30 of My All-Time Favorite Books (That You Might Love, Too)
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Looking for a read that might just become one of your favorite books? Try this reading list of my all-time favorite books that you might love, too. My list includes fiction and nonfiction favorites, as well as new books, older books, and much-loved classics.
Have you ever been asked to name your favorite book–and found yourself a loss for words?
Readers often find this to be an impossible question. How on Earth can anyone choose one favorite book?
I can’t. You probably can’t. But, I can give you a list of 30 of my favorite books.
If you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll probably recognize many of these books–since they are favorites, I tend to mention them frequently.
If you’re new here, this list is a great place to start to decide if our reading tastes align.
Some of the reads that made my list are common favorite books–award winners, a few classics, and popular favorites worth reading. Others are under-the-radar books that I absolutely love and hope others will read.
My list includes fiction and nonfiction favorites and a mix of old and new releases–even a few favorite books from my childhood.
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What Makes a Book a Favorite?
It can be tough to define what makes a favorite book to read, but for me, it’s a gut feeling. I know when I’ve found one.
- They’re the books that immediately pop into my head when I think about why I love reading so much.
- They’re the books on my shelf that I’m drawn to, again and again.
- They’re the books that give me a twinge of happiness or excitement to read again, anytime I see them.
- They’re the books with my favorite book characters, the ones I’ll never forget, who made me think or fascinated me.
- They’re the books by my favorite authors, who can always be counted on to deliver a riveting story.
I read more than a hundred books every year. Most of them I don’t remember very well. The ones that stay with me–those are my favorite books of all time.
I hope you’ll add at least a few of these books to your “to-be-read” list and that they become favorites for you, too.
30 of My All-Time Favorite Books
Body and Soul
Author: Frank Conroy
Body and Soul tells the tale of Claude Rawlings, a six-year-old piano prodigy discovered by chance as he roamed the streets of New York on his own. Claude, left alone while his mother works as a taxi driver, learns the piano and makes friends with a music store owner.
His genius propels him to fame and riches–and eventually into a crisis of creativity and obsession. A sweeping and utterly immersive story, one I can’t wait to read again. More info
Boy Swallows Universe
Author: Trent Dalton
Eli Bell adores his dysfunctional family, but when the violence of his parents’ drug business comes to their house, everything goes wrong. His stepfather vanishes and his mother is imprisoned. Eli strives to rescue his mother, discover what became of his stepfather, become a crime journalist, and live up to his potential as well as taking down the local drug kingpin.
Gritty and brutal, with magical elements that only add to the epic feel, this utterly absorbing novel is one of my favorites of 2019 and the decade.
Author: Tiffany McDaniel
Betty is the sixth of eight children growing up in poverty in Breathed, Ohio, a small town in the Appalachian foothills. Despite the violence in and out of their home, her Cherokee father’s fanciful tales open her eyes to the natural world and the power of narrative, which serve as escapes from daily responsibilities. Each family member is plagued by overt racism from society and hidden terrors within the family in various ways.
This stunning book combines literary lyricism with an Appalachian voice. It was my favorite book of 2020. More info
A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do
Author: Pete Fromm
When Taz’s young wife Marnie dies in childbirth, he is consumed by grief–and left to raise his newborn daughter without her mother. Taz struggles to navigate a world he no longer recognizes, controlled by the baby’s needs, floating through a fog of exhaustion, love, and hopelessness–but held up by a stubborn cast of stoic Montana characters.
Reading this beautiful, emotionally resonant novel just feels like grieving–it brought me to tears several times. This flew under the radar a bit but was one of my favorite books in 2019–I absolutely loved it. More info
The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Despite being a big fan of the Hulu series, this is actually a favorite from my teen years. Atwood’s dystopian story of a society where women are oppressed and valued only for their ability to procreate blew my young mind. Of course, by now, the story of Offred and her life as a handmaiden is widely known (and the garb frequently employed in feminist protests), but it’s worth reading or rereading the source material.
Be sure to read the sequel, The Testaments, as well. It’s not quite as explosive as The Handmaid’s Tale, but Atwood’s resolution is fascinating (and different from the show). More info
Author: Diana Gabaldon
In 1945, English combat nurse Claire Randall walks through a circle of standing stones in Scotland. Suddenly, she is in 1743, running from the Redcoats and at the mercy of a suspicious clan. As she tries to get back to the 20th century, Highlander Jamie Fraser emerges as an ally and protector. But, as she and Jamie grow closer, Claire has to decide where, when–and with whom–she wants to be.
The doorstopper, soapy historical fiction books in this series are sheer immersive fun. They kept me occupied for several months–perfect escapist reading. (And when you’re done, watch the show–it’s also great!) More info
The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
At an elite New England college, a small group of classics students and their eccentric but compelling professor form an insular society, striving for elitism and often toeing the line of morality. They eventually cross it when they kill one of their own. You learn about the murder on the first page, then follow the twisted tale of how it came to be.
None of the characters in this big book are likable, but they are compelling in their insularity and self-destructiveness. I love The Secret History, but it is divisive–people seem to either love it or hate it. More info
A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
JB, Malcolm, Willem, and Jude are four college friends who live in New York and are trying to make it on their own. A Little Life takes the reader through the perspectives of each friend before landing on Jude. Soon it becomes clear that Jude is struggling with profound physical and emotional wounds stemming from a horrifying and traumatic childhood. As years and decades pass, the friends struggle to understand his trauma and help him heal.
A Little Life is another divisive book. It’s a tough read because of the subject matter, so it’s definitely not for everyone. However, it’s also emotional, immersive, and a stunning literary feat–you’ll find it among the favorite books of many fans of literary fiction. More info
Author: Louisa May Alcott
The well-loved tale of four sisters and their brave mother who live in modest circumstances in Concord, Massachusetts, while their father is away as a chaplain during the Civil War continues to enchant.
That Louisa May Alcott herself didn’t much like the story is beside the point. Jo stands as a rebellious feminist icon, while the dramas, joys, griefs, and relationships of the sisters stand as enduring symbols of comfort, devotion, and perseverance. This is a childhood favorite and comfort read to this day. More info
Related: When Childhood Favorites Turn Dark
The Great Believers
Author: Rebecca Makkai
The Great Believers is a historical novel that centers on two time periods: 1980s Chicago and 2015 Paris. With the 1980s AIDS epidemic as the backdrop, The Great Believers plunges readers into the crisis and the aftermath. This is a kind of grief on a massive scale, from the young men in Chicago’s gay community to the people they left behind, mourning the death of so many.
Makkai skillfully weaves in an art history thread among several other tragedies, including world wars and terrorist attacks, to attest to the people and talents stolen by these catastrophes. A fantastic, emotional read and finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–do not miss it. More info
Related: 11 Things to Know About The Great Believers: The Story of the Story
Author: Ann Patchett
A band of young terrorists invades a party at the vice-presidential mansion of an unnamed South American country, taking hostages. A world-famous soprano, a Japanese business magnate, and diplomats from various nations are among the captives. The days and months go by as lines become blurred, friendships form, and tensions mount and subside–and rise again.
I loved the weaving of art, relationships, and suspense in this gorgeous novel. Bel Canto was my first introduction to Ann Patchett; it cemented her as one of my favorite authors. More info
Related: 11 Books to Read if You Love Ann Patchett
The Shell Seekers
Author: Rosamund Pilcher
This cozy read is so much more than its premise would have you believe: When Penelope learns that her father’s painting is worth a small fortune, her adult children have their own ideas about how she should handle the news.
The Shell Seekers revisits various eras in Penelope’s life, including her Bohemian youth during World War II. Penelope is a fascinating character, and I adored the slow unveiling of her life told in decades. More info
All Creatures Great and Small
Author: James Herriot
I adore James Herriot’s telling of his life as a country veterinarian in Yorkshire–the books in this series are warm, funny, and touching. To me, they epitomize cozy reading.
Herriot spares himself no embarrassment but is keenly observant and sensitive as he interacts with the characters who pepper his stories—both human and animal, by turns eccentric, sad, and inspiring. True comfort reading; I also enjoyed the PBS series based on the book. More info
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
You’ll never forget Francie Nolan, the young, bookish, resourceful protagonist of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Growing up in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn and caught between her dreamer of a father and her work-worn, practical mother, Francie is self-aware and a keen observer of people and the life around her. Even when life grinds her down, Francie seeks beauty and truth.
This is a favorite of so many readers, and it’s a book worth reading again and again. More info
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken is the book that showed me that nonfiction books could be on my list of favorite books. This tale of Louis Zamperini’s trials during World War II is so harrowing, you’ll have to remind yourself that it’s not fiction.
It seems impossible that one person could survive all that he did: a plane crash, months at sea on a raft, shark encounters…and that’s just the start. Laura Hillenbrand is a master of narrative nonfiction. More info
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu and Obinze plan to move to the United States after leaving a Nigeria ruled by soldiers. But 9/11 prevents Obinze from joining Ifemelu, and they pursue their own identities over more than 15 years apart.
Now living in a nation where her race is defining in ways that it wasn’t in Nigeria, Ifemelu embraces academics while grappling with her own blackness for the first time.
Obinze, on the other hand, lives in hazardous uncertainty in London as an undocumented immigrant. When they finally meet again, they must decide whether they can live together in a new Nigeria. Clever, insightful, and filled with excellent writing. More info
The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein
The Art of Racing in the Rain was one of the novels that lured me back to reading in my post-grad-school burnout. I’ve always liked dogs, so this book about Enzo, a philosophical dog who regrets his lack of thumbs and enjoys riding in race cars with his human, was an automatic buy for me. Enzo will make you laugh and cry while he reflects on his life and anticipates his death.
It’s difficult to resist the imagining of dogs’ deep personalities, and Enzo is especially appealing. It should go without saying that you’ll need your tissues, but it’s well worth it. More info
Author: Cormac McCarthy
The Road is a renowned post-apocalyptic tale that depicts the bleakest possible future. A man and his young son walk toward the coast across a desolate wilderness, unsure if they will discover anything better than what they’ve left. It’s a difficult read, but it will get anyone thinking about the paths that may lead us to such a future—and what comes next when we get there.
The imagery in this book will stay with you forever, and the stark beauty and odd hopefulness bring a particular poignance to the darkness. More info
The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Victoria has aged out of the foster care system and finds work in a flower shop, where she discovers a unique talent for matching people with the perfect flowers. The cover and description of this book initially didn’t grab my interest, but it turned out to be a hopeful, unputdownable story about the families and paths we make for ourselves, even when the cards seem stacked against us. More info
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Author: Katherine Boo
Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo went deep into a Mumbai slum to tell the tales of the residents of Annawadi, a slum squeezed on all sides by the city’s expansion and sitting ironically in the shade of a billboard that reads “The Beautiful Forevers.” The families’ ups and downs are vividly portrayed, reminding the reader of the individual challenges and systemic roadblocks that prevent them from rising above their circumstances.
Eye-opening and so well-told that I had to double-check that it wasn’t fiction–one of my favorite nonfiction books. More info
Into the Forest
Author: Jean Hegland
When the power goes out with no explanation and no indications that it will return, Nell, her father William, and sister Eva must endure in their isolated woodland home. Their connections to one another and the natural world around them grow stronger in their isolation.
Into the Forest is a bit under-the-radar as far as dystopic and post-apocalyptic fiction (though there is a film starring Elliot Page and Evan Rachel Wood), but it’s a great choice if you enjoy survivalist tales. The characters have some life circumstances that enable their survival, but their path to incorporating nature into their lives is gradual and realistic. Good for contemplating, “What would I do?” More info
We Were the Lucky Ones
Author: Georgia Hunter
We Were the Lucky Ones is the incredible tale of a Jewish family in Poland during World War II, when parents, five adult children and their spouses, and their young children were each trying to survive as the world around them crumbled.
Their stories of survival and the power of family, the horror of World War II, and the importance of gratitude will stay with you forever. One of the best World War II books I’ve ever read and definitely must-read historical fiction.
Once There Were Wolves
Author: Charlotte McConaghy
Inti arrives in Scotland to oversee the reintroduction of wolves in the Highlands. Her twin sister Aggie is with her, but shut-in, non-verbal, and coping with trauma from her past. Inti believes in the wolves, but the locals are afraid for their safety and livestock, and when a man is discovered dead, their concerns appear well-founded.
I LOVED this gorgeous, atmospheric novel with fantastic characters and relationships; it’s terrific on audio. Eco-fiction is a new favorite genre, and I’ve heard McConaghy’s Migrations is also a must-read–it’s now on my TBR. More info
Author: Richard Powers
This 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner completely blew me away. Powers builds an ambitious work that begins with a series of seemingly unrelated tales, some going back more than a century, and each rooted in a tree. The “understory” eventually leads us to several main characters.
These disparate characters come together in a larger-than-life narrative that’s a call to activism, a meditation on our place in the world, and an awe-stricken view of the complex lives and resilience of trees. One of my favorite books of the last decade. Like the giant redwoods in the story, it’s both impressive and eye-opening. More info
Author: Lauren Wolk
Annabelle, a bright 12-year-old, is satisfied with her life in school and on her family’s farm until Betty arrives in town. Betty quickly establishes herself as a cruel bully who hates Annabelle and everyone connected to her, especially Toby, a reclusive World War I veteran who has befriended Annabelle and her family.
As the stakes rise, Annabelle’s strength and compassion are put to the test. I love the spare but incisive writing in this Newbery Honor wining-middle grade novel. More info
Author: Yaa Gyasi
The family lines of two half-sisters born in Ghana 300 years ago are recounted in this multi-generational novel. One is married to an English slave trader, while the other is enslaved. Each chapter focuses on a new descendant, demonstrating how past events and injustices reverberate through future generations’ lives and struggles.
An astonishing, emotional novel that demonstrates how the descendants of slaves continue to be oppressed by the institution of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic racism, even 150 years after abolition. More info
The Heart’s Invisible Furies
Author: John Boyne
Born to an unwed mother in Ireland in the 1940s, Cyril is adopted by Charles and Maude Avery. But, from an early age, Cyril knows he’s different: not a “real Avery” and not attracted to girls like his friends.
We follow Cyril through his life from childhood and twenties, hiding in a repressive Dublin to a more open existence in middle age in Amsterdam and New York. Cyril’s quest for identity, belonging, acceptance, and family is by turns amusing, aggravating, and heartbreaking. He’s an unforgettable character, and I loved this big story. More info
The Pillars of the Earth
Author: Ken Follett
At first, a story about building a cathedral in Middle Ages England sounded kind of dull–but wow, was I wrong. This massive tome is filled with drama and intrigue, evil characters, romance, political maneuvering, and fascinating history. It’s a bit of a historical soap opera, on par with Outlander, in the best possible way. Highly readable, hard to put down, and also a bit of a guilty pleasure–one of my favorite books for a fun read.
The others in the series–A Column a Fire, World Without End, and the prequel The Evening and the Morning–are also worth reading. I didn’t find them quite as riveting as Pillars, but they are still a fun return to the high drama of Kingsbridge. More info
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
While I loved Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, this tale of two women brought together under oppressive circumstances in Afghanistan sticks with me even more. As dangers grow inside and outside of their house, their relationship and resourcefulness see them through.
I am both intrigued and distressed by the circumstances of many Afghan women–and this book is especially timely with the Taliban again in power. Highly recommended. More info
The Orphan Master’s Son
Author: Adam Johnson
The Orphan Master’s Son is the tale of Pak Jun Do, the son of a man who runs an orphan work camp in North Korea. As Jun Do (“John Doe”) grows up he rises through the ranks of the North Korean hierarchy, moving closer to Kim Jong Il and the woman he loves. This is an illuminating, thrilling, and horrifying look at life inside North Korea.
I was riveted; this is one of my favorite books that has stayed with me and I still think of it frequently even years after reading it. More info
I have to know: what are your all-time favorite books? Please share in the comments!