'125 Books We Love' Staff Recommendations

'125 Books We Love' Staff Recommendations

The '125 Books We Love' list honors some of the many titles from the past 125 years that inspired us to #LoveReading. Arranged in 12 categories, there’s something for every book lover to enjoy. The Library Shop staff have selected their personal favorites to share with you! 

Check out our staff recommendations from this vast, celebratory list and discover titles you'll love:

 

1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, recommended by Kate & Joan

For a good old fashioned murder mystery novel, I recommend And Then There Were None. First published in the 1930s, the book has sold over 100m copies worldwide. Set in (and around) a guest house on a remote island off the coast of England, the novel tells the story of ten strangers, all accused of hiding something in their pasts. As they are killed off one by one, their secrets are revealed, and the surviving guests start thinking there is a killer in their midst.

This book is a masterpiece of mystery writing by a master of the art. Pick it up and you will not be able to put it down. Even if you suspect the end (I had seen the movie) it is absorbing. Perfect for a rainy day or a pandemic!


2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, recommended by Eileen

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel captures the golden age of comic books and vividly portrays NYC before, during, and after World War II. It's a moving, exciting, and captivating saga. It was my favorite book that year, and one of my all-time favorites!


3. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, recommended by Annie

Part memoir, part philosophical meditation on gender, family, love, and so much more, The Argonauts is gorgeously written and fiercely intelligent, full of heart and sincerity and humility. Maggie Nelson speaks to the complexity of selfhood and relationships in a generous, vulnerable, and deeply insightful way that is rare and precious to find.


4. Atonement by Ian McEwan, recommended by Margaret

Atonement is about a story about stories: the ones we tell each other, the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones that change our lives forever. Whether you're looking for historical romance or just a good cry, this book is for you!


5. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, recommended by Victoria

A nostalgic remembrance of experiences before WWII England, had by a young man who falls in love with an entire family; a story of longing to belong to what seems glorious, seeing behind the veil, and faith. Waugh is a brilliant writer, so this is funny and melancholic.


6. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, recommended by Helene

When I told a Welsh friend that Colm Tóibín was my favorite author—and not just Irish author—she made arrangements for us to tour his birthplace, Enniscorthy in County Wexford, in Southern Ireland, also the home of Brooklyn’s main character, and a character in its own right. Tóibín’s prose lifts this historical/romantic novel of the Irish immigrant experience to award-winning levels and to a movie of the same name. Here is Enniscorthy. 


7. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, recommended by Joan

My favorite childhood book was Charlotte's Web. I can still picture the drawing of Fran holding Wilbur as a baby and giving him a baby bottle. The happy, content look on his face says it all. Enchanting!


8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker, recommended by Helene

It was an immediate cultural phenomenon. When published in 1982-83, everyone was reading what was to become the Pulitzer Prize and National Book award winning book by Alice Waters, The Color Purple. Told largely through twenty years of letters between the African American sisters Celie and Nettie in rural Georgia, and Celie to God, this is truly a heartbreaking story of abuse and struggle as well as a story about resilience and redemption. If you’ve seen the movie or the Broadway show,  return to the original source and read a masterpiece.  Alice Walker was the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.


9. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, recommended by Annie & Eileen

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is brought to life in glittering and gritty detail by Erik Larson. This history follows the architect of the fair and its enormous and fraught construction alongside the story of the first modern serial killer, who takes an empty lot and engages in a horrific construction of his own. Vivid detail and clear prose make this work read like a thriller.

Extraordinary account of a serial killer on the loose during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Great research, a gripping tale, both fascinating, and horrifying. 


10. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, recommended by Victoria

Dystopian, fierce writing, about the control of knowledge and the cost of that, as well as transgression.


11. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, recommended by Annie

This is science fantasy at its finest. Jemisin is a master world-builder and storyteller, creating characters you will love and telling a compelling story that celebrates diversity by making it commonplace. This story of cataclysmic climate change and power through oppression could not be more timely.

 

12. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, recommended by Annie

Bechdel’s graphic memoir about her complicated relationship with her father uses simplicity and subtlety to dive deep and reach powerful currents of emotion. Her straight-forward narration and a color palette limited to a dulled blue wash heighten the power of her story. Unflinchingly personal, her memoir is also universal in its exploration of the relationship between a parent and a child, all that is shared and unspoken.


13. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, recommended by Lori

Brilliant, brilliant novel. Steinbeck’s best, unless you’re talking about Of Mice and Men.  I just have to think about these books and tears well up in my eyes.  


14. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, recommended by Victoria

Fitzgerald is never short of lyricism in this novel about the American longing to remake ourselves, to become something that perhaps in the end is not much at all. Classic for a reason.


15. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, recommended by Annie

A classic and quintessential haunted house tale. An investigator of the supernatural gathers three strangers together in the hopes of recording scientific proof of the paranormal. This gothic ghost story is one of the greatest not only because of the unexplained bumps in the night, but also because of Jackson’s insightful depiction of a troubled young woman under the strain of tremendous forces beyond her control.


16. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, recommended by Lauren

A haunting tale where the great detective Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend Dr. John Watson strive to fight the forces of evil--be it man or myth. Bowing to public pressure to bring Sherlock Holmes back to life, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote one of the most beloved books of the Victorian Era, and today.


17. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, recommended by Lori & Joan

Edith Wharton's rich, beautiful novel tells the story of Lily Bart. Lily is smart, honest, adventurous, beautiful, and the envy of all who come to know her. But she is missing the one thing that old New York's society demands--money. Hands down the best book I ever read. My all time favorite. I have never witnessed a character like Lily Bart! 

The book is an insightful look at New York City life of the wealthy during the Gilded Age. The centerpiece of the story is Lily Bart, a wanna be trying to maintain her position in high society. Wharton clearly exposes the shallowness of rich people during the time.


18. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, recommended by Lori

This book has stayed with me. A story about place, but the characters—especially Ruth and Sylvie—are never overshadowed. 


19. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, recommended by Annie

Maya Angelou is a poet: she makes words sing. This memoir of her childhood and adolescence is fiercely honest about the struggles facing anyone growing up or existing as black in America. But just as fierce is the warmth and love and joy she finds in her own brilliant and undeniable humanity, and the courage and dignity of her family and community.


20. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, recommended by Annie

This harrowing exploration of the murder of a family in rural Kansas in 1959 is considered one of the best true crime books ever written, and for good reason. Capote gives us at times heart-breaking, at times chilling, portraits of the victims and perpetrators, but most importantly he gives us the whole story, a crime but also its consequences: the collective mourning and search for justice that an entire community endures in the wake of a tragedy.


21. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, recommended by Eileen

I raced through this breathtaking book over a weekend, stopping only for meals and sleep! A brilliantly written, hair-raising true account of life and death during an ill-fated expedition on Mount Everest.


22. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, recommended by Annie

Ursula Todd is born in 1910. Over and over again. This startlingly original and beautifully written novel follows a single life lived in countless variations. Atkinson has a singular talent for creating characters so deeply and honestly drawn you can’t help but feel you share their thoughts and world. In this novel the vivid and intimate life of one family collides over and over with the events of a rapidly changing England, through the 1918 pandemic flu and the Blitz during WWII.


23. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman, recommended by Victoria & Lori

Essential Holocaust reading. Author interviewing his survivor father, representing his experiences. Groups of people are portrayed by different animal species (sorry animals). Translated worldwide. Considered the greatest graphic novel ever written.

Amazing. Gut wrenching. Loving.


24. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, recommended by Eileen

Laugh out loud essays capture the frustrations of not knowing the local language (or trying to deal with your wacky family), taken to hilarious levels as only David Sedaris can!


25. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, recommended by Eileen

Colorful atmospheric account of true crime and eccentric characters in the Deep South. NY Times bestseller for over 200 weeks!


26. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, recommended by Helene

The four volume story of which My Brilliant Friend is the first remains one of the best reads of my life; I still miss the presence of lifelong friends, Lila and Elena (although the HBO series is providing a little relief). Never has female friendship been brought to life in all its intensity as it is in this series. Unputdownable. The first book introduces us to these friends as eight-year-olds and to their vibrant working class Naples neighborhood, circa 1950. It sets the stage for their very emotional—complicated and conflicted—relationship from youth to old age together with the life of their friends, families, and lovers. Lila is fiery and larger than life, and Elana is the bookish narrator: two unforgettable characters.


27. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, recommended by Annie & Lori

What is remarkable about Elizabeth Strout’s novel is not just the profound and complicated portrait she builds of the singular Olive Kitteridge, but also that she achieves this often by giving us only glimpses of Olive. In thirteen stories, some with Olive at the center and others with her merely passing through, Strout shows us how interconnected we all are, and how deeply entwined our singular identities are with that of the various communities in which we live.

I’ll read anything Strout writes—but Olive is one of the best modern fictional characters around—because she is so real!!


28. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, recommended by Annie

Winterson’s debut novel is a splendid introduction to a potent and remarkable voice. Precise, poetic, blunt, vivid, with a frank and playful wit, Winterson weaves a story of the battle that is adolescence, a fight to find your true self, in a novel unafraid to depict the sorrow, desire, and joy that accompany hardwon knowledge and dignity.


29. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, recommended by Joan

Terrifying look at life in North Korea as seen through the eyes of John Doe, a simple citizen. A scary look at what life is like in a totalitarian society. A must read.


30. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, recommended by Annie

Set in a near-future California turned dystopia through climate change and wealth inequality, this incredibly relevant novel tells the story of a young woman shaping a new belief system for herself and the survivors she leads on a perilous journey to find safe haven. Butler’s message is powerful and essential: the people who lead us should be those with the most empathy.


31. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, recommended by Victoria

Brilliant memoir of a girl coming of age in Iran as the Islamic Revolution sweeps the culture. Deep, funny, empathy inducing.


32. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, recommended by Scott

This book will inspire you to make your own Pilgrimage and take a closer look at the natural environment that surrounds you. It’ll show you that you can find the drama, terror, and beauty in nature unfold without traveling farther than your own backyard.   


33. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, recommended by Vanessa & Eileen

I read Rebecca on a girls' trip, and it so entranced me, from the beginning, that I ignored a group of really fun friends for days while I tore through it. 

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Grand opening line to the atmospheric Gothic novel of psychological suspense, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 1938. Rebecca was made into the spectacular Hitchcock film, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1940.  


34. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, recommended by Lori

An insightful deconstruction of a man afraid to step out of his self-imposed boundaries. British culture is not the culprit in this wonderful book.


35. The Round House by Louise Erdrich, recommended by Annie

Erdrich offers a masterful depiction of the complexity and failures of the American legal system on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota by telling the story of one family grappling with a horrific crime. Despite the gravity of the subject, this portrait of a family and community is warm and tender, with vivid and loving detail.


36. The Stranger by Albert Camus, recommended by Christina

A fascinating narrative! It brings the meaning of existentialism to a new perspective, a must read!


37. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, recommended by Annie

This delicious, sophisticated thriller set in picturesque Italy takes the reader inside the mind of enigmatic Tom Ripley, whose envy of a wealthy young American expat spills out in a series of escalating lies and criminal acts. Tom’s drive to lose himself in a life that is not his own is a compelling and cautionary tale.


38. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, recommended by Annie 

This is the kind of book you’ll beg friends and family to read so you can talk about it with them. What happens when the people of Earth make contact with an alien civilization? Liu’s answer to this question makes for a fascinating and compelling narrative. A riveting examination of how technology intersects with morality.


39. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, recommended by Kimberly

Like most New Yorkers I have recently seen the broadway play To Kill A Mockingbird, but had not read the book since high school; it was time to reread it.  Harper Lee was a master of pitting good versus evil; now that I am older, the gray areas portrayed were most riveting.


40. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, recommended by Amanda & Joan

The Gothic novella "The Turn of The Screw" is about a housekeeper who is given full charge to watch over two children. The novella blurs the lines of reality as the housekeeper is unable to tell if her exhausted mind is deceiving her or if there is something more going on with the children.

A short novel perfect to read when you have a day to dedicate to reading. Extremely absorbing book that you will be unable to put down. Very moving.


41. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, recommended by Joan

Amazing story of slavery and freedom. I learned so much about the Underground Railroad that I never knew. The book is sad, moving, and in the end uplifting. Loved it. A must read.


42. Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, recommended by Helene

Take advantage of Flipster (the NYPL’s free digital access to magazines) and google the New Yorker’s most famous 'artist/reporter’ of the 20th century, Joseph Mitchell. Here you can start sampling Mitchell's profiles of New York’s most colorful citizens, its street people, written and published from 1938 to 1964. Or savor the entire collection in Up in the Old Hotel where you can read and re-read my favorite, the masterpiece, Joe Gould’s Secret. This is the story of a legendary character who lived for 40 years on the streets of New York claiming he was writing the entire “Oral History of Man.” You have to read Mitchell’s two accounts, one in 1942 and another in 1964 to find out the “Secret.” It will be worth your time.


43. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, recommended by Helene

This is one of my favorite books of ALL time. The winner of dozens of awards in 2011, Isabel Wilkerson combines brilliant storytelling with the history of black migration (or immigration as it is now sometimes called) in America from 1915-1970. She tells this story through the lives of three ordinary but fascinating people who will live with you forever: Ida Mae Gladney who left Mississippi for Chicago in 1937, George Starling who arrived in Harlem from Florida in 1945, and Robert Foster who left Louisiana in 1953 and became the personal physician to Ray Charles. If you ever have an opportunity to hear Isabel Wilkerson in person, don’t miss it.


44. White Teeth by Zadie Smith, recommended by Joan

Fascinating view of British colonists adapting, or not, to life in London. The book spans three generations of two families. The characters are absorbing as is the story.


45. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, recommended by Annie

Memoir and folktale blend effortlessly in this book about growing up in California as a Chinese-American girl and woman. Written in poetic and visceral prose, Kingston imparts a deeply personal and resonant story by collapsing history and legend into a single narrative and showing us how that is the way we all live our lives.


 

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