The best bildungsroman books 📚

Browse the best books on bildungsroman as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Razor's Edge

The Razor's Edge

By W. Somerset Maugham

Why this book?

The Razor's Edge tells the story of Larry Darrell, a young American traumatized by his experiences in World War 1 seeking the Absolute. There are other characters in the story who have their own goals in life, which are materialistic, unlike Larry’s. The story indicates that how different people pursue different things in life, which ultimately define their life purpose. Larry’s abandonment of the conventional life and quest for the meaning of life provide him the freedom to live in the moment, whereas other characters are enslaved by their habits and fears.

From the list:

The best books for living a life of purpose

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Book cover of The House of God

The House of God

By Samuel Shem

Why this book?

Though technically a work of loose fiction based on his experiences as an intern, I do not feel it is right to have a list of medical memoirs without The House of God holding down the anchor. Several decades old now, it remains the standard for the delicate space between self-disclosure in medicine and irreverence. Physician writers know it can be hard to thread that particular needle, but Shem does it so well that there is seldom a medical student who comes through training who has not picked up a copy at one point or another. 

From the list:

The best medical memoirs that will make your heart ache with emotion

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Book cover of The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees

By Sue Monk Kidd

Why this book?

Grieving over the loss of her mother and the relentless abuse of her father, Lily goes in search of clues about her mother, hoping to find answers in a place she thinks her mother may have been connected with. During this quest, she finds herself having to examine her attitudes about interracial relationships. Kidd includes information about beekeeping and the black Madonna, both bodies of knowledge that symbolically contribute to the theme about roles that females play in the social order.

From the list:

The best books about leaving home, travel, and self-discovery

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Book cover of Another Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn

By Jacqueline Woodson

Why this book?

Woodson’s narrative comprises a mix of genres (poetry, fiction, and non-fiction) to capture the real and imagined memories of her childhood in Brooklyn and the fictional town of Sweet Grove, Tennessee. This book encompasses so much of what is fascinating about nostalgic memory. While nostalgia generates feelings of happiness and hope, these memories often emerge in times of sadness, loss, and uncertainty. Woodson’s exploration into the lives of four black girls as they navigate friendship, the joys, and perils of youth, and the possibilities and broken promises of the future is a rare and compelling take on how nostalgic memories…
From the list:

The best books to inspire good feelings

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Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee

Why this book?

To Kill a Mockingbird set the stage for all legal thrillers that followed, and it is still arguably the best of the bunch. Court is an inherently rich vein of drama and conflict to mine for a novel, but the suspense is sometimes diluted by page after page of tedious courtroom minutiae. To Kill a Mockingbird avoids this pitfall. While the story includes events that unfold in a courtroom, it is, at heart, a coming-of-age story and morality tale about confronting entrenched injustice at great personal cost. There’s a purity of character and purpose here that touches a chord deep…

From the list:

The best thrillers about underdogs overcoming impossible odds

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Book cover of All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses

By Cormac McCarthy

Why this book?

What can you say about Cormac McCarthy that has not been said before, the poetry in his prose, his fearlessness to go to the human extreme of emotional tension and violence, the elegance of creating a world so real that one does not want to leave, yet cannot stay? The writer in me wants to write just like him, but... I cannot, I will not, for there is only one Cormac McCarthy, and the world could not stand another.

From the list:

The best influential western literature (to my writing)

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