My Go-To Recommendations for “Grown-Up” Books

Most of my friends know I’m an obsessive reader, so I get a lot of people asking for book recommendations.  Not all of these people are as enamored with YA lit as I am, and I like to have some “grown-up” books to suggest for them.  I’ve read (and loved) all of these, and they’re books I consider major crowd-pleasers–ones I can recommend without a lot of knowledge about what someone likes to read because just about everyone will like them.

Here goes:

1. The Secret History, Donna TarttSoooo…this is a weird book.  Amazing, but weird.  It’s set at a fictional college in Vermont (based on Bennington College–where my cousin Luke went!) and centers on a group of students who have fashioned themselves into a sort of Bacchanalian cult.  Somebody dies during one of their revels, and the book is a little like a reverse mystery novel.

2. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield–The best non-19th century Victorian novel ever.  Even people who hate things like Jane Eyre like this book.  It is also pretty weird.  If you’re already sensing a theme to this list, you’re probably correct.  I’m a weirdo and I like crazy stuff.

3. The Magicians, Lev Grossman–Harry Potter/Narnia for grown-ups.  Seriously.  There’s a wizarding college, and the characters go through a portal into a magical world.  There’s also a sequel, The Magician King, that’s sitting on one of my shelves right now, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

4. People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks–She won the Pulitzer for March, but I like this one better.  History, religion, war, illuminated manuscripts, book restoration–what more could you ask for?

5. The Time-Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffeneger–An epic love story with a time-traveling protagonist.  So beautiful and brutal.  This book ripped my heart out and stomped that sucker flat.

6. Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer–Awesome non-fiction that combines a true crime mystery with the history of the Mormon church.

7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks–More non-fic, this time dealing with the ramifications of poverty, biomedical ethics, and illness.  I’ll be honest, I kind of skipped some of the science-y part to get back to the narrative about Henrietta, but I still think it’s very accessible to the average reader.

8. Friday Night Lights, Buzz Bissinger–The book is SO much better than the movie and totally different from the show.  It is a quintessentially Texas book.  My only complaint is that they talk about the cheerleaders but not the drill team–what Texas high school doesn’t have a drill team?

9. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn–All the buzz last summer about this book was totally justified.  It’s great and has a killer ending that made me throw the book across the room.

10. The Help, Kathryn Stockett–Yes, there are definitely problematic aspects to this book, but it’s still a great read.  And the movie of this one is actually really good, too.

11. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold–Don’t watch the terrible movie.  Read the beautiful book.

I know a lot of folks have already read many of these–there’s a reason they make good, general “You should read THIS” recommendations.  If you haven’t, you should definitely check them out.  Happy reading!


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