The best books to remind you that yours is not the only crazy family

Why am I passionate about this?

I have no expertise on anything, but I do feel like I have had a lot of experience being around families and observing complex family dynamics. It’s funny because I would say I have never actually had the “family” experience myself. I grew up with just a mother and a younger sister. That’s it. I barely knew my father, barely knew my grandfather, sort of knew my grandmother. Barely knew my uncles. I found myself looking at other families with awe. Not with envy, but more with curiosity. And as someone who has had his own issues with my sole sibling, I am forever intrigued by that dynamic as well.   


I wrote...

The Color of Family

By Jerry McGill,

Book cover of The Color of Family

What is my book about?

Devon and James Payne are brothers and rivals since childhood. But they share an affinity for sports that brings glory to their Connecticut town and promise for the future. Then they’re in a car accident. Devon is paralyzed for life, while James goes on to live the dream.

For the Paynes, the tremulous repercussions of that evening never settled. Over the course of a decade we visit members of the family, scattered all across the globe, and witness how their lives have developed. Each has moved on, yet struggle to cope with the traumatic event that irrevocably connects them. Devon confronts not only his own demons and family secrets but also the guilt and heartbreaking betrayals that followed in the wake of the tragedy. He also discovers the power of forgiveness.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Nine Stories

Jerry McGill Why did I love this book?

Nine Stories, along with Franny and Zooey provides a wonderful glimpse into the lives of several members, mostly siblings, of the Glass Family. It is the first collection of short stories I ever read (I was in high school) and I devoured it in one weekend. I remember being so impressed with how each story had its own distinct emotion and personality. It wholly inspired me and was a great influence on my current novel. It taught me something that my favorite TV shows like The Brady Bunch and The Cosby Show couldn’t—that no family is absolutely perfect. That often times there is a simmering tension beneath the skin of every family and that tension can lead to profound sadness and sometimes tragedy.   

By J.D. Salinger,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Nine Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The "original, first-rate, serious, and beautiful" short fiction (New York Times Book Review) that introduced J. D. Salinger to American readers in the years after World War II, including "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and the first appearance of Salinger's fictional Glass family.
Nine exceptional stories from one of the great literary voices of the twentieth century. Witty, urbane, and frequently affecting, Nine Stories sits alongside Salinger's very best work--a treasure that will passed down for many generations to come. The stories: A Perfect Day for Bananafish Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut Just Before the War with the Eskimos The Laughing…


Book cover of Anna Karenina

Jerry McGill Why did I love this book?

I mean, hello! The opening sentence “All happy families are alike…” is probably my favorite opening sentence of all time. This book is what I place in the “epic story telling” category for its breadth and scope of time. In many ways it is the story of two separate families and it hits on several themes I have come to crave and demand from art. Tolstoy looks at class, cultural and societal norms, and the emotional toll of familial expectations. It is a book so dense with interesting, flawed characters and it is one of the rare works I come back again to read every few years.  

By Leo Tolstoy,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Anna Karenina as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1872 the mistress of a neighbouring landowner threw herself under a train at a station near Tolstoy's home. This gave Tolstoy the starting point he needed for composing what many believe to be the greatest novel ever written.

In writing Anna Karenina he moved away from the vast historical sweep of War and Peace to tell, with extraordinary understanding, the story of an aristocratic woman who brings ruin on herself. Anna's tragedy is interwoven with not only the courtship and marriage of Kitty and Levin but also the lives of many other characters. Rich in incident, powerful in characterization,…


Book cover of The House of the Spirits

Jerry McGill Why did I love this book?

This is another book I put in the “epic story telling” category as its reach is so incredible; it looks at four entire generations of one family, the del Valle family. This beautifully lyrical novel was also my first foray into the literary genre referred to as “magical realism.” When I try to imagine all of the layers of imagination and sheer poetic genius it took to even begin this book I nearly faint. Just about every page sings and though at times I had to return to the family map to keep track of everyone I never stopped being engrossed by the story for one minute. A true gem.    

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The House of the Spirits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Spectacular...An absorbing and distinguished work...The House of the Spirits with its all-informing, generous, and humane sensibility, is a unique achievement, both personal witness and possible allegory of the past, present, and future of Latin America.” —The New York Times Book Review

Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson Goodreads Book Club Pick November/December 2020!

The House of the Spirits, the unforgettable first novel that established Isabel Allende as one of the world’s most gifted storytellers, brings to life the triumphs and tragedies of three generations of the Trueba family. The patriarch Esteban is a volatile, proud man whose voracious pursuit of political…


Book cover of Beloved

Jerry McGill Why did I love this book?

This was the first book that ever challenged me so profoundly that I was not sure I wanted to be a writer. My thinking was “if I can’t tell a story this brilliantly and have my words be so charged with power then why bother? I will never be this poignant.” But I got over that and gave it my best show knowing…this novel so incredibly captures the chilling, hideous, and damaging effect that slavery had on the Black family and how the ripple effects of oppression still crush this country today. Every family has “ghosts” and no novel reminds me of that more than this one.     

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

33 authors picked Beloved as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Toni Morrison was a giant of her times and ours... Beloved is a heart-breaking testimony to the ongoing ravages of slavery, and should be read by all' Margaret Atwood, New York Times

Discover this beautiful gift edition of Toni Morrison's prize-winning contemporary classic Beloved

It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her…


Book cover of Mother for Dinner

Jerry McGill Why did I love this book?

I have no idea how to begin to describe this book so I’ll just do my best to sum up the plot in one sentence: a large group of siblings, raised as Cannibal-American, all come back together at the deathbed request of their mother to perform the ritual act of eating her after she dies. The statements the novel makes about family obligation, family rivalry, the hate and affection family members can have for one another. All told in a manner so original and hilarious. We use the term “darkly humorous” a lot but this book stands on its own and just never ceases to amaze me.

By Shalom Auslander,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mother for Dinner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SUNDAY TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR 2021

'Outrageous satire . . . extremely funny, weirdly touching' - Guardian
'A work of genius' - Scotsman
'Close-to-the-knuckle farce with a big beating heart' - Daily Mail

This is the story of an unusual family. Though they are nothing like yours, you will recognize them. They are the last Cannibal-Americans. And they have a problem.

When their mother dies, twelve children gather to dispose of the body in the traditional manner . . . by eating it. But can they follow the ancient rituals of consumption? Is their unique cultural heritage worth preserving…


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Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mentor Laugher Research nut Avid reader

Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Winner of the Literary Titan Book Award

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family’s happiness.

But Marilyn’s quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb Jones wants something more than a father-daughter relationship. He sends Carol far away, where the boy won’t be a hindrance to his plans. Marilyn devises a plan of her own: to locate her little brother, kidnap him, and run away.

Independence, however, often comes at a high price.

As Marilyn weathers the unexpected and often brutal storms of her childhood and adolescence, hope becomes her ally as she winds through small southern towns, wrapping herself around an assortment of hearts along the way. With unexpected help from a caring social worker, a carnival of misfits, her first true love, and even the elusive Tan Man himself, Marilyn will discover that “family” isn’t always what we imagine it to be.

"A dazzling piece that delves deep into the themes of survival, the casualties of self-discovery, and the power of familial ties." ~ Prairies Book Review

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

What is this book about?

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family's happiness.

But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in magical realism, brothers, and Ohio?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about magical realism, brothers, and Ohio.

Magical Realism Explore 423 books about magical realism
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Ohio Explore 69 books about Ohio