Discovering great books that others in your circle of friends or family or reading group have not yet explored is nearly a rite of passage in the world of literature. It usually leads to a good feeling, one you want to share with others.
So you start the recommendation process. You tell everyone you know. “You’ve got to check out this book I just read,” you tell them. And they smile politely and accept the recommendation, though you don’t know for sure if they are just being nice or if they are truly interested.
For me, these are five books that I can’t possibly recommend enough. Yet, as I receive reading suggestions from others, rarely — if ever — are these books included. To me, that’s a shame. So I’d like to share them with you, in hopes that you may turn around and do the same to another bookish soul.
1. True North by Jim Harrison
The more you read my blog, the more you’ll come to realize just how highly I regard Jim Harrison and his work. For one, he’s from my home state. That’s what first piqued my interest. But from there, the writing took over — and it’s something special.
Set on the Lake Superior shore in Marquette, Michigan, True North is a long book that follows David Burkett from his teenage years and into adulthood as he wrestles with the demons that have plagued his family — namely, his father and his addictions — while attempting to find solace in an idea that the evil in his family line can be halted with his generation.
A full review of the novel will be coming down the road, but for now I can say that Harrison doesn’t hold back, and I’m very jealous of anyone who still gets to read it for the first time.
2. One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel
For those of you who have followed my blog, Daniel Magariel’s debut novel appearing on this list should come as no surprise — after all, I’ve already recommended it once.
One of the Boys tells the story of an unnamed adolescent coping with his parents’ divorce and his father’s destructive addictions. This is a tale of fiction, though only in the literal sense. The characters are real. The story is real. And that’s where the power of the novel originates — the second-guessing, the connection, the thought that “this really happens every day in America.”
This is Magariel’s debut novel, but I look forward to many more to come. He’s a gifted storyteller.
3. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
OK, I realize the screen adaptation of this book won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and that half of high school English classes included it in their curriculums for a certain period of time, but that doesn’t mean it’s appreciated the way it should be.
Judith Guest, who has an extensive education in psychology, used her vast knowledge on the subject to craft a deep and true novel about a family mourning the loss of one of their own. “Uplifting” isn’t the term I would use to describe this book, but it’s certainly an important story in understanding the human psyche and how we cope with life’s tragedies.
4. Crooked River Burning by Mark Winegardner
This is a novel that I read in one of my English courses at the University of Michigan, and while it is fairly well known in academia, it is far less so among the general reading community — and it’s a damn shame. This story spans many decades in the city of Cleveland, telling the tales of David Zielinsky and Anne O’Connor beginning as teenagers in the 1940’s and moving into adulthood. Not only is Mark Winegardner a special storyteller (and humorous, too), but he weaves the fictional plot through a real historical lens. The book works so well because of its creativity and accuracy, all while never losing the readers’ attention.
Put it on the list.
5. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
Again, much like with Ordinary People, this is not a book that’s gone largely unnoticed — though I will argue that as classic novels go, this one has flown under the radar.
Thomas Wolfe is an author who worked with Maxwell Perkins at Scribner, the same editor who oversaw the publishing of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. However, while still wildly successful, Wolfe never received quite the same recognition as those other two.
Look Homeward, Angel was Wolfe’s first novel and is considered to be mostly autobiographical in nature. It essentially tells the tale of his family and his life. If you’ve never read anything by Wolfe, I suggest starting here (though make sure you have some time on your hands, as it runs over 500 pages). There is an eloquence, a poetic flow to this book that is missing in Fitzgerald novels, and especially from Hemingway’s collection.
A movie was recently made about Wolfe’s life, starring Jude Law. I recommend it for all writers.
You no doubt have a list of underappreciated novels yourself. What I can say is to continue spreading the word, because great books need to be shared. If they changed your life, even in the slightest way, then I have confidence they can do the same to another.