I have a long list of all-time favorite books, but not every book on my list is one I'd recommend to a general audience. Here's a qualified list of ten books I've read as an adult that have stuck with me. All are recommended, depending on your mood. Inspired by Silkstone's post, found here.
1. William Boyd's Any Human Heart
When you start out, you'll think you might not like this book. The main character is arrogant and, well, young. Brash. But keep going through this fictionalized journal that keeps track of seventy years of a man's life, including his heartbreaks and strongest loves. Other reviewers bash it for its "Forest Gumpness," yet to me it's not all that unbelievable that an upperclass intelligence officer might have contact with influential persons during one of the world's most tempestuous and active periods in history. I've read several William Boyd titles now and he has repeatedly shown his ability to invent worlds I like inhabiting. It's a good winter read, fully sad, sweet, and satisfying.
2. Philip Roth's I Married a Communist
I was riveted by Roth's take on the McCarthy red scare. It's part of
Roth's American Trilogy, and this was my favorite of the three, though all are well worth your time.
3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Fabulous epic of comic books and coming of age, spiritualism and sex. Funny, tragic, hold-your-breath good.
4. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
By far the best artistic memoir I've ever read, marking V. Nabokov's idyllic Russian childhood and his eventual escape during the Russian Revolution. Every word is necessary; every evocation of memory as an integral part of the human experience wrenching.
5. A Passage to India by EM Forster
Everyone should read one or another of Forster's novels. They are psychological and mystic, questioning the idea that state (through Colonialism) should trump individualism. In particular, A Passage to India contains both fully-realized and stock characters, painting a rich world of conflicting philosophies.
6. Postcards by Annie Proulx
I've enjoyed all of Proulx's novels, but Postcards' prose grabbed my collar and wrenched me around as I followed the tragic and sometimes funny life of Loyal Blood through the 20th century West. It evoked for me the wildcat Western persona that I romaticize were my own ancestors as they filtered into Colorado from points east. Proulx has her own language and tics and rhythm.
7. Austerlitz by WG Sebald
A haunting, mysterious, and visceral novel about the psychological aftermath of the Holocaust. Sebald uses photography, maps, blueprints and other print media as counterpoint to the jumble of memory and observation of the novel's protagonist. This book will influence the way you see, the way you think about your own past, and ruminates on the collective, which connects and holds us together even as external pressures try to pull us apart. Who are we, in the shadow of the unspeakable? Sebald's narrator searches, and we follow with trepidation and wonder.
8. The Places In Between by Rory Stewart
I like everything about this nonfiction narrative. Rory Stewart chronicles his foot march through Afghanistan right after the first fall of the Taliban. I knew close to nothing about the history and culture of this region, but Stewart's clear and often wry prose both entertains and instructs. I like books where people are willing to be unconventional and stubborn. Excellent book group choice, if you're looking for social relevance.
9. Stoner by John Williams
It was on many Best Reads of 2009 lists and there is good reason for its resurgence. Stoner is a slim novel about a young, incurious man in 1910 or so who gets sent off to college by his very poor parents to study agriculture, with the expectation he will return to the farm when he graduates. However, Mr. Stoner instead falls in love with literature and decides to become a teacher. The novel is about his life from college and beyond, and is written in spare but beautiful style. There are small moments of contemplation as Stoner chooses his life's paths and then lives out the consequences of those choices. You might recognize parts of yourself through his eyes, and you will be so sorry when you've reached the last page. Please, somebody, read this book.
10. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
I've only recently finished this weird and wonderful novel written in the late 1970s. It starts out as a seeming elegiac for lost love, and then meanders into the dark trenches of obsessive and obstinate unrequited love. The main character, Charles Arrowby, is judgmental and offensive, yet unafraid to chart his own path of crazy action as spurred on the by moods of the nearby sea. It's a long, winding story that would be excellent fodder for a book club discussion.