We’re serious about reading around here.
Dictionaries stock the shelves of our Boulder headquarters. Nearly every week we’re talking about our latest book obsession (recent examples have included The Martian, Alexander Hamilton, the list goes on) and swapping titles.
Naturally, this obsession extends to our network of 9,000+ writers, too. When we started compiling this post, we asked our writers for their top book recommendations and received an overwhelming number of responses as a result.
What started as a list of 10+ titles has evolved into this definitive guide of 46. Strangely enough, hardly any of the recommendations overlapped.
We’re normally great at editing, but pruning back the list of the best books felt wrong.
So, here we present our definitive BlogMutt list of books to read, separated by writers’ recommendations, and those from BlogMutt HQ’s ranks. No need to thank us — just bookmark for later and fire up those e-readers and library cards.
First, the writers’ picks:
1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
You may have read this one in high school and forgotten all about it, but it’s time to pick it up again. East of Eden sometimes gets lost behind all the praise and glory given to Grapes of Wrath, but if you read it, you will see that a piece of Steinbeck’s heart is buried here. A sweeping saga that ponders pre-destination, responsibility and tries to gauge the depth of familial obligations.
2. Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
Short and concise, this is a story of a life told backwards. You are present at the main character’s death and then everything goes uphill from there. Intrigued? You should be. In 160 pages, Amis completely toys with your perception and tricks you into an entirely different frame of mind. But don’t worry, you will walk away thrilled at being part of his fantastic experiment.
3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Never more relevant than now, Americanah explores America’s deeply troubled race relations through the lens of a “non-American black.” It doesn’t feel heavy-handed or difficult, but instead you are taken on a tour of a young Nigerian girl’s life as she acclimates to life, love and blogging (bonus!) in modern America.
4. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This one is a slow burn and a subtle revelation. Set in post-World War I England, this is a story of a true English butler—not the most exciting or colorful of protagonists, but one that proves to be deeply moving and so earnest he will break your heart. A beautiful story of tragedy and devotion that will set you on a quest to read everything Ishiguro has ever written.
5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
All the praise you have heard about this book is true. A razor-sharp narrative with a tightly knit plot that feels too violent, too shocking to be true, but is, in fact, a distinguished member of the true crime genre. Read this to have your core shaken and your deepest fears realized; it’s truly a ghoulish tour through the mind of a murderer.
6. Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Even if you have been watching the HBO series, pick up this book and find yourself entirely engrossed. While the show captures the salient plot points, including violence and sex, the book carries a whole different dimension that casts history, religious belief and the quest for power in a unique light. Yes, there are dragons, but there are also passages on the uncertainties of organized religion, the complexity of a relationship between two brothers and the psychological make-up of an abused child—bet you didn’t catch that on HBO.
7. Black Boy by Richard Wright
An autobiographical account of Wright’s childhood and young adult experiences in the backwoods of Mississippi is eye-opening and heart-wrenching. Wright tells his story with blunt force, but also humor and a cutting honesty that does not vilify or spare anyone.
8. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Hilarious, interesting and full of fascinating anecdotes that you can share around the water cooler, Short History is a fantastic feat of storytelling. Bryson really did his research so you can hear the world’s biography like never before. From the Big Bang to black holes and climate change—you will get an education.
9. Slade House by David Mitchell
A short little book that packs a good wallop, this is an unsung gem among Mitchell’s richly woven mythology. Truly creepy, this is the ghost story that you SHOULD have been telling around the campfire all this time.
10. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
There is no denying that Faulkner is intimidating; his books begin with a wall of words that you must first scale before getting into the lush offerings beyond. Absalom, Absalom is perhaps one of the more difficult of his works, yet it is also the most intense, the most palpably tense and hauntingly beautiful. Explore the hot, beating heart of the deep South, volatile and full of strangeness; plus, broaden your reading comprehension with a single book.
11. Arcadia by Lauren Groff
A young virtuoso of a writer, Groff’s sophomore effort is so gorgeous you can’t help but embrace it wholeheartedly. A story of the swinging sixties, of commune love and time’s ever-changing ways, Arcadia is touching and nostalgic. Give yourself a treat and grab this book as soon as you can.
12. Gilead by Marilynn Robinson
There is no question that Robinson is one of the very best writers currently writing and Gilead is her crowning jewel. Deliciously introspective, asking life’s biggest questions and telling the story of a dying father and his young child, Gilead cannot help but make you think. But more importantly, this is a book that really celebrates life and asks you to do the same.
13. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
An erotic love-triangle, deeply scarred people and a dip into the history of the USSR-ravaged Czech Republic, what more could you ask for? Kundera is a highly skilled writer and an incisive observer of human hearts.
14. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
If you love poetry, you will adore this book. If you don’t like poetry, this will be an exposure into a world of prose, cast as vivid colors and lights. Invisible Cities isn’t one story, it is a series of vignettes, each telling a tale of a city more fantastic than the one before. The language is so delicious, you will want to hold it in your mouth just to keep the taste from fading.
15. The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The blurb on the back does nothing for this book. Brief and Wonderous Life is the funniest book to ever make you cry, guaranteed. Meet Oscar, an overweight nerd who loves Star Trek, writes poetry and can’t wait to have a romantic encounter, even despite the curse that has plagued his family for generations. Magical realism meets its match in Diaz’s sharp-tongued wit, and it is glorious.
16. The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
A master of tragedy and deep character analysis, Oates has never been better than in The Falls. Blending the unlikely story of an unconventional family drama with a scathing tract against irresponsible big business, Oates accomplishes something really unique and really un-put-downable.
17. Persuasion by Jane Austen
The quietest and saddest of Austen’s tales, Persuasion revisits familiar topics of family and marriage, but through a much more subdued lens of a broken lover, past her prime. Despite the lack of the usual humor and lightness, Persuasion remains the most poignant and powerful of Austen’s works and definitely warrants a read.
18. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
A deeply disturbing story about the making of a school mass-murderer—sadly, we know this story all too well from the news, but this is a starkly real peek behind the scenes into the life of one such troubled boy, as told by his benumbed and appalled mother.
19. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
This is not a light read; quite literally, the book is a hefty brick, but boy is it worth the weight. Absolutely unlike anything you have ever read, sci-fi, history and space opera all rolled into one, Anathem is mind-bendy and wonderful. Think Rubik’s-cube and take on the challenge, you won’t regret it.
20. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
For anyone who has ever reminisced about the exploits of their youth, anyone who has ever met a friend who changed their life, anyone who has ever struggled with faith, this is a book that can strike those familiar chords. Like a return to childhood, A Prayer for Owen Meany is dream-like and lovely, with hints of adulthood sneaking in at the edges.
21. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A fun, rollicking good time, American Gods is a fast and entertaining read that is classic Gaiman. Enjoy a unique mythology, plenty of humor and some really creative storytelling as you follow Shadow, a reluctant hero called upon to protect the Gods of the Old World from the scary new powers of the modern world.
22. Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut
Ever wonder which way evolution would go if you were stranded on a deserted island with a very specific group of people? Wonder no longer! Vonnegut has done it for you and created a magnificent landscape of science-y weirdness.
23. Wicked by Gregory McGuire
You’ve heard the songs and seen the musical, but McGuire’s book is a much darker, much more thoughtful take on the story of the Wicked Witch of the West. Fall in love with the flawed Elphaba and never look at the Wizard of Oz again.
24. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
One of the most beautiful coming-of-age stories with a love story attached, Portrait of a Lady is a classic to be enjoyed at all ages. There is nothing difficult or unapproachable about this one, Isabel Archer is entirely familiar, she is your friend, your sister, she is you, blundering through life and love as best she can.
25. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
One word—hilarious! The most outrageous journey, the most colorful characters and the most laughs you can get per page, Douglas Adams creates a world that you will want to re-visit time and again for ages. If you haven’t read this yet, you are very much envied the pleasure you will find here.
26. Lightning by Dean Koontz
The day Laura Shane was born, a mysterious stranger appeared to ensure a safe delivery. Then, when she was about 8 years old, he returned again to save her from tragedy. She assumed he was her guardian angel. Later, when she is in her thirties, he appears once more, once more to keep her safe. Who is this stranger? What does he want? And why does he never seem to age? This is a beautiful story about a love the transcends time, yet is a thriller that will keep you fully engaged in the characters.
27. The Hunger Games (Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins
This is the trilogy that sparked a set of blockbuster movies. Katniss Everdeen has enough on her shoulders trying to provide for her mother and younger sister in a post-war country called Panem. Every year, each of the twelve districts of Panem must select a male and female child to participate in the Hunger Games – a game that can have only one winner. Katniss gets thrust into a set of circumstances beyond her control, and inadvertently sets into motion a much-needed revolution.
28. The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough
This 1977 best-selling Australian novel follows the life of Meghann Cleary. A truly encompassing tale, it is set in the Australian Outback and spans the lives of the Cleary family from 1915 until 1969. From first love, to forbidden love, to heartache, to anger, to loss, to acceptance – this book covers the range of human emotions. Read along as Meggie goes from a curious, innocent child growing up on the sheep farm Drogheda, to a beautiful young lady who is looking to fall in love, to a hardened woman who blames God for all of the hurt and loss throughout her life. She finally comes to a peace with God, but at what cost?
29. When Rabbit Howls by Truddi Chase
Truddi Chase was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personalities, as it once was known. This book is her autobiography and largely about dealing with it, and the horrible tragedies that led her to having the disorder. A disturbing and raw look at the devastation abuse can cause, this gritty real-life account hoped to bring awareness to others that had endured what Truddi did, and to also try and educate abusers about the consequences of their actions.
30. 1984 by George Orwell
This dystopian novel was written in 1949, and depicted a future where Big Brother ruled everything. In a sense, this novel could be seen as the “original” Hunger Games. With a world full of tyranny, propaganda, “thought crimes,” and total control, trying to break free is something you must be willing to die for. This book has recently gained more popularity for how eerily predictive it has been on some of the political issues currently happening around the world.
31. The Stand by Stephen King
The theme of this book is simple – good versus evil. But we can all thank Stephen King for taking that simplicity out of the equation. With his attention to detail and advanced character development, he sucks you into a story about a super-bug that kills off over half of the population, and the devastation that is left. One group of people stand for good, the other group stands with the devil himself, and they will fight for control of the world that remains.
32. Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee
Though this book was published after Lee’s death in 1973, it was written by Lee while healing from a back injury in 1970. He was a one-of-a-kind martial artist, and a truly amazing specimen of what the human body could achieve. This book takes you through his thoughts and ideas on creating the fighting style Jeet Kune Do. It teaches us why he created this martial art style, what the moves are meant to do, and how to best use your body to your best defense.
33. Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) by Adolf Hitler
If you want to see into the mind of a madman, this book will take you there. An autobiography of the leader of the Third Reich, you will learn the thoughts and ideas of the man that nearly captured the world during World War II. Hitler talks about growing up, going to school, going to war, and why he felt the way he did about the Jewish population. With a twisted mindset and deranged worldview, it is truly surprising that an entire population would support him. He showed the world, though, that with the right propaganda and a good speech, it is possible to bring people to follow you into madness.
34. The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
Having sold over 150 million copies nationwide and winning over 100 international prizes and awards, The Alchemist is constantly on The New York Times Bestseller List. This is a magical, inspiring and mystical book about an Andalusian shepherd boy who is searching for a material treasure. In return he finds a treasure worth more than that – wisdom and the importance of following his heart. The Alchemist is a book bursting with optimism and simplicity.
35. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
This book, which was also made into a movie, is about a world-renowned Harvard symbologist and the fear of the Illuminati resurfacing. A Swiss research facility requested that Robert Langdon analyze a mysterious Illuminati-related symbol marked on their murdered psychiatrist’s chest. He, along with an Italian scientist known as Vittoria Vetra, put their minds together and search through sealed crypts, deserted cathedrals, and ancient symbols in hope of digging up the truth.
36. The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie
The language of letting go has sold over 800,000 copies and is not publicized much. It is a book of daily meditations for those fighting self-doubt, codependency, addiction or any other types of negativity. This book is a great pick-me-up in the mornings if you are feeling down. It is detailed, well thought out, and helps those in the process of self-care and recovery.
37. Ripley’s Believe it or Not – Download the Weird
Ripley’s books are books about weird, odd, and cool facts from around the world. Think dresses made of human hair, the strongest people in the world, and the creepiest food dishes. There are so many of these books that we can’t name them all, but they are so popular that there are Ripley museums around the world – including ones in Tennessee and Florida. So if you’re bored and looking for something cool and jaw-dropping, pop open a Ripley’s book.
38. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Part of the Neapolitan Novels, this book is a generous and heartwarming story about two friends names Elena and Lila who grew up together in a poor neighborhood in Naples. Growing up in this neighborhood caused them to rely on each other more than they did others, even when their life paths conflicted. This book is about how even as their city changed and their lives transformed, Elena and Lila’s friendship remained strong.
39. Christine by Stephen King
Christine is a horror novel about a vintage car that is possessed by supernatural forces. It all begins when a teenager named Arnold purchases his Plymouth Fury from oddball Roland LeBay and names it Christine. He finds out he got more than what he bargained for when murders and suicides began to occur – all surrounding his car, Christine. He and his associates then go on a search to find out the car’s history. If you love classic novels, horror, or cars, this book is a must-read.
40. House Rules by Jodi Picoult
House Rules is about a brilliant teenage boy named Jacob Hunt that suffers from Asperger’s syndrome that is falsely accused of murder. The thing that makes Jacob even more special? His primary passion and focus is in forensic analysis, which he always used to guide cops. Now he’s in the spotlight while everyone wonders if he’s the one who did it.
41. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
This book is a hilarious and thoughtful exploration of the pleasures and nuisances of modern romance in today’s generation. It is not just a comedic book about romance and dating – it also brings statistics, extensive research, and data to the table from experts in the field. Caution: Reading this book might make your heart flutter, your voice roar with laughter, and your dating techniques stronger.
And BlogMutt HQ’s picks:
42. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (Grace)
Ronson, a journalist, covers a lot of ground on the history of psychology through the lens of the particularly strange and unsettling disorder of psychopathy. But he also has a classically British dry, self-deprecating wit, so while this book deals with some pretty serious stuff, it’s completely hilarious and entertaining. I also highly recommend another of his books, Them: Adventures With Extremists. Ronson has a way of making the least likable people somehow sympathetic characters.
43. The Bonfire of Vanities by Tom Wolfe (Scott)
I’ve read every word Wolfe has published, and I think that his writing will be used to explain things 100 years hence the way we read Dickens now to understand London in the 1800s. Want to know what the 60s were really all about? Read The Right Stuff and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. All his work is good, but I think people talk about the 1980s in New York as a monumental time, and I think that’s in large part because of Bonfire, which is so dense, so lurid, and so complete.
44. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Patrick)
Yeah yeah, I know, it’s on every best book list. But this book changed my entire perspective on reading. As a young boy in school, I was bored to tears by the likes of My Antonia, Grapes of Wrath, Ethan Frome, etc. Then this book came along and changed everything. Holden Caulfield’s distinct voice, stream of consciousness and non-sequiturs were like nothing I’d ever read before. As a teenager, I felt like he was a friend, talking directly to me. And the icing on the cake? It takes place in New York, the best setting for a novel bar none.
45. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (April)
Teetering somewhere between fiction and autobiography, Shantaram is the story of a man who escapes from an Australian prison and finds himself living in Bombay. This winding story follows his personal and spiritual journey as he becomes a doctor in the city’s slums, a black marketeer for the city’s biggest mafia don, and a soldier in an Afghan war. What really makes this book is Roberts’ beautiful descriptions of the Indian people and the sights, sounds, and smells of Bombay. At 937 pages, this novel has a little something for almost every type of reader–adventure, crime, suspense, and romance–all intertwined with some incredibly poignant and philosophical meditations on life, love, and the nature of good and evil.
46. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (Kali)
Both gently constructed and intoxicatingly gripping, Loving Frank documents the affair between protagonist Mamah Borthwick and visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. If you don’t pick it up for the rich character development, accurate social snapshot at the turn of the century, or stunning artistry of Wright’s craft through Mamah’s eyes, do it for the insane ending. This was one of those books I snailed through simply because I never wanted it to end.
There you have it. Now, get reading!