1. Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann.
Literary fiction at its best: I read it slowly, not because it didn’t intrigue me and make me want to find out what happened – it did – but because I wanted to take in the beauty of the writing. He had me at the prologue, where even rubbish flying in the wind sounded like poetry.
Set against the backdrop of Philippe Petit’s funambulist act in th 1970s, during which he walked across a wire between the newly built Twin Towers, it tells the story of a few interweaving lives across the spectrum of New York society. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
2. The Song is You, by Arthur Phillips
Every once in while you stumble across a book that you hadn’t heard of, and whose existence you then want to shout from the rooftops. This, for me, was one of those books. The characters were haunting, and it was so refreshing to find a love story that isn’t boy-meets-girl-and-they-defeat-enemies-then-live-happily-ever-after. It was the perfect read for a person who has a tendency to fall in love with people at a distance, and for a writer whose novel is (hopefully) full of the same kind of angst.
This kind of book is exactly what I want to be known for – yes, it’s romance, but there is nothing trite or easy about it, and the writing takes my breath away. He made the clicking of iPod wheels and the opening of emails into poetry. I want to write like this guy.
3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Schaefer
I can’t remember the last time I dreamed about a book and then woke up desperate to find out what happens next. I’m not normally one for jumping on bandwagons, but this book thoroughly deserves the acclaim it’s received. The epistolary form is original, refreshing, and easy to read even when you’re getting on and off tubes, and helps bring characters to life. The tone is light-hearted, generally, but that does not mean it shies away from more difficult aspects of life in and just after the War. I fell in love with this novel a few pages in, when the main character dumps her fiance after he removed her books from her shelves so he could put his sports awards there instead.
4. State by State – a Panoromic Portrait of America
This is a wonderful, wonderful introduction to a country whose diversity is brought to life by fifty different authors who, together, provide what is basically a road trip in book form. Some of the authors recall childhood memories, others talk about the geography, history of politics of their state, or the people who live there. There is a lot of beautiful writing here, too, and I found that it was a great place to start for discovering contemporary American authors, as well as their country itself.
5. The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama
It’s not often that I pick up a book that is basically 100% policy. It’s even less often that I am so inspired by it. Barack Obama writes clearly, eloquently, and convincingly. It’s no coincidence that the heroine in my novel says, referring to this book, that he makes her heart sing. Mine too.
Also worthy of note are One Day, for its page-turner qualities, for Emma, the character I so identified with, and the originality of its structure; American Rust, for its elegant writing; Brooklyn, because you feel like you’re right there with the heroine in her seasickness and homesickness and lovesickness, the Time Traveller’s Wife, for doing romance well, and Plan B: What to do when God doesn’t turn up the way you thought he would – no-nonsense, honest, helpful.