As part of my Book Chat I’ve decided to share some of my all-time favorite books in different genres. Contemporary literary fiction is sort of a mouthful as far as a genre goes so let me clarify – these are adult fiction books that have been written in the past 20 years or so and that are highly literary in style. These are the types of books that win major literature prizes and awards, but are still deeply engaging. Many of these books are a bit slower-paced, written with careful attention to the language, the character development, the tone, and the greater themes rather than being primarily plot-driven. These are the kinds of books that might take a bit longer to get into, but will stay with you forever.
Disclaimer: my book recommendations may contain language, sexual content, or (non-gratuitous) violence. I don’t discount books based on those things if I think they serve a purpose or don’t detract from the overall impact of the book. If you have specific questions about the content of a particular book, I’d be happy to answer them!
As always, there is a list of current Kindle sales on books I recommend at the end of this post.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. This book is narrated by 11-year-old Reuben Land who is traveling with his father Jeremiah and his sister Swede through the Dakota Badlands in search of his fugitive brother, Davy, wanted for killing two men who were terrorizing his family. The true hero of this story is the father, Jeremiah, an Atticus-Finch-like character who is known for a faith so devout he’s been rumored to produce miracles. This is a book about family and faith, about unseen spirituality and maybe even magic that hides itself in ordinary places. And, of course, it is about love. This book is stunning.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. This book very deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001. This book has everything – Houdini-style escape artists, comic book superheros, and the American dream. (Side Note: Every time I say something “has everything” I can’t help hearing it in the voice of Stefon from SNL. “This place has everything – sheep, freckles, potato people, a room full of heprichauns…”) In all seriousness, I think one of the things that makes Michael Chabon such a fantastic writer is his ability to take things you may not be interested in, maybe even something you’ve never given any thought to, and make it compelling. This is the story of Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who escapes from Nazi occupied Prague and ends up in New York City with his cousin, Sammy Clay, who convinces him to help create a comic book series with a hero to rival Superman. It’s an unconventional, yet quintessential story of the American dream.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Gah. I don’t even know where to start. This book has five alternating narrators, the wife and four daughters of intense Baptist missionary Nathan Price. In 1959 Price takes his family to the Belgian Congo where he tries to force both Christianity and Western culture on a land and a people who are unwilling or unable to assimilate. This book is fascinating, disturbing, compelling, and unforgettable. As a side note, every other book of Kingsolver’s that I’ve read has also been great. I’d start with The Bean Trees.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This was a best book of the year for many in 2014. In alternating chapters the book tells the story of a blind French girl whose father is the Keeper of the Locks for the Museum of Natural History in Paris and a German orphan boy whose talent with engineering gets him recruited into an elite military academy and then sent into the field tracking the Resistance during WWII. It is a gorgeous and haunting book.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. This book is (partially) narrated by Oskar Schell, an exceptionally intelligent, eccentric, and precocious nine-year-old who has recently lost in father in the 9/11 attacks on New York City. Oskar finds a key among his father’s possessions and becomes fixated on finding the lock this key fits into. His quest takes him all over New York City and into the lives of hundreds of people also reeling in the aftermath of the attacks. Some people felt this book was emotionally manipulative or that the use of the child narrator was gimmicky in some way, but I’ve read this multiple times and it will always be a favorite of mine. I think it is deeply moving, profound, and also entertaining.
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. Russo won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Empire Falls, in 2002 and Empire Falls is also a spectacular book, but I have a slight preference for this one. Russo is known for his small town settings and average-Joe characters who resonate with readers so deeply because they remind us that even the simplest and smallest lives are complex and rich with meaning. Bridge of Sighs tells the story of Louis Charles “Lucy” Lynch, a 60 year old man who has lived contentedly in Thomaston, New York his entire life building a successful chain of convenience stores, now writing his memoirs. Lucy, who has barely been outside of his hometown, is preparing to take a trip to Italy to see his childhood best friend, now a renowned painter. The juxtaposition of these two men – the one who never left and the one who couldn’t stay –and the story of their strange, undefinable friendship is mesmerizing.
Honorable Mentions go to: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
What are your favorite contemporary literary fiction books?
Kindle Books On Sale
*As of February 27th. I use the US Amazon site. Prices may vary on other sites.
New on sale this week:
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee ($3.99)
Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor ($3.99)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot ($1.99) I read this book a few years ago and found it very interesting – it’s the story of a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge and became instrumental in hundreds of medical innovations from the polio vaccine to gene mapping.
Mistborn– The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson ($4.99) This is the first book in Sanderson’s Mistborn fantasy trilogy.
Still on sale from last week:
Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer, Micha Boyett ($3.03) One of my best books of 2014 and one of my favorite spiritual memoirs.
Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner ($1.99) I actually haven’t read this one yet, but I did buy it. I read Winner’s more recent book Still (see below) just this month and am now curious to read this book, her first, which tells the story of her conversion from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity.
Looking for Alaska, John Green ($2.80) This is the author who wrote The Fault in Our Stars. I’m just finishing this book now and have enjoyed it. It’s a coming of age story that, like Green’s other books, deals with the usual sex, booze, and rebellion parts of adolescence, but also grief, loss and the greater meaning of life.
Paper Towns, John Green ($3.99) I haven’t read this one, but wanted to include it for John Green fans who might like to pick it up.
Me Before You, JoJo Moyes ($2.99) Ambitionless twenty-six year old Louise loses her job and takes a temporary position as a caretaker for a 35 year old quadripalegic who challenges her to live life on a grander scale. This is a quick read, but not a particularly light one. Be warned that you’ll need Kleenex.
The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd ($3.99). There’s a reason this book is so popular. It’s great.
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green ($2.99) So good, but read with tissues.
Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell ($4.99) Just finished this a few days ago. One of my new favorite young adult novels. So sweet.
Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty ($3.99) Wrote about this here. Really love all of her books.
Three Wishes, Liane Moriarty ($2.99)
Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss ($4.99) I’ve already talked about this like 7 times, but if you need a refresher, read the blurb on this post.
The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss ($5.99) See above.
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern ($4.99) I adore this book.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you use a link to make a purchase a small percentage of your purchase will go towards supporting this site. This does not affect the price of the items in any way.
They all seem very interesting. “Extremely Loud…” was made into a movie, I believe.
Yes, it was. The movie is good, but the book is better. 🙂
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Reblogged this on Amber Lisa's Literary Boutique and Spa! and commented:
More Good stuff from Small Hands!
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Thanks for reblogging. I’m glad you liked these reviews/recommendations!
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Thanks for some great suggestions! I enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible. I read Peace Like a River, but it was so long ago I don’t really remember. Might be one to re-read. Have you read How to Be an American Housewife? I think you’d enjoy it. Also, if you want a great book of literary (but engaging) short stories, you should check out Secrets of the Fire King by Kim Edwards. I’m so on the fence about books right now. I’m not big on chick lit, but I also think sometimes literary fiction is boring (my MFA friends would shake their heads at me!). I think that’s why I like YA so much. It’s a good middle ground. I think there’s good character development and plot, and often really good themes.
You’re welcome. I haven’t read How to be an American Housewife. I’ll look into it! I totally agree about literary fiction being boring sometimes. I have to be in the right mood and usually won’t read two of those kinds of books consecutively. I also know exactly what you mean about wanting something in between chick lit and literary fiction. Sometimes I want to enjoy a quick, easy story, but a lot of chick lit is so dumb or just poorly written that I can’t even enjoy it. I have found a few authors that are sort of in-between for me. More substance/better writing than regular chick lit, but not high literary fiction. Basically everything by Liane Moriarty is this way for me. I can’t remember if we’ve talked about this, but have you read any Kate Atkinson?
I dont think so. She wrote Life After Life right?
Yes, so she does some more literary fiction (though Life After Life is very readable) but she also has a series of mysteries – The Jackson Brodie mysteries – that I think are really great. They are better than regular mystery genre-fiction with more complex characters and situations, but they are also really easy and enjoyable reads.
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The first one is called Case Histories. Also the BBC has done a miniseries of them that is fantastic.
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