, what are you waiting for?
Question for you: what book did you love–absolutely love–that we must read?
Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.