- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Published 2006 by Knopf. 550 pages
Where on earth have you been if you’ve not read this book? It literally amazes me that there are people out there who haven’t picked this up for whatever reason. Yes, it’s long. Yes, it’s technically YA– but as someone who generally hates YA I can say for sure it transcends categorization. I am haunted by this novel. I cannot escape it floating around in my mind. The first time I read it I was in middle school (my copy is from a Scholastic book fair), and I still get emotional about it sometimes. I’ve also made everyone I’ve ever known read it as well.
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Published 2004 by Random House. 509 pages
Most of the books I love are long. I don’t know what that says about me. Cloud Atlas is one of those books that makes me look like a total snob, but, you like what you like. If you’ve seen the movie (ugh), you might get the impression that each separate narrative is being constantly cut by others. But the structure is actually more like a pyramid– except for the middle narrative, each one gets two lengthy chapters. It gets a bad rap for being difficult, and at times it is, but it probably won’t be as hard as you think it is. Prepared to get seriously introspective, though.
- The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. Published 2008 by Vintage. 576 pages
This is where things get a little messy. While I can say definitively that The Book Thief is my favorite book ever written and that Cloud Atlas is the second, a myriad of other books play for the last three spots. The best way to describe this book is that it’s as if a comic book became a novel. It’s crazy, action packed (ninjas are a main plot point), and science fiction without being overwhelming. The twist in this book? Completely unexpected, which is rare these days. Out of any author I can think of, Nick Harkaway writes truly unique books.
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Published 2001 by William Morrow. 465 pages.
The vast majority of the novels I read recreationally is soul crushing literary fiction. Why? I like crying. But most of my favorites of favorites are dramedies, and comic-booky. American Gods is a bit like the previous entry. To be sure, a lot of serious shit goes down but the concept is decidedly low-key fantasy. Basically: all the gods still exist, but they’ve been overrun by the gods of the new age. Shadow, our wonderfully ethnically-ambiguous protagonist gets caught up in the mess. I also got to meet Neil Gaiman back in 2011. It was as awesome as you’d think. (Watch out for a Bryan Fuller (!!!) run Starz series!)
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Published 1973; 30th Anniversary Edition published 2007 by Harvest Books. 512 pages.
Who are you if you’ve never heard of The Princess Bride? First, the movie is a total classic. Second, the book is just as good, if not better. Short story: everything you loved about the movie is in the book, plus more. A note on the edition: the thing you can buy in stores these days is the Anniversary edition, which is not 512 pages, but includes a lot of additional information and stories. It’s very good, strong recommend on it.
Honorable Mentions: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; We the Drowned by Carsten Jensen