Beginning in 1995, I recorded the title, author, and a short blurb of every book I read. The best books got stars. I was picky about awarding them.
This act of journaling corresponded with the start of my job at the local library where I was paid actual cash for the task of reading books and recommending them to others.
I remember singing out a breezy "Have fun with Dad!" to my kids (three boys at that time) early on Saturday mornings as they sat cross-legged with their sippy cups of apple juice in front of the TV. The strains of Thomas the Tank Engine would fade in the distance as I practically skipped my way down the street to the air-conditioned adult fiction room.
This was the days before Amazon and Kindle and all that jazz. Libraries did not face as much competition, other than the Border's down the street. I will say it was interesting to witness the invasion of vampires in literature. I also remember the very real Oprah's-Book-Club effect.
Everything about the book industry has changed and continues to change. But one truth remains constant. We are forever deprived of time enough for all the beautiful books in the world. So in an effort to help you make the most of your reading hours, I am sharing my list of the books that earned stars in my "Have Read" diary. Oh, and remember this vow from author Austin Kleon: I will not finish books I don't like.
Best Books I read from 1995 - 2005
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flag: Wonderful! Very funny and touching. I had no trouble imagining faces for all the characters.
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle: As a francophile, I loved this. I also got a double stomach ache - from laughing and from hunger. The food descriptions are vivid, to say the least.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen: Of all her novels, this one is the most difficult to love. Characterization of the male characters is problematic. Yet love it I do.
Before and After by Rosellen Brown: Wow. How far will a parent go to protect his or her child? Very thought-provoking to say the least. Couldn't put it down.
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx: Quirky, nutty, sad, happy. Hated for it to end and I can't stop thinking about it. Plus I want to visit that God-forsaken place.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby: Such a 90s book! Laughed out loud at every page. A must-read for the rock music lover.
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson: This book is haunting. It deserves any prize it gets. Everything about it rings true.
Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen: A hilarious and clever account of Mona, born of Chinese parents, coming of age during the late 60s in upper-middle class Scarsdale, New York.
The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett: A touching, well-written novel about a pregnant woman who inexplicably leaves her husband and makes a new life for herself at a home for unwed mothers. The author's optimism is so refreshing.
In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien: Murder mystery, political drama, Vietnam, and literary experimentation all rolled into one fascinating book.
Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke: This amazing sci-fi, written in the 1950s, describes future inventions such as fax machines and virtual reality.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: Marriage is so difficult to describe, yet Stegner rises to the challenge. Beautifully written, the man is a master. But I do wonder at his characterization of Charity. Does Stegner hate strong women? Maybe.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood: A dense book, ambitiously written, and it warrants a second read. Atwood is a genius.
Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw: A clever structure. I found all three "destinies" to be very authentic.
The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield: What a progressive book for that time! Canfield is a perceptive writer.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons: What a funny, eccentric, and charming British novel. As good as it gets!
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier: This great literary work deserves a closer read but damn the awful ending.
Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin: Probably dull for most people, but I couldn't put it down. The definitive biography on Austen.
Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen: I love this writer, even if the subject matter is heartbreaking.
Going to the Sun by James McManus: A great protagonist with a compelling voice, especially in regards to her diabetes.
Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding: A fabulous rewrite of Pride and Prejudice. Hilarious, down-to-earth, and silly. I want to write the sequel!
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer: Wow. Adventure writing at its best. That poor man. People should have been punished.
The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend: Now I see where Helen Fielding got the idea for Bridget Jones. Such a cute story! Those Brits really know how to make us love them.
Call of the Wild by Jack London: I never cease to be amazed at the point-of-view in this book. London might have been Hindu.
A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Now I know what all the fuss is about. Simply perfect.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers: This book felt exactly like a bridge between 1999 and 2000. It is caught between two centuries.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf: Sly humor, spare writing, and a deftly-controlled plot. The mechanics of this book are perfect. Plus it's got more heart than anything I've read in ages.
House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubois III: What a page-turner. We love and hate the two people whose pride and desperation drive this tragic plot. As an Iranian-American, I thought that culturally, Dubois was spot on. I hated the ending and can't stop thinking about it. I even dreamed about it.
In Sunlight, In a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor: A wonderfully vivid account of the Johnstown Flood. Should be required reading in high schools.
Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund: A fictionalized version of the whale-hunting Captain Ahab's wife -- an accomplished sailor herself.
Look at Me by Jennifer Egan: A bizarre and somewhat futuristic plot with unlikeable but compelling characters in New York City and Rockford, Illinois.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell: Sci-fi that is also a romance, an adventure novel, philosophy tome, and history of religion - so interesting.
Empire Falls by Richard Russo: Some of the greatest characters ever drawn, funny dialogue, and a plot that quickens steadily.
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis: A silly British romp that made me giggle and snort. I adored the scenes when Jim drives with the professor.
Peace Like a River by Leif Edger: A haunting story with great female characters and a compelling religious theme.
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint: An Indian boy who survives all manner of horror and tragedy is a modern day Pip.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: Her ability to create indelible characters in three paragraphs deserves study. Also, when faced with a decision or a fork in the road, her characters always acted the way that we readers hoped they would.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: Classic coming-of-age with tones of Austen. A little bogged down by emotional drama but very good. I'm ambivalent about the dissatisfying ending. Honestly, why don't writers figure out how to give us what we want?
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb: At times a frustrating account of dysfunctional coming-of-age. A captivating protagonist.
Photo by C. Patrick Tomasso
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