The Brothers K, by David James Duncan
Family. Baseball. Love. Loss. Life. This one has it all including a perfect story and captivating prose. I love this book because I love character development, and after reading this book I felt like I new the Chance family better than some people who I've known for years. This is a richly layered family epic that comes of age along side of America - through the turbulent second half of the 20th Century. This is one of the ones that I grieved when it was over.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
This mostly true tale of the authors early life bears its title somewhat ironically. He uses it tongue in cheek, but it couldn't be more true. This is the story of a 19-year-old almost man who loses his parents within 5 weeks of one another and inherits his 9-year old brother. We join them on the journey to figuring out how to make a life together. We cringe at the horrible mistakes. We laugh at the pure joy. It'll break your heart, but it'll help you patch it up too.
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
I think this might have been the first chapter book I ever read. It was second or third grade. I like Roald Dahl. I like the justice that his work possesses. There is almost always a put upon downtrodden character who is being held down by some outside force. I love that the characters, in this case Charlie, are true of heart, and that leads them to a life changing reward. That was where the first movie failed (and actually why Roald Dahl pulled out, and didn't let them make The Great Glass Elevator) - they made Charlie drink the fizzy lifting drink. He never would have done that. He's too good. If only life were really that simple. Maybe it is.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon
You remember that time in your life, when you were old enough to make your own choices, but still too young to make the right ones. Yeah. Those were the days. This story, in perfectly foot-noted Michael Chabon style, follows two young dreamers and they change the world around them. For the better. For the worse. It also possesses a heavy dose of comic book history which, as a non-comic book guy, I was leery of, but it was a great education on how the 1930s in New York redefined American pop culture.
Geek Love by Kathleen Duncan
This sad, dark, twisted little love story has nothing to do with nerdy kids who fall in love. The "geek" referred to in this title is a carnival performer who bites the heads off of live chickens. and this is the story of a freak show promoter and the geek he falls in love with, and the family that follows. Bizarre and horrific, yet completely lovely and endearing, this story explores the length that familes will go to - to protect each other, to help each other, and to get what they want.
Summerland by Michael Chabon
There are only a handful of things on Earth that will reduce me to tears. The final scene of It's A Wonderful Life is one, and the last three pages of this book are another. This is one of those underdog overcomes the obsticale stories, and I love it completely. Ethan Feld is not a good baseball player, but he is drawn into an adventure in which he must overcome his own limitations, not for himself, but for everyone else. It gets me every single time.
Salem's Lot by Steven King
Suspense is fun, and in this early work by the maestro of horror we get plenty of supsense. You know how I hate to get all hipster, but our buddy Stephen King was writing vampires long before vampires were cool. And in this case, they're actually blood thirsty and animalistic, representing so much about lust and desire. There's not a single heart-sick emo teenager to be found. What can be found are real chills. And a sneaking suspicion that some of the people you know might actually be creatures of the night.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
This one is raw and honest, and like most of John Irving's books, pretty zany. The friendship of John and Owen is something of an example to all of us. At first it seems off balance and even charitable, but we learn that little Owen with his "wrecked" voice and small stature is more equipped to handle the world than John in a lot of ways. At it's core, this novel is a testament to the power of faith, and all of the complicated intricacies that accompany a life.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
So much could (and has) been said about this book. This masterpiece. This amazing bit of 20th century. I will say that this book is a deal-breaker. If you can't love this story of right and wrong, then I can't love you. Sorry. I just can't. Ms. Lee's writing is astonishing in its simplicity, and this story possesses a truth that doesn't change or fade with the passing of time. But that's not what gets me. The way she captures the soul of small town America is what seals the deal for me. I think I live on the same street as Scout. And I like that.
Honorable Mentions: I'd be remiss not to mention the following books, which held my attention and stuck with me long after I was done reading them.
Under the Dome by Stephen King
Bossypants by Tina Fey
The Corrections by Johnathan Franzen