Michelle Ladner- My Ten Favorite Books: The You Can’t Make Me Donate That Edition

americangodsI’m a self-proclaimed book hoarder. I buy a lot, I read a lot, and I get judged a lot by others who don’t book-buy. I have an e-device, but I still love that tactile romance with a book and its pages. Along with that reading romance comes, sometimes, a personal connection that makes you want to hold on. And I do. But to keep the collection under control, and for my marriage’s sake, I also—every few years—donate a number of books. These ten titles I would never put into the donate box because they left a mark on me in some way. In no particular order, these are ten books that stuck and stayed:

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski

berlinski-fieldworkI had the chance to interview journalist and author Mischa Berlinski via email for a fiction workshop assignment years ago. I almost missed the due date because he’d agreed to do the interview but hadn’t responded to my questions. I was trying to figure out a backup plan before my grade suffered, and at the last minute he messaged, graciously apologizing because unrest had spilled into the streets near his hotel and kept him from the Internet café which he used for this type of correspondence. I showed my instructor the email and received a generous extension. If that hadn’t galvanized my loyalty to author and book, the story that compelled me to choose him for my project—a story close to my heart because it delved into cultural secrets that echoed my Thai roots—is impeccable and so very underrated. Fieldwork is a beautifully crafted and nuanced narrative that echoes the author’s experience and heralds his imagination.

Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov

lolitaIt took me nearly a year to read this book. Not because it wasn’t beautiful, compelling, or astonishing. But because I was so invested and it was so terribly heart-wrenching that I had to take my time. Since I’ve completed it, I’ve spent many a moment in awe of Lolita and its author.

Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela S. Choi

hellokittyAtypical crime fiction somewhere between Amy Tan, Brett Easton Ellis, and Candace Bushnell—that’s what reviewers said. Funny, gritty, honest, surprising, and I agree with the reviewers is what I say. I’ve suggested this book to anyone who has wished to read something that breaks down label barriers and leans toward a Dexter-admiring sensibility. It called to my dark sense of humor immediately. I can’t help but pull it off the shelf, open it to any page, and keep reading whenever I come across it again.

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American Gods Neil Gaiman

American_godsCan you believe that this was my introduction to Gaiman? When I tell people this, they are surprised. I fell in love immediately with this dark thrilling fantasy about an ex-con finding a new path after the post-prison life he’d imagined slipped away. America becomes a world steeped in mythology, legend, big questions, and even bigger conflicts. Since American Gods, I have become a loyal Neil Gaiman reader.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac-McCarthy-The-RoadMy first experience with The Road was listening to the book on CD whilst driving alone from Mississippi to Florida for a girls’ weekend at Walt Disney World. The story came to its denouement as I pulled under the welcome arch of the happiest place on earth. By the time I pulled into valet at the hotel, I was sobbing and almost inconsolable.

Thank you to that Disney Cast Member, whomever you were, who undoubtedly broke some sort of no-touching-the-Guests-protocol to give me a hug and listen to me incoherently explain what was wrong. I hope I didn’t deter you from buying the book. It took three nights of clubbing and two full days of storybook rides to feel normal. Then, as soon as I got home, I went to the bookstore, bought the book, and read it again. And I sobbed. Again. I think that’s all that needs to be said about this one.

When Nietzche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom

nietzcheI have Irish actor Colin Farrell to thank for this selection. No, we aren’t friends, but I think we could be. I stumbled upon the title when I was in an IMDB link loop several years ago—Farrell’s trivia stated it was a favorite novel of his. I thought to myself, What does an Irishman actor such as Mr. Farrell read? IMDB says we are the same age, after all.

So I ordered it. I’m so very glad I did. (Proving book buzz works.) As one who ponders questions of philosophy and psychology, this tale set in 19th century Vienna delves into obsession, existential pain, and unconventionality with prominent historical figures you won’t ever imagine in the same way again. The story stuck with me.

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

TheIntuitionistMy copy of The Intuitionist is dog-eared, highlighted, written in, and cracking apart at the binding. I was introduced to Colson Whitehead’s detective novel in an African-American Literature class in conjunction with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The next year, I breathed that book, wrote an eighty-page undergraduate honors thesis and graduated with departmental honors because of it. It’s a book that excited me academically, and I lived with it for the most memorable part of my undergraduate degree.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

life-of-pi1Decidedly, Life of Pi is an effective story of faith and survival. I read it shortly after is US release, and I’ve read it several times since. I have witnessed the Man Booker hype, the film and Oscar hype, and all I have to say about that is it’s a story that deserves it. I’m still taken by the effortless prose and storytelling. I’ve since shared it with the people I love most in my life, and we can all cling together in wonder of Pi and Richard Parker long after the last page is turned.

Pigeon English Stephen Kelman

pigeon-englishDonkey hours. That’s how long it would take for me to list the reasons I love this book. It’s bo-styles! I’m not sure if it’s the pigeon, an affinity for Chicken Joe’s—even though I’ve never eaten there—or young Harri’s inarguable sleuthing abilities. Advise yourself! Pigeon English is a novel of incredible voice, humor, and truth that starts with a murder and ends with… well… I’m not going to tell. Read across the continent and back, it was the best airport impulse buy I have ever made.

A Good and Happy Child by Justin Evans

117995Psychological suspense and just my brand of horror meld in this novel that touches on demons, perceptions of reality, and how the past can haunt. The horror came not in the pages of the book, though it was an incredibly intense read, but afterward, when I was left thinking about it. I was astounded to learn it was Evans’ first novel. It’s a book I like to talk about and think about. And it’s a book that inspires me to think outside the box as a writer.


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