Jane Dystel recommends:
When I first picked up BEAUTIFUL RUINS, I did so because it was highly recommended by one of my colleagues. Frankly, I had not heard about it and I had read no reviews. I had not read anything by the author Jess Walter; in fact I thought “Jess” was a woman and BEAUTIFUL RUINS was a piece of traditional women’s fiction.
For the first couple of chapters, I was incredibly confused as to what this novel was. The plot switched from location to location, from the time period ends in which the narrative occurred and even in terms of the cast of characters.
But then, I was hooked—hooked into the lives of the people the story was about as they lead their lives, grew and experienced life, encountered each other and ultimately how it all came together. In my opinion, this is a brilliant novel filled with pathos and humor and ultimately a lot of love. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Miriam Goderich recommends:
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple is a gorgeously constructed epistolary novel. With perfect pitch and a stunning ability to plumb the depths of her characters’ souls, Ms. Semple delivers a tale that is as heartbreakingly comic as it is satisfying. You will love all the characters, but especially the dazzling Bernadette.
Why? Well, Bernadette Fox is a bona fide genius. A brilliant architect who designed the visionary Twenty Mile House (a marvel of Green building before the term had gained purchase in the public consciousness) only to disappear without leaving so much as an Internet footprint, she is now the scattered, eccentric, agoraphobic mother of 15-year-old Bee Branch and wife to Elgin Branch, a Microsoft wunderkind who is a rock star in the world of computer nerds. Bernadette hatesSeattle, with its tedious weather and ridiculous traffic patterns. She hates the sanctimonious PTA moms at Bee’s private school and she hates the thought of interacting with most people, but she is also a fiercely loving mother whose relationship with her daughter (and to a similar extent with her husband) is based on pull-no-punches honesty and a shared sense of the absurd as well as the grateful bond of people who are smarter than everyone around them and who find solace from the world’s stupidity in each other.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE may well be my favorite book of 2012. It’s funny, sly, clever, and wholly engrossing. Bernadette is an astonishing mess. She’s spiteful, garrulous, and wields her intellect like a weapon. She’s lazy, depressive, and absolutely delightful. Ms. Semple has taken a deeply flawed, potentially unlikable character and made her outrageously fun and deliciously human. In the process, she’s given us a novel to marvel at and savor.
Michael Bourret recommends:
I can’t even remember where I heard about this book, but I’m always on the lookout for something unique and out of the ordinary. So when some blog wrote about THE WHERE, THE WHY AND THE HOW: 75 ARTISTS ILLUSTRATE WONDROUS MYSTERIES OF SCIENCE, I knew I’d have to take a look. It’s a collection of illustrations and charts from a wide variety of artists, each illustrating a scientific question that’s still unsettled, such as “What existed before the big bang?” and “How much of human behavior is predetermined?” Along with the illustrations are answers from scientists in each field. The illustrations range from the scientific, to pseudo-scientific, to the fantastical. Some are funny, some are serious and some are quite disturbing. But each one is compelling and worth a second or third look. There’s no narrative, so it’s the perfect sort of book to pick up for a few minutes; I have it on my Nook app for the iPad, and like to read it while waiting for an appointment. Sure beats Angry Birds for some brain stimulation!
Stacey Glick recommends:
I love books that tap into a subculture and expose something in a fresh way. The runaway bestseller (and impressive first book) QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN’T STOP TALKING by Susan Cain is a book that speaks to that. I also recently learned that her TED talk for which she hired an acting coach is one of the top 10 viewed talks on their long and prestigious list. It’s so wonderful to see a subject explored in a deep, compelling, and unique way so that the world can better understand what makes us human. I’d love to see more narrative nonfiction that does what Ms. Cain does so well in QUIET.
Jim McCarthy recommends:
My list tends to lean towards fiction, but I’ve recently found myself doing a lot of nonfiction reading for pleasure. No book has dazzled me as much as Lawrence Wright’s GOING CLEAR. I’m often asked what I mean when I say I’m looking for unusual or unexpected stories. This book, with its peek behind the curtain of one of the most carefully guarded organizations in the country really hit all my buttons. Not only did Wright find amazing stories to tell, but he shared a look into a world that I realized I knew little to nothing about. And let’s be honest: I’m not one to shy away from a book that may court its share of controversy!
Jessica Papin recommends:
I am reading and loving THE POWER OF HABIT: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, which is a terrific blend of science journalism, narrative nonfiction, and just flat out fascinating facts.
Lauren Abramo recommends:
I’ve always meant to read Tom Perrotta (as the friend whose copy of Little Children has been on my shelf unread for years can attest), but until an editor handed me a copy of THE LEFTOVERS at a lunch meeting, I didn’t actually check him out. I’m so happy that I did: THE LEFTOVERS is a mesmerizing look at the big questions and the small ones about a world rocked back on its heels and a family falling to pieces. With a strong hook (what would happen to the people left behind if many of the people in the world just disappeared one day without a trace?), a charming and captivating voice, and insight to spare, it’s a book I’d recommend to anyone wanting to understand how a book can be both literary and commercial at once.
John Rudolph recommends:
With two young boys at home, a lot of my reading these days involves picture books. And right now, there’s no better practitioner of the picture book form than Mo Willems. From the Pigeon series to the Knuffle Bunny series to my personal favorite, the Elephant and Piggie series, Mo’s work strikes the perfect balance between entertainment for kids and laughs for adults that never go above a kid’s head—a neat trick he no doubt learned from his years at Sesame Street. From the pigeon’s unrelenting utzing to Gerald and Piggie’s flair for the dramatic, Mo somehow taps into a sense of humor that resonates at all ages, and better yet, he does it through a perfect marriage of story and art, with each piece doing an equal share of the work. Whenever I’m talking with picture book creators about their art, I always seem to circle back to Mo as the ultimate example of someone who’s doing it right. So even if you don’t have kids, spend some time in Mo’s world—I guarantee you’ll come out of it happy!
Michael Hoogland recommends:
I strongly recommend any book in the WHEEL OF TIME series by Robert Jordan, but you should probably start with the first in the series, titled THE EYE OF THE WORLD. The book—and series in general—can be considered a coming-of-age story that revolves around three young boys who are taken from their small village by a mysterious stranger on the night that an army of creatures burn their homes to the ground—monsters thought to be myth and were used to frighten little children into behaving. The Dark One himself is after one, or all, of the boys, and they soon discover that they will have a large part to play in the events that are to come—events that pit the Light against the Shadow with the very fate of the world at stake. This book is for anyone who loves Tolkien or YA fantasies in general. Not only does Jordan create a cast of relatable characters you grow to love, but he is unparalleled in the art of world-building. As soon as you read THE EYE OF THE WORLD, you can tell that this story is only the start of what will become an epic saga spanning three decades. Although Jordan dies before he can finish the series, Brandon Sanderson does an admirable job finishing the final three books of the series based off Jordan’s copious notes and partial manuscripts. In fact, Sanderson did such a remarkable job that I even consider the final three books among the best of the series.
Rachel Stout recommends:
Knowing little more about the book other than that I loved the title and that I’d heard too many gushings and ravings to ignore it any further, I picked up a copy of THE SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick DeWitt—and promptly finished it not two days later. DeWitt’s prose, as he tells the story of the hired guns Eli and Charlie Sisters, trekking down to San Francisco in the days of the California gold rush, on a mission from the mysterious Commodore with orders to kill a one Hermann Kermit Warm, no questions asked, is simple and straightforward, yet somehow imparts a poetic sensibility that one would not expect from an assassin in the wild, wild West. Eli, the younger brother and narrator is an immediately endearing voice as he has doubts about his and Charlie’s chosen profession, feels a tenderness for his beaten up horse, falls in love several times over, and tries to moralize the actions he and Charlie must take in order to make it through with their lives. Subtly comic and completely lovely, I would wholeheartedly recommend THE SISTERS BROTHERS to anyone, fighting protestations of, “but I don’t like Westerns” all the way. You do like Westerns. You’ll like this book.
Yassine Belkacemi recommends:
An author I never tire of re-reading is the incomparable Barry Hannah. His seminal collection of short stories, AIRSHIPS, depict a ‘New South’, a place whose pastoral lands have become soured and scorched and whose inhabitants carry the burden of the South’s history, from the Civil War to the days of Faulkner. Hannah’s take on his native South is soaked in dark humor, self-deprecation, while never seeming mawkish. His stories follow the lives of an assortment of characters—Vietnam Vets, old fishermen, barflies, and lost loves. What makes Hannah writing so recognizable is his explosive and untamed voice that twists and warps language into fabulous and unique images whilst always making a profound point about Southern culture. Even if you have no interest in the subject matter, Hannah’s unmistakable voice alone is enough to grip you to the page.