by Stephen King
The ultimate post-apocalyptic novel: 99.9 % of humanity dies from plague (released in an Oops! moment by the U.S. Army) and the few people left converge from all regions of the country—New York City, Maine, Nebraska, Texas, Las Vegas—to regroup and fight a battle of good against evil. The Stand is really an epic story about America, showcasing King’s astonishing scope of imagination, humor, and canny grasp of human psychology in dire circumstances.
by Donna Tartt
Tarrt’s debut novel, about a group of elite *coughBenningtoncough* students who study Greek with an enigmatic instructor and end up committing murder after a Dionysian night in the woods, is not only a riveting story but features the most exquisite writing I’ve ever read. Tartt is such a dizzyingly good writer. And The Secret History is so snarkily funny that certain scenes always make me snort aloud.
by Anthony Bourdain
I worked as a waitress and prep chef in my 20s, so I’ve known my share of chefs. What I didn’t know: they can write. While I was researching my new novel The Lost Family, whose hero is a chef, I picked up Bourdain’s tell-all of his rise to culinary fame and what really happens in kitchens (you don’t want to know, but you won’t be able to look away). A profane, passionate and hilarious love letter to food, cooking and restaurants, Kitchen Confidential took my chef memoir virginity, which I suspect Bourdain would have been pleased to know. The loss of his profane brilliance and lust for life and food is profound.Buy Book
by Richard Yates
This 1961 novel about a couple whose marriage implodes when they move from New York to the ‘burbs and then scramble to prove they’re not soul-dead like everyone else is what my friend Mari calls “the suburban cautionary tale.” Yates definitely doesn’t give us the rainbow-and-bluebirds view of human nature. But what he does so well is show people as they really are, with their secret fantasies and ambitions, their disastrous good intentions and tiny flaws—and their wicked funniness and unexpected moments of beauty.
by Belva Plain
I’ve loved Belva Plain’s novels ever since I swiped them from my mom’s nightstand—sweeping multi-generational sagas, often featuring Jewish families, with moral dilemmas at their heart. My mom’s and my “favorite Belva,” Random Winds, is about a doctor, Martin Farrell, who grows up impoverished in upstate New York and gets bankrolled to study neuroscience by his wealthy father-in-law—but Martin is in love with his physically challenged wife’s sister, and she with him. Oy.
by Colson Whitehead
When’s the last time you read a Pulitzer winner that was also an adventure novel? The Underground Railroad is so gripping that I had to read with one hand over the right-side page (I read only print) so I wouldn’t see what happened next. The book is also, of course, about the grotesquery of slavery, so it’s not for the faint of stomach. But this important novel about a slave trying to escape her grossly cruel master via an actual, physical railroad underground (an authorial fantasy) is also an up-all-night page-turner.
by Larry McMurtry
McMurtry’s Pulitzer winner is an addictively readable saga about two Texas Rangers, Woodrow F. Call and Augustus McCrae, herding a band of ragtag cowboys and cattle from Lonesome Dove, TX, to Montana “before the bankers get it all.” As they battle storms, drought, hunger, violence, mercenaries, scalpings, snakes, and women, both cold- and gold-hearted, through this panorama of the American West, the characters are so funny, moving, and real that my family has talked about them for years. My black Lab, Woodrow, is named after Woodrow F. Call.
by Erica Jong
I stole Fear of Flying off my mom’s shelf when I was 11. It was the infamous edition, the cover of which showed a zipper parting to reveal a woman’s bare torso and cleavage. This novel—Erica Jong’s 1970s barnburner blockbuster about Isadora Wing, who abandons her suffocating marriage to run off with a vaguely stinky but sexy European man and reinvent herself as a writer—became my feminist Bible and my primer on How to Be a Woman Writer. The novel is famous partly because of its scandalous sexual content—women actually thought like that?—but to me Isadora’s literary ambition burns just as fierce and bright as her quest for the “Zipless F*ck” and was the first time I saw a match for my own.
by Margaret Mitchell
I’m going to sneak one more in: Gone with the Wind. Need I say more?
About Jenna Blum
Jenna Blum is the New York Times and number one international bestselling author of the novels Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers. She was also voted one of the favorite contemporary women writers by Oprah.com readers. Jenna is based in Boston, where she earned her MA from Boston University and has taught fiction and novel workshops for Grub Street Writers for twenty years. For more about Jenna, please visit www.jennablum.com.
Latest book from this author
by Jenna Blum
The New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us creates a vivid portrait of marriage, family, and the haunting grief of World War II in this emotionally charged, beautifully rendered story that spans a generation, from the 1960s to the 1980s.