The most recommended bildungsroman books

Who picked these books? Meet our 543 experts.

543 authors created a book list connected to bildungsroman, and here are their favorite bildungsroman books.
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By Fran Ross,

Book cover of Oreo

Emma Smith-Stevens Author Of The Australian

From the list on “funny-sad” contemporary novels.

Who am I?

Much laughter is born out of sadness. Humor can be a way to cope or even reinvent our realities in ways that bring relief—and release. There's a misconception that “serious literature” should be humorless; crack a smile and you’re a fraud. However, the worlds and characters that emerge from this way of thinking do not ring true to me. Who among us hasn’t joked to help deal with sorrow? Or to satirize the outrageous? Or simply because life--however brutal—is also sometimes funny? The more a writer allows laughter to intermingle with tears, the more I believe in the story, and the more I enjoy it. That is why I wrote a “funny-sad” novel, The Australian.

Emma's book list on “funny-sad” contemporary novels

Why did Emma love this book?

Oreo (originally published in 1974, then out of print, and finally repopularized by Harriette Mullen and republished in 2000), a satirical novel by Fran Ross, a journalist and, briefly, a comedy writer for Richard Pryor, is widely considered to be “before its time.” This aching and hilarious, experimentally structured story is about a girl, Oreo, with a Jewish father and a Black mother, who ventures to New York City to find her father only to discover there are hundreds of Sam Schwartzes in the phonebook, and then goes on a quest to find him.

By Fran Ross,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Oreo is raised by her maternal grandparents in Philadelphia. Her black mother tours with a theatrical troupe, and her Jewish deadbeat dad disappeared when she was an infant, leaving behind a mysterious note that triggers her quest to find him. What ensues is a playful, modernized parody of the classical odyssey of Theseus with a feminist twist, immersed in seventies pop culture, and mixing standard English, black vernacular, and Yiddish with wisecracking aplomb. Oreo, our young hero, navigates the labyrinth of sound studios and brothels and subway tunnels in Manhattan, seeking to claim her birthright while unwittingly experiencing and triggering…

Shoulder Season

By Christina Clancy,

Book cover of Shoulder Season

J. Ryan Stradal Author Of Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club

From the list on new reads that absolutely nail a sense of place.

Who am I?

I was born and raised in Minnesota, and attended college in Illinois, and even though I’ve spent the last two decades in California, I feel like a Midwesterner to my core, and it will always be my home. As a teenager, I was a voracious reader, and while I especially craved novels set in my home state, I had a difficult time finding ones that described the settings I knew and the kinds of people I recognized and loved. I write for that reader now, and I adore any novel that has an unmistakable sense of place.

J.'s book list on new reads that absolutely nail a sense of place

Why did J. love this book?

Growing up five hours away in Minnesota, I had no idea that Lake Geneva, Wisconsin – a small Midwest town surrounded by farmland – was home to a Playboy Club for over a decade. Clancy, a born-and-bred Wisconsinite, did her research, dramatizing the lives of local women before, during, and after their stints in the club with ample heart and heartbreak. Capturing the dreams, complexity, and contradictions of rural Midwestern women as well as anyone this side of Bonnie Jo Campbell, it’s become one of the books I recommend to anyone who wants to understand my home region.

By Christina Clancy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The small town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin is an unlikely location for a Playboy Resort, and nineteen-year old Sherri Taylor is an unlikely bunny. Growing up in neighbouring East Troy, Sherri plays the organ at the local church and has never felt comfortable in her own skin. But when her parents die in quick succession, she leaves the only home she's ever known for the chance to be part of a glamorous slice of history. In the winter of 1981, in a costume two sizes too small, her toes pinched by stilettos, Sherri joins the daughters of dairy farmers and…

Book cover of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Roy L. Pickering Jr. Author Of Patches of Grey

From the list on Black family dynamics.

Who am I?

Reading and writing about family dynamics, particularly Black families, has always appealed to me. Particularly when it comes to the generation gap between parents and their children that causes them to see the same world through different lenses. Who we choose to see as our true family, the ones who define the place we call home, may or may not be defined by blood. I am fortunate not to have personally experienced most of the drama and trauma found in novels that I am drawn to, and in stories I have felt compelled to write. Otherwise, I would have turned to memoir writing rather than fiction.

Roy's book list on Black family dynamics

Why did Roy love this book?

A girl is haunted by events that shaped her destiny early on. A father who vanished without a trace. A mother who took her own life along with those of her other children by leaping from the roof of a building. There is a witness and a survivor, and this beautiful novel is the latter's story, as well as an examination of race. She is her father's Black and her mother's White daughter. Her racial identity therefore is both and neither, dependent on how one sees her, or how she chooses to see herself on any given day. Exploration of racial as well as family dynamics are themes that I am strongly drawn to read as well as write about. Durrow blends the two masterfully.

By Heidi W. Durrow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Girl Who Fell from the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky can actually fly." —The New York Times Book Review
Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop.

Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief,…

White Oleander

By Janet Fitch,

Book cover of White Oleander

Asale Angel-Ajani Author Of A Country You Can Leave

From the list on badass mothers.

Who am I?

The first time I learned that I was raised by a “bad” mother was when I was in the first grade. The teachers complained that my mother hadn’t shown up for parent-teacher conferences and never could get me to school on time. But I knew what they did not, that my mother worked a lot and was raising kids all her own and yet still had time to take us to the library to read books that were well beyond the ones at school. Because of my highly iterant life raised by a bookish and neglectful mother, I have always been interested in the relationship between children and their less-than-perfect mothers.

Asale's book list on badass mothers

Why did Asale love this book?

This lush book, written in 1994, is now something of a classic.

Ingrid is scorned by a man that she sees as being beneath her so she poisons him, and is sent to prison, leaving her daughter Astrid to navigate a series of foster care and adolescence all on her own.

The sweep of descriptive language is lush and languid as the California it depicts. I read this book repeatedly when it first came out, I felt Astrid’s pain as my own. 

By Janet Fitch,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

White Oleander is a painfully beautiful first novel about a young girl growing up the hard way. It is a powerful story of mothers and daughters, their ambiguous alliances, their selfish love and cruel behaviour, and the search for love and identity.Astrid has been raised by her mother, a beautiful, headstrong poet. Astrid forgives her everything as her world revolves around this beautiful creature until Ingrid murders a former lover and is imprisoned for life. Astrid's fierce determination to survive and be loved makes her an unforgettable figure. 'Liquid poetry' - Oprah Winfrey 'Tangled, complex and extraordinarily moving' - Observer

The Body

By Stephen King,

Book cover of The Body

Robert Pettus Author Of Abry.

From the list on cultivating meaning in the face of societal absurdity.

Who am I?

Growing up in a rural area influenced by both Protestantism and Catholicism, I found that the daily habits of devoutly religious people were often contradictory to the basic practices of their religion. I also discovered that people were every day forced to adjust their beliefs and behaviors depending on which microcosm within the culture they were in at a given moment participating. People unable to play by these ever-shifting cultural rules would quickly lose respect. This scared the hell out of me, as I was never good at adjusting to different social situations on the fly, but I also found it interesting, and it therefore became the primary theme of my book. 

Robert's book list on cultivating meaning in the face of societal absurdity

Why did Robert love this book?

In my opinion, Stephen King is even better at crafting coming-of-age tales than he is at horror, and The Body might be his best.

I love how this book portrays the adventures of childhood—being chased by dogs, walking the train tracks, puffing cigarettes around a fire as the night sets in—as being totally unique and new, exciting experiences. This story, in my view, is the perfect template for any good childhood adventure story. 

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine

#1 New York Times bestselling author Stephen King’s timeless novella “The Body”—originally published in his 1982 short story collection Different Seasons, and adapted into the 1986 film classic Stand by Me—is now available as a stand-alone publication.

It’s 1960 in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. Ray Brower, a boy from a nearby town, has disappeared, and twelve-year-old Gordie Lachance and his three friends set out on a quest to find his body along the railroad tracks. During the course of their journey, Gordie, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern…

Duck Feet

By Ely Percy,

Book cover of Duck Feet

Elissa Soave Author Of Ginger and Me

From the list on Scottish reads centring working-class women.

Who am I?

I am a Scottish writer and have long loved books from and about Scotland. But I would love to see more written about the working-class Scottish experience from women’s perspective as I think that would lead to less focus on the violence and poverty that is featured in so many contemporary Scottish books from male authors. There is so much joy in the Scottish working-class experience – a pot of soup always on the stove in someone’s kitchen, the stories, the laughter, a community that cares for their own. Let’s see more of that, and more stories from and about Scottish working-class women.

Elissa's book list on Scottish reads centring working-class women

Why did Elissa love this book?

This is the debut novel by Ely Percy, and tells the story of Kirsty Campbell, an ordinary Scottish girl as she navigates her way through high school in Renfrewshire.

An extremely relatable novel, it is told in short, buzzy chapters, and I love it for relating the best of what a Scottish working-class childhood can give you – resilience, humour, and the will to succeed. The book covers issues like teen pregnancy, drugs, and violence, but it does so without lecturing; rather, it celebrates what it means to be brought up in contemporary, working-class Scotland.

By Ely Percy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Duck Feet is a coming-of-age novel, set in the mid-noughties in Renfrew and Paisley, Scotland.

It follows the lives of 12-year-old Kirsty Campbell and her friends as they navigate life from first to sixth year at Renfrew Grammar school. This book is a celebration of youth in an ever-changing world. It uses humour to tackle hard-hitting subjects such as drugs, bullying, sexuality, and teenage pregnancy. But moreover, it is a relatable and accessible portrait of figuring out who you are, plunging into the currents of life, and most of all, finding hope.

By celebrated Scottish author Ely Percy, this is…

Our Endless Numbered Days

By Claire Fuller,

Book cover of Our Endless Numbered Days

Kristin Fields Author Of A Frenzy of Sparks

From the list on dysfunctional fiction families to love.

Who am I?

The title of this post is a little misleading – when I say dysfunctional, I mean trauma has left these characters emotionally unavailable despite their love for one another, and searching for answers. When I was eleven, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer on Thanksgiving and passed away in early February. In those eight weeks, my family unraveled. Relationships changed. Others disappeared. It was my first real loss. It was final and far-reaching. I believe this is why I write adult fiction in young voices about trauma. Emotional family journeys of love, loss, healing, forging ahead in unimaginable circumstances, are powerful reminders of why “survival is insufficient” and the brilliance of the human spirit.

Kristin's book list on dysfunctional fiction families to love

Why did Kristin love this book?

Peggy is eight years old when her survivalist father takes her from her London home and moves her into a remote cabin in the woods and tells her the outside world has been destroyed. They can’t go back. 

If you know anything about my novels, it’s that I absolutely love writing adult fiction from the perspective of young adults. People often ask me why I don’t write YA if I enjoy that age for narrators: it’s because I love coming-of-age stories and the emotional spectrum of children learning to understand the nuances of adult life.  

This book nailed it for me: Mental illness, nature, and relationships to the natural world, a young narrator. I’ve read it twice and it broke my heart both times.

By Claire Fuller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Our Endless Numbered Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Fuller handles the tension masterfully in this grown-up thriller of a fairytale, full of clues, questions and intrigue.' - The Times

'Extraordinary...From the opening sentence it is gripping' - Sunday Times

1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother's grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change.

Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote…

Okay for Now

By Gary D. Schmidt,

Book cover of Okay for Now

Diana Harmon Asher Author Of Upstaged

From the list on music, art and friendship.

Who am I?

Just like my Upstaged heroine, my first stage experience was playing Mr. Jacey Squires in The Music Man. Both of my parents were singers and really, there’s never been a time when music—and the friends I made through music—haven’t been an important part of my life. Love of the arts can bring kids together in surprising ways. The characters in these books face varied challenges, home lives, and predicaments. But for all of them, it’s the support of friends, a dose of courage, and inspiration from the arts that get them through. That’s why I’ve chosen these five wonderful, readable, un-put-downable books.

Diana's book list on music, art and friendship

Why did Diana love this book?

I don’t have words for how masterful this book is. (I know, I’m a writer, I’m supposed to have words). I’m constantly blown away by Schmidt’s writing. The novel, set in 1968, is the story of fourteen-year-old Doug Swieteck, whose abusive father moves the family to a new town. Doug’s first-person voice is so alive and original. He tells you a lot, but not everything. And what he’s hiding is revealed in scenes that will stay with me forever, among them one in PE class, and another when Doug’s brother returns from Vietnam. On every page, you sense Doug’s emotional armor, but also his vulnerability. His growth as a person and an artist makes it one of my favorite books of all time.

By Gary D. Schmidt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Beloved author Gary D. Schmidt expertly blends comedy and tragedy in the story of Doug Swieteck, an unhappy "teenage thug" first introduced in The Wednesday Wars, who finds consolation and a sense of possibility in friendship and art.

At once heartbreaking and hopeful, this absorbing novel centers on Doug, 14, who has an abusive father, a bully for a brother, a bad reputation, and shameful secrets to keep. Teachers and police and his relatives think he's worthless, and he believes them, holding others at arm's length. Newly arrived in town, he starts out on the same path—antagonizing other kids, mouthing…

A Visitation of Spirits

By Randall Kenan,

Book cover of A Visitation of Spirits

Ed Southern Author Of Fight Songs: A Story of Love and Sports in a Complicated South

From the list on root, root, root for the home team.

Who am I?

As I write in Fight Songs, my name has nothing to do with it: It refers to a geography an ocean away, and predates any notion of the American South (or of America, for that matter). I have spent most of my life in the South, though, loving football, basketball, and other sports that didn’t always love me back. I became curious about why they’ve come to play such an outsized role in our culture. Why did my home state come to a standstill for a basketball tournament? Why does my wife’s home state shut down for a football game? Writing Fight Songs was one way of exploring those questions. Reading these books was another.

Ed's book list on root, root, root for the home team

Why did Ed love this book?

What does this book have to do with sports? Nothing.

What does it have to do with identity and community, and how the one pushes and pulls, rips and welds the other into form? With how histories can turn into hauntings and our fondest hopes into demons? Everything.

Randall Kenan died while I was finishing my book and I still haven’t really gotten over it. I’m always going to miss the words he never got to write, even as I cherish those he did.

By Randall Kenan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Horace Cross, the 16-year-old descendent of slaves and deacons of the church, spends a horror-filled spring night wrestling with the demons and angels of his brief life. Brilliant, popular, and the bright promise of his elders, Horace struggles with the guilt of discovering who he is, a young man attracted to other men and yearning to escape the narrow confines of Tim's Creek. His cousin, the Reverend James Greene, tries to help Horace but finds he is no more prepared than the older generation to save Horace's soul or his life. And as he views the aftermath of Horace's horrible…

Three Summers

By Margarita Liberaki, Karen Van Dyck (translator),

Book cover of Three Summers

Anastasia Miari Author Of Yiayia: Time-perfected Recipes from Greece's Grandmothers

From the list on to odyssey across Greece with.

Who am I?

I’m a food and travel journalist, raised by a Greek father and a British mother. I’ve always been obsessed with the fostering of my Greek culture, heritage, and identity and have been particularly interested in the duality of my two identities, since moving to England from Greece as a young girl. During my teenage years in grey and drizzly England, the food we ate as a family transported me to my grandmothers’ white-washed alleyway, dotted with geraniums and bursting with the colours and flavours of Greece. Since then I’ve become obsessed with what food and time-perfected recipes can tell us about our heritage. 

Anastasia's book list on to odyssey across Greece with

Why did Anastasia love this book?

This book is pure poetry to me. It follows the lives of three sisters on the precipice of adulthood during 1930s Greece.

I love that when it was published in the 1940s here in Greece, it was seen as a scandalous piece of literature. I can see why - Liberaki writes fervently and openly about the trials and tribulations of female teenhood, detailing gossip, romance, and even the loss of virginity with such poise and vim that it is still relevant and relatable to women today.

It was the kind of book that my own Greek Yiayia (grandmother) was absolutely not allowed to get her hands on. This book, for me, has it all. It’s bucolic, romantic, and oozes beautiful imagery of the hot, dry summers in Athens and the surrounding countryside. A perfect character study.

By Margarita Liberaki, Karen Van Dyck (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A tender story about three sisters coming of age in Greece over the course of three summers, now available after being out of print for over twenty years.

Three Summers is the story of three sisters growing up in the countryside near Athens before the Second World War. Living in a big old house surrounded by a beautiful garden are Maria, the oldest sister, as sexually bold as she is eager to settle down and have a family of her own; beautiful but distant Infanta; and dreamy and rebellious Katerina, through whose eyes the story is mostly observed. Over three…

The Hummingbird's Daughter

By Luis Alberto Urrea,

Book cover of The Hummingbird's Daughter

Alex Temblador Author Of Half Outlaw

From the list on magical realism that make me feel at home.

Who am I?

Magical realism was created by Latin American writers, and I’m proud to continue the tradition today. I grew up reading magical stories – mostly fantasy – but there was always something missing in those books, that sense of reality that I experienced every day of my life thanks to my Mixed Latinx heritage. When I discovered magical realism, I felt at home. I’ve been studying magical realism since I was 21, so it comes as no surprise that most of the creative writing I do fall into the magical realism genre. I love helping others discover the beauty of magical realism because it is a phenomenal genre that helps readers understand their reality through magic. 

Alex's book list on magical realism that make me feel at home

Why did Alex love this book?

The Hummingbird’s Daughter is the first in a two-part book series about a real-life woman known as Teresita, a curandera (or Mexican folk healer) and revolutionary figure who was born in Mexico and lived in the U.S. for some time. Urrea, a descendant of Teresita, fictionalizes her life in the book. I hope readers fall in love with Teresita’s story and share it with others because she is one of many figures in North American history that we should all know.  

The magical realism in this novel makes an appearance through Teresita’s healing powers as a curandera. I’ve been obsessed with curanderismo, or the folk healing practice of Latin America that combines Indigenous and Catholic beliefs and practices, since I was in college. This is why curanderas make appearances in both my books.

By Luis Alberto Urrea,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hummingbird's Daughter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The prizewinning writer Luis Alberto Urrea's long-awaited novel is an epic mystical drama of a young woman's sudden sainthood in late 19th-century Mexico.It is 1889, and civil war is brewing in Mexico. A 16-year-old girl, Teresita, illegitimate but beloved daughter of the wealthy and powerful rancher Don Tomas Urrea, wakes from the strangest dream--a dream that she has died. Only it was not a dream. This passionate and rebellious young woman has arisen from death with a power to heal--but it will take all her faith to endure the trials that await her and her family now that she has…

Time After Time

By Victor Watson,

Book cover of Time After Time

Jane Wilson-Howarth Author Of Staying Healthy When You Travel: Avoiding Bugs, Bites, Bellyaches, and More

From Jane's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Wildlife nerd Dung doctor Wordsmith Eavesdropper Pedant

Jane's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Jane love this book?

The gorgeous cover is fitting for such lyrical writing. There were plenty of places where the stories made me smile, they were so well observed.

The author’s knowledge of post-Roman Britain and the superstitious Anglo-Saxon culture that followed shone through and it is little surprise to discover that Watson studied Old English (also known as Anglo-Saxon) at university. He says that as far as possible, he excluded all Norman French vocabulary from the Anglo-Saxon parts of Time After Time because the Norman Conquest was still more than four hundred years away. Despite this, the language and imagery are utterly transporting, and I found myself dawdling over many sections.

As well as the Anglo-Saxon storyteller, Watson also beautifully captures the character of the East Anglian boy in Napoleonic times on his first solo walk to Saffron Walden market in a frightening quest to buy Banbury Books. While the delightful mute girl…

By Victor Watson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A young Anglo-Saxon woman is travelling across an empty East Anglian landscape. She's dressed as a man, for safety. But when her only companion is murdered, she knows she faces discovery, and almost certainly much worse.

In the Napoleonic period, a little boy has to walk several miles to market, on his own, for the first time.

In the present day, a mixed-race teenage girl - along with her best friend Rob - faces the difficulties of extreme shyness and mutism.

There is another presence too. Professor Molly Barnes - an archaeologist in her eighties - unwittingly presides over the…

With the Fire on High

By Elizabeth Acevedo,

Book cover of With the Fire on High

Natalie Pompilio Author Of Walking Philadelphia: 30 Walking Tours Exploring Art, Architecture, History, and Little-Known Gems

From the list on fiction set in the City of Brotherly Love.

Who am I?

My usual answer, when someone asks me where I live in Philadelphia, is: “Have you seen the Rocky movies, where he’s running through that open fruit/vegetable market? I’m three blocks from there.” I’ve called Philadelphia home for more than 20 years. I’m clearly a big fan, having now written four books about the city. I include a reference to the city’s most famous fictional character in my children’s alphabet book Philadelphia A to Z. In More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell, I got to tell stories about the country’s largest public art program. In This Used To Be Philadelphia, I told the then and now stories of dozens of city locations.

Natalie's book list on fiction set in the City of Brotherly Love

Why did Natalie love this book?

I didn’t know this book was considered “young adult” until my teenage niece pointed out that she’d been assigned the book in school. Yes, protagonist Emoni is a senior in high school, but she’s an old soul. She has to be, given the challenges she faces as a teen mother and a mixed-race woman. Emoni is strong and inspiring and determined, but her greatest gift is cooking. When Emoni makes a meal, her amazingness gets into the food and brings joy to its eaters. I love magical realism and this reminded me of Like Water for Chocolate, another novel in which she who prepares a meal infuses it with emotion. 

Emoni struggles, but she is surrounded by love and she gives it in return to the grandmother who raised her and the daughter she conceived as a high school freshman. Emoni has dreams of cooking school but she’s also…

By Elizabeth Acevedo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked With the Fire on High as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A delicious, evocative story' THE GUARDIAN

From the author of THE POET X comes a sumptuous prose novel, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas' On the Come Up, Justin Reynolds' Opposite of Always and Nicola Yoon

Ever since she got pregnant, seventeen-year-old Emoni's life has been about making the tough decisions - doing what has to be done for her young daughter and her grandmother. Keeping her head down at school, trying not to get caught up with new boy Malachi. The one place she can let everything go is in the kitchen, where she has magical hands - whipping…

Bleak House

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Bleak House

Don Trowden Author Of Young Again

From the list on written in the present tense.

Who am I?

I’ve studied the art of fiction for many years and was fortunate to have great teachers along the way who knew how to analyze novels to help anyone interested in writing fiction to better see how they work. I also enjoy editing fiction written by other novelists, as this invariably leads to a better understanding of what is possible through the written word. I worked for many years as a bookseller and within the publishing industry. As a bookseller, I set a goal of reading at least one novel from every author in the classics section, and managed to do that.

Don's book list on written in the present tense

Why did Don love this book?

The omniscient narrator in this classic novel speaks to the reader in a dispassionate present-tense voice that helps reinforce the satirical tone and immediacy of the novel. Dickens, who grew up in a debtor’s prison and included his bleak observations of life in a debtor’s prison in many of his great novels, used his fiction to shine a light on the social injustices of Victorian life. Bleak House shines much of that light on the punitive legal system (sound like today?), which Dickens exposed in some of his other novels as well. In thinking about the many theatrical and film adaptations made of this novel, we can see how much easier that work was due to the present tense writing, which creates the immediacy and suspense found in many great films.

By Charles Dickens,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Esther, at fourteen, has never known love. Determined to live well, earn some love and overcome the shadow of her birth, she takes her first steps into an unknown world. A family curse, a manipulating lawyer, poverty and secrets threaten to destroy Esther's world. Are the walls of Bleak House strong enough to protect her and her new friends from such powerful forces? The reader will be caught up in an unfolding mystery, full of surprises. Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is: Who is Nemo?


By Jeffrey Eugenides,

Book cover of Middlesex

Stephen Holgate Author Of Madagascar

From the list on strangers in a strange land.

Who am I?

Strangers in a strange land – an evocative phrase that originated in “Exodus” (the one by Moses, not Leon Uris) and has echoed within my own life. As a diplomat, I lived nearly fourteen years overseas and know the particular dislocation of trying to make a new life in a country not my own. This experience forms the center of my four published novels. It’s also the theme of The Hero’s Journey a story at the heart of every culture; the hero sets off toward unknown lands and comes back transformed, as did I. Here’s my list of the five greatest novels about strangers in a strange land.

Stephen's book list on strangers in a strange land

Why did Stephen love this book?

Another Pulitzer Prize winner, Middlesex deals with two types of strangers.

First, we follow a Greek family fleeing the horror and death of the 1920-22 Turkish-Greek war, eventually coming to the United States as immigrants. Second, a descendent of the family, variously known as Cal or Callie, is born intersex, with physical characteristics of both sexes.

Frankly, I had sort of avoided the book, fearing a tedious diatribe on suffering and intolerance. Imagine my surprise to find a story told with a delightfully light touch and great humor – and all the more touching because of it.

By Jeffrey Eugenides,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974.'

So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and her truly unique family secret, born on the slopes of Mount Olympus and passed on through three generations.

Growing up in 70s Michigan, Calliope's special inheritance will turn her into Cal, the narrator of this intersex, inter-generational epic of immigrant life in 20th century America.

Middlesex won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

City of Spies

By Sorayya Khan,

Book cover of City of Spies

Janet MacLeod Trotter Author Of The Emerald Affair

From the list on the British in India.

Who am I?

As a historical novelist, my passion is world history and the story of my own family. Having survived the First World War, my Scottish grandfather went to India as a forester and my granny followed him out there; they married in Lahore. I was fascinated by their stories of trekking and camping in the remote Himalayas. They lived through momentous times: world war, Indian Independence and Partition. Grandfather Bob stayed on to work for the new country of Pakistan. Long after they’d died, I discovered their letters, diaries, and cine films from that era – a treasure-trove for a novelist! – which have helped enrich my novels set during the British Raj.

Janet's book list on the British in India

Why did Janet love this book?

As this novel is set in 1970s Islamabad, Pakistan and the ex-pats are mainly American, it’s technically not about the British in India. But the ex-colonial legacy is there to see: Pakistan was a creation of independence from British rule and is still being affected by geo-politics. I was gripped by the description of life in the Pakistani capital; an area where my grandparents had lived and worked and through which I had travelled in the ’70s. This coming-of-age story is told by teenager Aliya, (half-Pakistani and half-Dutch) who attends the American school. Not only are the tensions of identity well portrayed but also the growing unease between the communities after a traffic accident leaves a young boy dead and world events ignite further unrest. Fascinating and unusual historical fiction.

By Sorayya Khan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this intimate coming-of-age story set in the late 1970s, a young girl struggles to make sense of the chaos around her during Pakistan's political upheaval, where the military revolts, the embassy burns, and a terrible secret tears her world apart.

Eleven-year-old Aliya Shah lives a double life in Islamabad, Pakistan-at home with her Pakistani father and Dutch mother, and at the American School, where Aliya tries to downplay that she is a "half-and-half." But when a hit-and-run driver kills the son of the family's servant, Sadiq, who is also Aliya's dear friend, her world is turned upside down. After…

Sea Change

By Gina Chung,

Book cover of Sea Change

Alison B. Hart Author Of The Work Wife

From the list on women’s ambition and battle for our souls at work.

Who am I?

I’ll tell you a secret. I’m obsessed with money—not fast cars, designer labels, and McMansions, but the accumulation of capital: who has it, how they got it, and what lengths they’re willing to go to to keep it. So I’ve always loved novels about work. They cut right to the heart of a character’s true motivations, revealing what they’ll fight for and who they’ll love. Don’t show me what a person looks like, show me how they earn (or don’t earn) their living, and I’ll remember them forever.

Alison's book list on women’s ambition and battle for our souls at work

Why did Alison love this book?

Do you have to be captivated by aquariums and otherworldly travel to enjoy this book? No, but if, like me, you’ve always wondered what it would be like to have an octopus for a work wife or a boyfriend who’s moving to Mars, you’ll love Sea Change.

Come for the reality-bending critique of life on Earth; stay for the achingly true-to-life portrait of a daughter of Korean immigrants who’s just trying to make her way in the world.

By Gina Chung,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK • An enchanting novel about Ro, a woman tossed overboard by heartbreak and loss, who has to find her way back to stable shores with the help of a giant Pacific octopus at the mall aquarium where she works.

“Immersively beautiful.... A kaleidoscope of originality." —Weike Wang, acclaimed author of Joan is Okay

Ro is stuck. She's just entered her thirties, she's estranged from her mother, and her boyfriend has just left her to join a mission to Mars. Her days are spent dragging herself to her menial job at the aquarium, and…

If You, Then Me

By Yvonne Woon,

Book cover of If You, Then Me

Michelle Quach Author Of Not Here to Be Liked

From the list on coming-of-age about smart but flawed Asian girls.

Who am I?

I’m a Chinese Vietnamese American author who writes about the Asian girls I never saw in books as a kid. Growing up in Southern California, I was part of an Asian community that was extremely diverse—a reality that was rarely reflected in American pop culture. For years, I longed to see messy, flawed, fully humanized Asian characters in all different kinds of stories, not just the typical child-of-immigrant narratives. As a result, I now spend a lot of time thinking about representation (whether I want to or not!), and I’m always looking for writers who pull it off with nuance and realism. I hope you’ll find these books are great examples of that.

Michelle's book list on coming-of-age about smart but flawed Asian girls

Why did Michelle love this book?

Thanks to the evocative prose in Yvonne Woon’s If You, Then Me, I found myself swept up in the protagonist Xia’s vision of the Bay Area as a perfect paradise, despite the fact that I definitely know better.

I was rooting for Xia, a talented but lonely coder whose best friend is her AI app, even when she started making all kinds of questionable choices. Though I’ve seen this book characterized as a rom com, I actually think it’s more of a modern fairy tale—in all the best ways. 

By Yvonne Woon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked If You, Then Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A warm and funny teen coming of age story set in Silicon Valley from Asian American author Yvonne Woon about the questions we all ask when making mistakes in life and in love, perfect for fans of Emergency Contact and When Dimple Met Rishi.

What would you ask your future self? First question: What does it feel like to kiss someone?

Xia is stuck in a lonely, boring loop. Her only escapes are Wiser, an artificial intelligence app she designed to answer questions as her future self, and a mysterious online crush she knows only as ObjectPermanence.

Until one day…

Dandelion Wine

By Ray Bradbury,

Book cover of Dandelion Wine

Kim M. Watt Author Of Baking Bad

From the list on the humour, confusion, and beauty of being human.

Who am I?

I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on, but my main loves have always been fantasy and sci-fi. Not so much because of the strange worlds their doors open onto, but because of what they tell us about being human. Because humans are odd and strange and beautiful and full of magic, and it seems more important than ever that we remember that. And not just remember it, but celebrate it, especially as it relates to those of us that are a little different and out of the ordinary. So I hunt out books that remind me how special it is to simply be delightfully, weirdly human. I hope you enjoy them!

Kim's book list on the humour, confusion, and beauty of being human

Why did Kim love this book?

A mix of coming of age in the first half of the twentieth century, and Bradbury’s peculiar brand of very earthly oddness and sci-fi strangeness, Dandelion Wine is full of all sorts of magic. It reminds you of what it is to be a small human again, when everything seems possible, and aliens and monsters are as likely (and as important) as long summer days spent outside, barefoot and sunburnt and a little feral. Even when we don’t recognise the details of the childhood described, we remember the feeling, and it reawakens a sense of wonder that’s incredibly precious.

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Dandelion Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dandelion Wine is a 1957 semi-autobiographical novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois — a pseudonym for Bradbury's childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. The novel developed from the short story "Dandelion Wine" which appeared in the June 1953 issue of Gourmet magazine.

The Cat's Table

By Michael Ondaatje,

Book cover of The Cat's Table

Amanda Addison Author Of Boundless Sky

From the list on exploring being a stranger in a strange land.

Who am I?

Stories of migration journeys and their knock-on impact through the generations are part of my family history. Like Jacques, the key protagonist in Austerlitz, I too wasn’t told the whole story of my family’s past. Stumbling on stories of colonialism, migration, and racism as an adult has opened up an understanding of a very different world to that of my childhood. The books I have recommended are all excellent examples of migration stories and through the use of beautiful prose pack a punch in a ‘velvet glove’.

Amanda's book list on exploring being a stranger in a strange land

Why did Amanda love this book?

This really is a gem of a book. The reader is left guessing whether it is a memoir, auto-fiction, or stand-alone fiction. From its deceptively simple beginning, it cleverly deals with so many of life's big issues with a thoughtful lightness of touch. The book is written from the perspective of grown-up Michael, but Ondaatje explores the confusion and frustration of the child who was made to sail halfway around the world to a new home and the subsequent impact the journey has on the adult Michael. 

By Michael Ondaatje,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cat's Table as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England - a 'castle that was to cross the sea'. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly 'Cat's Table' with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another, 'bursting all over the place like freed mercury'. And at night, the boys spy…