81 books like Topdog/Underdog

By Suzan-Lori Parks,

Here are 81 books that Topdog/Underdog fans have personally recommended if you like Topdog/Underdog. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Doubt: A Parable

Will Dunne Author Of The Dramatic Writer's Companion: Tools to Develop Characters, Cause Scenes, and Build Stories

From my list on plays with characters who leap off the page.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a playwright who loves not only writing plays but also teaching dramatic writing workshops – mostly through my San Francisco program and Chicago Dramatists where I’m a Resident Playwright. My plays have received many awards and honors, including three selections for the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, and have been presented in Europe, Russia, and Australia as well as the U.S. Meanwhile my workshops and script consultations have given me the opportunity to work with thousands of writers over the past 35 years. This led me to begin writing books for writers, starting with The Dramatic Writer’s Companion, now in its Second Edition.

Will's book list on plays with characters who leap off the page

Will Dunne Why did Will love this book?

You don’t have to grow up Catholic to like this play, but It sure doesn’t hurt.

Set in a Catholic elementary school in the Bronx, Doubt introduces us to Sister Aloysius, an uncompromising principal who runs her school as if it were a Marine bootcamp. This regime gets shaken when suspicions of sexual child abuse begin to arise.

What I like most about this play is how four flesh-and-blood characters – a school principal, a history teacher, a priest/gym instructor, and a student’s mother – can bring an entire school and community onstage in an incredibly vital way.

It’s why I think the play is superior to the later film adaptation and also why the play received so many awards, including a Tony for Best Play and a Pulitzer for Drama. 

By John Patrick Shanley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A superb new drama written by John Patrick Shanley. It is an inspired study in moral uncertainty with the compellingly certain structure of an old-fashioned detective drama. Even as Doubt holds your conscious attention as an intelligently measured debate play, it sends off stealth charges that go deeper emotionally. One of the year’s ten best.”—Ben Brantley, The New York Times

“[The] #1 show of the year. How splendid it feels to be trusted with such passionate, exquisite ambiguity unlike anything we have seen from this prolific playwright so far. Blunt yet subtle, manipulative but full of empathy for all sides,…


Book cover of The Cripple of Inishmaan

Will Dunne Author Of The Dramatic Writer's Companion: Tools to Develop Characters, Cause Scenes, and Build Stories

From my list on plays with characters who leap off the page.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a playwright who loves not only writing plays but also teaching dramatic writing workshops – mostly through my San Francisco program and Chicago Dramatists where I’m a Resident Playwright. My plays have received many awards and honors, including three selections for the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, and have been presented in Europe, Russia, and Australia as well as the U.S. Meanwhile my workshops and script consultations have given me the opportunity to work with thousands of writers over the past 35 years. This led me to begin writing books for writers, starting with The Dramatic Writer’s Companion, now in its Second Edition.

Will's book list on plays with characters who leap off the page

Will Dunne Why did Will love this book?

A list of play recommendations from me has to include something by Martin McDonagh who is now garnering serious attention as a filmmaker.

I chose The Cripple of Inishmaan because of its dynamic main character “Cripple” Billy Craven who yearns to escape the poverty and boredom of his life on an Aran island off the west coast of Ireland. Billy begins to envision a future for himself in Hollywood when he learns about a film shoot on a neighboring island and has to figure out a way to get over there.

I love the strange world of this play and how it is revealed through the characters we meet, such as Billy’s Aunt Kate who talks to stones; Johnnypateenmike, the town gossip; and Helen McCormick, Billy’s ever-feisty friend.

By Martin McDonagh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cripple of Inishmaan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Mr McDonagh is destined to be one of the theatrical luminaries of the 21st century" (The New Republic) In 1934, the people of Inishman learn that the Hollywood director Robert Flaherty is coming to the neighbouring island to film his documentary Man of Aran. No-one is more excited than Cripple Billy, an unloved boy whose chief occupation has been gazing at cows and yearning for a girl who wants no part of him. For Billy is determined to cross the sea and audition for the Yank. And as news of his audacity ripples thorugh his rumour-starved community, The Cripple of…


Book cover of The Clean House and Other Plays

Will Dunne Author Of The Dramatic Writer's Companion: Tools to Develop Characters, Cause Scenes, and Build Stories

From my list on plays with characters who leap off the page.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a playwright who loves not only writing plays but also teaching dramatic writing workshops – mostly through my San Francisco program and Chicago Dramatists where I’m a Resident Playwright. My plays have received many awards and honors, including three selections for the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, and have been presented in Europe, Russia, and Australia as well as the U.S. Meanwhile my workshops and script consultations have given me the opportunity to work with thousands of writers over the past 35 years. This led me to begin writing books for writers, starting with The Dramatic Writer’s Companion, now in its Second Edition.

Will's book list on plays with characters who leap off the page

Will Dunne Why did Will love this book?

While most plays are driven by one protagonist, this Pulitzer finalist is a great example of how a group of characters can work together dramatically to fill that role.

Once again, it is the characters themselves who make this script so memorable: Lane, a successful doctor who met her husband in medical school over a dead body; Matilide, Lane’s Brazilian housekeeper who would rather be a stand-up comedian; and Virginia, Lane’s obsessive-compulsive sister who secretly cleans Lane’s house.

Breaking with realism, each of these characters addresses us directly at key times in the story and bring us into a “metaphysical Connecticut” where it may snow in a living room or where a perfect joke can cause someone to die laughing – literally.

By Sarah Ruhl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Clean House and Other Plays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Passionate. Show-stopping. Daringly over-the-top and impressively consistent in its delirious excess. The Clean House shines.”—New Haven Advocate

 

“The Clean House is not, by any means, a traditional boy-meets-girl story. In fact disease, death, and dirt are among the subjects it addresses. This comedy is romantic, deeply so, but in the more arcane sense of the word: visionary, tinged with fantasy, extravagant in feeling, maybe a little nuts.”—The New York Times

 

“Touching, inventive, invigoratingly compact, and luminously liquid, Eurydice reframes the ancient myth of ill-fated love to focus not on the bereaved musician but on his dead bride—and on her struggle…


Book cover of Ruined

Will Dunne Author Of The Dramatic Writer's Companion: Tools to Develop Characters, Cause Scenes, and Build Stories

From my list on plays with characters who leap off the page.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a playwright who loves not only writing plays but also teaching dramatic writing workshops – mostly through my San Francisco program and Chicago Dramatists where I’m a Resident Playwright. My plays have received many awards and honors, including three selections for the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, and have been presented in Europe, Russia, and Australia as well as the U.S. Meanwhile my workshops and script consultations have given me the opportunity to work with thousands of writers over the past 35 years. This led me to begin writing books for writers, starting with The Dramatic Writer’s Companion, now in its Second Edition.

Will's book list on plays with characters who leap off the page

Will Dunne Why did Will love this book?

I saw the world premiere of this play at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and never forgot it.

What stays with me most is the powerful main character Mama Nadi, a fierce, shrewd businesswoman who runs a brothel in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a civil war. And though she lives in a world where sex trafficking, rape, mutilation, and other brutality is commonplace, she knows how to keep her establishment flourishing and her girls, safe.

Playwright Nottage based her characters on women and girls whom she interviewed during a trip to Africa. The authenticity of the characters and storyline may help explain why the play went on to earn multiple awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. 

By Lynn Nottage,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

“A powerhouse drama. . . . Lynn Nottage’s beautiful, hideous and unpretentiously important play [is] a shattering, intimate journey into faraway news reports.”—Linda Winer, Newsday

“An intense and gripping new drama . . . the kind of new play we desperately need: well-informed and unafraid of the world’s brutalities. Nottage is one of our finest playwrights, a smart, empathetic and daring storyteller who tells a story an audience won’t expect.”—David Cote, Time Out New York

A rain forest bar and brothel in the brutally war-torn Congo is the setting for Lynn Nottage’s…


Book cover of Blankets: A Graphic Novel

Clark T. Carlton Author Of A Bitch for God

From my list on full of intimate self-revelations.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been drawn to artists who expose their lives in a way that makes you feel you know them. The best of them have a raw honesty that shows their flaws, their wounds and struggles and hopefully the lessons they learned. Nobody likes bragging, but we’re captivated by accounts that echo our own secrets, embarrassments, and darker emotions, especially if told with a sense of humor. For decades, I’ve been addicted to the confessional lyrics of Joni Mitchell and have always been drawn to the unguarded openness of certain memoirs and the roman-à-clef or thinly disguised autobiography. In showing us their vulnerabilities, these authors have been heroic.  

Clark's book list on full of intimate self-revelations

Clark T. Carlton Why did Clark love this book?

This celebrated graphic novel is a haunting masterpiece by a gifted artist who uses words and imagery in his coming-of-age tale. 

If I were to describe the plot and its setting in snowy Wisconsin, a reader might assume this is something completely mundane, a bland slice of teenage life. But Thompson beautifully renders the ecstasy of first love as well as the devastation of romantic disappointment in a way that everyone who has ever loved and lost will recognize.

The other thread that weaves through the narrative is Craig’s rejection of the Baptist faith he was raised in, something that defined his family and was the center of their lives— and that’s something else I relate to. Blankets is a warm and deeply true confession.

By Craig Thompson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Quaint, meditative and sometimes dreamy, blankets will take you straight back to your first kiss." --The Guardian

Blankets is the story of a young man coming of age and finding the confidence to express his creative voice. Craig Thompson's poignant graphic memoir plays out against the backdrop of a Midwestern winterscape: finely-hewn linework draws together a portrait of small town life, a rigorously fundamentalist Christian childhood, and a lonely, emotionally mixed-up adolescence.

Under an engulfing blanket of snow, Craig and Raina fall in love at winter church camp, revealing to one another their struggles with faith and their dreams of…


Book cover of Shotgun Lovesongs

Maggie Ginsberg Author Of Still True

From my list on the essence of small town Wisconsin.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve only ever lived in small Midwestern towns. I grew up there, raised my kids there, recovered from a divorce there, remarried there. I’ve had the same best friends for 40 years. I’ve paid and bartered for my classmates’ trade services. I’ve argued with them in churches and cafes, rooted for and against their kids at high school basketball and football games all over the state. We’ve celebrated and buried each other’s loved ones. I’ve run hundreds of miles of Wisconsin trail, soaked in her waters, marveled at her sunsets. It’s as home to me as my own body, and I’ll never tire of reading about it. 

Maggie's book list on the essence of small town Wisconsin

Maggie Ginsberg Why did Maggie love this book?

Reading Shotgun Lovesongs years ago is my first adult memory of seeing myself on the page—the kind of thing that probably happens more frequently if you’re from New York or L.A. but isn’t as common for those of us born and raised in so-called flyover states.

I fell hard for Nickolas Butler’s debut—the story of four boyhood friends in a small Wisconsin town, one of whom becomes a famous rock star—from the first chapter. While it became an international bestseller for its universally appealing story, hooky concept, and lyrical prose (not to mention its rumored, real-life inspiration),

I personally was drawn to the intimate portrayal of life-long, small-town friendships, the precise push-pull of life in a fishbowl; the loyalty we feel for each other that isn’t always earned; and the way we tether ourselves to people and place, for better or for worse.

By Nickolas Butler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shotgun Lovesongs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"Impressively original." ―The New York Times

"Sparkles in every way. A love letter to the open lonely American heartland…A must-read." ―People

"The kind of book that restores your faith in humanity." ―Toronto Star

Welcome to Little Wing.

It's a place like hundreds of others, but for four boyhood friends―all born and raised in this small Wisconsin town―it is home. One of them never left, still working the family farm, but the others felt the need to move on. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit. One of them hit it big as a rock star. And…


Book cover of East of Eden

John Paul Godges Author Of Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century

From my list on multigenerational family sagas.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since I was a kid, as the grandson of Italian immigrant farmers and the son of a Polish-immigrant father, I wondered how my family fit into the American story. As I grew older, I learned that the American story could not be limited to a single race, a single religion, or even a single generation. Rather, the essence of any culture lies in the story that gets passed down from one generation to the next. That is where my passion lies: tapping into the essence of multiple cultures by tracing the multigenerational family wisdom that is often imparted quietly, humbly, and painfully, which makes it durable, meaningful, and indelible.

John's book list on multigenerational family sagas

John Paul Godges Why did John love this book?

An outpouring of kindness for families despite their flaws—or because of their flaws.

I miss the Hamiltons and Trasks because of the forgiving portrayal of their human limitations. One tragedy involving a brother and sister left a lasting impression on me precisely because of its gentle, restrained depiction, as if the tragedy were being viewed from the seat of heaven, with an infinite and eternal compassion.

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked East of Eden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

California's fertile Salinas Valley is home to two families whose destinies are fruitfully, and fatally, intertwined. Over the generations, between the beginning of the twentieth century and the end of the First World War, the Trasks and the Hamiltons will helplessly replay the fall of Adam and Eve and the murderous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

East of Eden was considered by Steinbeck to be his magnum opus, and its epic scope and memorable characters, exploring universal themes of love and identity, ensure it remains one of America's most enduring novels. This edition features a stunning new cover by renowned…


Book cover of The Awakening

Tricia Copeland Author Of Kingdom of Embers

From my list on magical realms just beyond our reach.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since reading The Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, and The Crystal Cave as a kid and teen, I’ve been hooked on all things magical. I love the fantasy genre and characters who are driven to use their powers to protect their tribes. I am constantly reading books about witches, vampires, the fae, sirens, shifters, and any other supernatural character with a good storyline surrounding them. L.J. Smith, Cassandra Clare, P.C. and Kristin Cast, Stephenie Meyer, and so many other YA fantasy writers are absolutely my heroes. Fantasy books not only entertain but have helped me process life and our world in a safe environment. 

Tricia's book list on magical realms just beyond our reach

Tricia Copeland Why did Tricia love this book?

I loved Netflix’s The Vampire Diaries series and dove into the books full force. And while some may categorize the books as a vampire series, Bonnie, a psychic who later learns she is a witch, is the second main female character in the books. She plays a big role in the plots to save their town from the evil that surrounds it. I love that Bonnie is true to her friends and grows into her powers and confidence as the story progresses.

By L. J. Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Awakening as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestselling series that inspired the hit TV show The Vampire Diaries!

A deadly love triangle.

Elena Gilbert is a high school golden girl, used to getting what she wants. And who she wants. But when the boy she’s set her sights on—the handsome and haunted Stefan—isn’t interested, she’s confused.

She could never know the real reason Stefan is struggling to resist her: Stefan is a vampire, and Elena’s in danger just by being around him. What’s more, Stefan’s dark, dangerous vampire brother Damon has just arrived in town.

And wherever Damon goes, trouble always follows.…


Book cover of The Comedy of Errors

Jade Varden Author Of Justice

From my list on switching places in all time periods.

Why am I passionate about this?

Books about switching places and mistaken identity have always interested me. Sometimes, it takes a comedic turn where the hero bumbles through misadventures. Sometimes, there's something sinister at play at the hero must fight to get their own lives back. Whether funny or scary or romantic or thrilling, it’s always a wild ride. The fun of it, and the frightening part, is that the reader must guess what's happening along with the hero. You have to figure out who is who and what is what, so there's always a mystery. 

Jade's book list on switching places in all time periods

Jade Varden Why did Jade love this book?

Twain definitely wasn’t the first to cover the topic of switching places. Shakespeare, who was writing 200 years before Twain, wasn't even the first to do it. However, he did it with a great deal of style and a lot of laughs in The Comedy of Errors. This is considered to be one of his great comedies and it's easy to see why. This is a tale about two sets of identical twins who get all mixed up. A whole bunch of hijinks happens next. 

This is a great example of Shakespeare and a plot that has been adapted several times since. And while it's funny, the plot also reveals some deeper truths within the characters and society as a whole. As always with Shakespeare, it's meant to make you think.

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Comedy of Errors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* Beautifully illustrated with atmospheric paintings by renowned artists, The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. It's also his shortest and one of his most farcical comedies, with a major part of the humor coming from slapstick and mistaken identity, in addition to puns and word play.

* Just as accessible and enjoyable for today's readers as it would have been when first published, the play is one of the great works of English literature and continues to be widely read throughout the world.

* This meticulous digital edition from Heritage Illustrated Publishing is a faithful reproduction…


Book cover of Bone Gap

Jo Schaffer Layton Author Of Badlands

From my list on characters who go through hell, survive, and also find love.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love books that entertain and uplift when characters learn and overcome. As a teenager, things happened that threw me into a painful tailspin, ending in a wilderness program for troubled kids. It taught me that I can do hard things and face challenges in life. I’ve lost loved ones, have a special needs child, divorced, been broke, earned my black belt, returned to school as a single mom for a degree, and co-founded a nonprofit to support literacy for kids. None of that was easy, but it increased my compassion and hope. Stories can be powerful reminders of human resilience, and that battle scars make someone more beautiful than before.

Jo's book list on characters who go through hell, survive, and also find love

Jo Schaffer Layton Why did Jo love this book?

I got this book in a subscription book box and was immediately intrigued by the premise. The town of Bone Gap is full of “gaps,” openings to other realities that someone can slip into and disappear. This story is not your usual read. The writer creatively mixes mystery, magic, love, loss, regret, forgiveness, and overcoming. 

The story follows Finn, a teenage boy, who tries to discover why his brother’s girlfriend disappeared, and the girlfriend, who is made a prisoner because she’s beautiful. 

The book made me think about a lot of things: that there is a difference between looking at and seeing someone else; that past trauma may not show on your face, but it’s part of you; that things seem more beautiful when you leave them behind; and that everyone has their reasons to see things differently. This book is character-focused, weird, entertaining, and very cathartic. 

By Laura Ruby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bone Gap as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

He'd been drawn here by the grass and the bees and the strange sensation that this was a magical place, that the bones of the world were a little looser here, double-jointed, twisting back on themselves, leaving spaces one could slip into and hide . . .

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps - gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza goes missing, the people of Bone Gap aren't surprised. After all, it isn't the first time someone's slipped away and left Finn and Sean O'Sullivan…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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