Blog Post, Just for Fun, Top Ten Tuesdays

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR Pile

With just two weeks left in the spring academic semester, I’ve been thinking ahead to the reading I would like to do this summer. I thought I would harken back to the good ol’ days of blogging, when the Top Ten Tuesday feature was a regular staple, and share my list of “Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR Pile.” (Note: Top Ten Tuesday is still around. It is now hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl.)

These are books I already own and literally have sitting in a pile (or a few piles). I’ve chosen some for my TBR Pile Challenge and some for my Classics Club Challenge, as well as a few that I just want to read while I have a little more free time (so that I can immerse myself better). Here we go!

  1. The White Album by Joan Didion for 2018 TBR Pile Challenge
  2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi for 2018 TBR Pile Challenge
  3. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine for 2018 TBR Pile Challenge.
  4. Paradise Lost by John Milton for The Classics Club Challenge
  5. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft for The Classics Club Challenge
  6. At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill for The Classics Club Challenge
  7. Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs
  8. The Grammar of God A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible by Aviya Kushner
  9. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  10. Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut

If I’m being realistic, I will probably end up reading about half of these, and veering off in a bunch of other directions randomly (there’s a new Stephen King coming out soon, for example, that I’ll probably get my hands on and read right away).

What are your summer reading plans? Anything I should add to my list?

Just for Fun, Meme, TBR Pile

Roof Beam Reader in Books

I saw this little meme at On Bookes (originally from Fictionophile) and thought it looked fun. I also realized it has been months and months since I’ve participated in a “meme,” so why not?

The rules

  1. Spell out your blog’s name. 
  2. Find a book from your TBR that begins with each letter. (Note you cannot ADD to your TBR to complete this challenge – the books must already be on your TBR.)
  3. Have fun!  






Rabbit & Robot by Andrew Smith; On Liberty and the Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill; Once There Was a War by John Steinbeck; Fury by Salman Rushdie.






Becoming by Michelle Obama; Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover; Armadale by Wilkie Collins; Mythos by Stephen Fry.









Release by Patrick Ness; Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing: Encouters with the Mysteries and Meanings of Language by Daniel Tammet; A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine; Diary of an Oxygen Thief  by Anonymous; Enchiridion by Epictetus; Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli.

What did I learn from all this? First, I have a lot of awesome books on my TBR. Second, Goodreads bookshelf navigation really needs to be easier – especially when one has more than 2,000 books on a shelf.

Just for Fun, Year In Review

2017 End of Year Book Survey

Welcome to my Big Book Survey for 2017!

Number Of Books You Read: 80 (goal of 75)
Number of Re-Reads: 12 
Genre You Read Most: Literary Fiction/Classics + LGBT Fiction

Best Book You Read In 2017?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue Mackenzi Lee

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman


Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

American Gods by Niel Gaiman

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

American Studies by Mark Merlis

Origin by Dan Brown

Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read? 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (re-read) / I was not as enamored this time. 

Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut / Far deeper and more complex than I expected.

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson / Fun, painful, insanely creative. 

Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Re-read)


Best series you started? Best Sequel of 2017? Best Series Ender of 2017?

Best series started: The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

Best sequel: A Wind in the Door (Time Quintet #2) by Madeleine L’Engle

Best series ender: The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials #3) by Philip Pullman

Favorite new author you discovered?

Shaun David Hutchinson

Lorraine Hansberry

James Hanley


Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton (Politics)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain (Psychology/Self-Help)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (Mystery)


Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Secret of Spellshadow Manor by Bella Forrest


Book You Read In 2017 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Handmaid’s Tale by Marget Atwood


Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017?





Most memorable character of 2017?

Henry Montague from The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Charles Wallace Murry from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (re-read)

Jamie (and Peter) from Lost Boy: A True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

Most beautifully written book read in 2017?

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (re-read)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky


Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2017?

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

American Philosophy: A Love Story by John Kaag


Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read? 

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2017?

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.” -Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time)

Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2017?

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (78 pages)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (796 pages)

Everyone’s An Author, with Readings (1,050 pages — education text)


Book That Shocked You The Most

The Boy with the Red Hair by Chancery Stone

Boy by James Hanley

A Scarlet Pansy by Robert Scully


OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

Monty and Percy from The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Meg and Calvin from A Wrinkle in Time (re-read)

Upsher and Doff from Saga by Brian K. Vaughan


Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Matilda and Ms. Honey in Matilda by Roald Dahl

The Lisbon Sisters in The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

James Whale and Clayton Boone in Gods & Monsters by Christopher Bram (re-read)


Favorite Book You Read in 2017 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera


Best Book You Read In 2017 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:





Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?

Monty from The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Percy from The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Alyosha Karamazov and Nikolai Krasotkin from The Brothers Karamazov

Best 2017 debut you read?

Lost Boy by Christina Henry

One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (re-read)


Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Welcome to Dead House by R.L. Stine

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson


Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2017?

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchison

Blue Nights by Joan Didion


Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd

Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky


Book That Crushed Your Soul?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz


Most Unique Book You Read In 2017?




Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Angels in America by Tony Kushner (re-read)

Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton


New favorite book blog you discovered in 2017? 

Oops – none…. Haven’t had much time to explore! Any recommendations?

Favorite review that you wrote in 2017? 

5 Mini-Reviews

Recent Fiction Reads

Three Fan Favorites

Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

What Do We Mean by ‘Literary’?

1 John 3:17-18

Roof Beam Renaissance

Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Austen in August

Classic Book-a-Month

The Classics Club

Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2017?

Return of the Official TBR Pile Challenge 

Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

Announcing: The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

Recommended Reading: Bending Boundaries

Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

It’s not exactly a new discovery, but I’m obsessed with Litographs

Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

I re-introduced the TBR Pile Challenge for 2018. I hosted a year-long monthly classic reading event called the “Classic Book-a-Month” club (which, sadly, will not be returning in 2018). I hosted Austen in August again this year, and it was another big success. Lots of good things!

One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2017 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2018?





Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2018 (non-debut)?





2018 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Anything Andrew Smith puts out! 

Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2018?

I am hoping that J.K. Rowling releases the screenplay for The Crimes of Grindelwald, as she did for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2018?

I want to read all 14 books on my TBR Pile Challenge list. I want to read at least a few books from my Classics Club challenge list. And I would like to post new content more regularly, not necessarily just book reviews. 

A 2018 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Hmmm…. Don’t think I’ve gotten any 2018 releases!

Blog Post, Just for Fun, Year In Review

My Life in Books (2017 Edition)

So, here’s a little year-end fun, because why not? I first completed this back in 2010 and thought I would bring it back as a sort of review of this year’s completed reading. The rules? Pretty simple: answer the questions with books you read this year!

  • In high school I was: One of the Boys (Daniel Magariel)
  • People might be surprised (by): The Inexplicable Logic of My Life (Benjamin Alire Saenz)
  • I will never be: Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • My fantasy job is: American Studies (Mark Merlis)
  • At the end of a long day I need: Letters to a Young Writer (Colum McCann)
  • I hate it when: Death Comes for the Archbishop (Willa Cather)
  • Wish I had: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Mackenzi Lee)
  • My family reunions are: The Art of Being Normal (Lisa Williamson)
  • At a party you’d find me with: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)
  • I’ve never been to: The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)
  • A happy day includes: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
  • Motto I live by: Love is Love (Marc Andreyko)
  • On my bucket list is: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
  • In my next life, I want to have: The Story of My Life (Helen Keller)

That’s it!  My Life in Books! Want to play along? Share yours (or your link!) in the comments. 🙂

Blog Post, Classics, Fiction, Just for Fun, Literature, Recommended Reading

Recommended Reading: Bending Boundaries

i4ndexWhat is the heart and soul of literature? What is the purpose of a reading-driven life? I believe people who read a lot, and with variety, are uniquely placed to learn more about the world, its history and its people, and to become more compassionate, tolerant, and patient because of their reading experiences.

These are the real reasons why I love to read the classics. Yes, they’re an escape; they can be beautifully written, exciting, scary, and emotionally charged. But, mostly, they teach me, and show me, more about the world and its people and places than anything else ever could.


The books below are some of my favorites, and they’ve all helped me to experience the world in ways that I couldn’t possibly in my own life. They’ve transported me to a different world, taught me about different cultures, and helped me step into the shoes of people who are different from me. From the poverty and union movements of French miners to the experience of Jewish people during the Holocaust; from the lives of women, gay and straight, to the experience of black men and women, Latino immigrants, German philosophers, religious leaders and spiritual seekers, and the mentally and physically disabled. The books below can teach us so much about the world, past, present, and future.

Even dystopian fiction like A Handmaid’s Tale helps us to explore gender roles and the dangerous, complex, and unfair power structures established to keep women subservient. I am not going to write specific thoughts on these, and there are so many more I could have included, but I do highly recommend the list of books below. I’ve reviewed some of these here at Roof Beam Reader. Unfortunately, I read a number of them before I began blogging, so I don’t have reviews to share.

  1. Germinal by Emile Zola
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  3. The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes
  4. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
  5. Angels in America by Tony Kushner
  6. Night by Elie Wiesel
  7. The Diary of Anne Frank
  8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  9. Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
  10. Rain God by Arturo Islas
  11. Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas
  12. Wonder by RJ Palacio
  13. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  14. A Rasin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  15. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  16. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  17. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  18. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  19. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  20. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Which books have allowed you to truly step into another’s shoes? To experience a completely different lifestyle? Please share your own recommendations!

Blog Post, Just for Fun

My Personal Canon

The following is a list of books that and/or writers who have affected me deeply and for some time. I was “challenged” by Jillian to write one of my own after she shared hers. I thought it was a grand idea. I’ll update this in a year or so, if it needs updating. For now, these are the selections I likely would have made anytime in the last 5 or so years, had someone asked. So, it’s a fair bet this list will still be mostly in tact after another 365 days.

I haven’t provided explanations for my choices, but I might come back at some point and do that, or perhaps even turn this into a “page” on this blog, rather than simply a post. That said, this is more than a list of “favorites.” I could do that, too, but the call for a personal canon seems to be more profound than simply 5-star reads. These are books and writers who speak to my soul, who have never left me, and whom I turn to in times of despair and times of joy alike. 

My Personal Canon

Kurt Vonnegut

A Man without a Country, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, The Sirens of Titan, Player Piano, Look at the Birdie, Armageddon in Retrospect, Hocus Pocus, We Are What We Pretend to Be, and almost everything else (there are maybe two titles from his entire oeuvre that I might leave out). 

Virginia Woolf

Orlando, A Room of One’s Own, A Writer’s Diary, To the Lighthouse, The Waves

Edgar Allan Poe

Too much to list. I’ll just say the complete works, including short stories, poetry, criticism, and his single novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. 

Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It as It Lays.

J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters, Seymour: An Introduction, “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans.” 

Willa Cather

A Lost Lady, O Pioneers!, On Writing.

Plato and Aristotle

  • Aristotle: The Art of Rhetoric, Poetics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics.
  • Plato: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, The Symposium, Phaedrus, The Republic.

The Stoics

  • Seneca: On Tranquility of Mind, On the Shortness of Life, On Anger.
  • Marcus Aurlieus: Meditations.
  • Epictetus: The Discourses, The Enchiridion.

John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, A Life in Letters, To a God Unknown, Sweet Thursday, The Red Pony, America and Americans, and absolutely everything else, if I’m being honest. 

Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Mysterious Stranger, The Innocents Abroad, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven, and pretty much everything else, including journalism and short stories. 

Stand Alone Texts

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë


Blog Post, Classics, Just for Fun

Classic Book Tag

I believe this originated at Dear diary…, but don’t quote me on that. Anyhow, I needed something fun to occupy my mind as  I struggle to stay above the Charybdis of despair that advances closer with each passing day (“I’ll think on it tomorrow”). So, why not think about the pleasantness that is my love for classic literature?

An over-hyped classic you never really liked: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I’ve really enjoyed some of Ray Bradbury’s stuff, but this is one of his most famous and, perhaps given the time in which it was published that makes sense. I really couldn’t get into it, though. I had a similar reaction to H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Perhaps those original, pulp-esque sorts of science-fiction novels just aren’t for me. I might have too difficult a time suspending my present-day awareness of science to be so enthralled by texts which so predate our current understanding. That being said, I love Kurt Vonnegut & a lot of his stuff is science-fiction. Maybe it’s really about the style of writing. In fact, now that I think on it, that’s probably much more likely.

Favorite time period to read about: That’s a tough question. I really enjoy reading about the French Revolution, for some reason. There was a year not too long ago when I was absolutely obsessed with it and bought dozens of books (mostly histories, but some fiction) about it. I also enjoy reading about the Great Depression/Dust Bowl era of the United States. I suppose I’m inspired by stories about the power of humanity and our ability to come together in the worst of times, stare down adversity, and win. Right now, that sort of sentiment is both appealing and depressing, given the state of our politics. I wonder if we will be able to dig out of this hole we’ve gotten into. It seems the most precarious time in our nation’s short history, and that’s saying quite a bit given what we’ve been through (and put others through).

Favorite fairytale: I can’t say I’m necessarily a reader of fairytales. I guess I like a good fairytale movie, but do I actually ever read them? I can’t recall doing so, except for a collection of the Brothers Grimm. I do like adaptations, though, such as Robert Coover’s postmodernist take on Sleeping Beauty. In this case, Coover retells the classic story in a number of ways, including one in which it is a prince who becomes trapped in a briar patch. I think Briar Rose is a really fascinating piece of literary work and also a stimulating study of human desire. I don’t know (personally) anyone else who has read it, so I suppose this is a moment to encourage you all to do so.

Classic you’re most embarrassed not to have read: I don’t think I’m embarrassed not to have read anything. I know that my “to read” list is substantial, by which I mean, insanely large and ever-growing. I am annoyed, however, to have begun a few classics that I haven’t finished. These include Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth (which I’m working on). At least three of these (Radcliffe, Eliot & Wharton) are on my Classics Club list, so I must finish. I can’t think of any others that I began but did not finish, so I suppose that’s some kind of accomplishment. But, I’m a “finish what you start” kind of person, so these “failures” will continue to irk me until I’ve completed them.

Top 5 classics you want to read: This is always an impossible question, so please take this with a grain of salt and know that, on any given day, this list could be entirely different. At the moment, though, here are five that I really hope to read sometime soon. None of these are re-reads, but I should note that there are plenty of classics I want to re-read at some point, either because I read them a long time ago and can’t be sure that I remember them and/or would respond to them the same way, now, or because I adore them and want to read them again and again and again. That should be another list. Maybe I’ll make that list. Hm. Anyway! Here are five that are on my mind right now:

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  • So Big by Edna Ferber
  • The Story of Avis by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Favorite modern book/series based on a classic: If I’m being honest, I think I have to go with any of the Rick Riordan children’s (middle grade) books based on classical mythologies (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse). If I had to rank them, I’d probably say: 1) Percy Jackson and the Olympians; 2) The Heroes of Olympus; 3) The Trials of Apollo; 4) The Kane Chronicles 5) Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. I also really enjoyed some other modern re-tellings, such as Wide Sargasso Sea (“prequel” to Jane Eyre), Jack Maggs (retelling of Great Expectations from the perspective of the criminal, Magwitch), and Speakers of the Dead (which isn’t really a modern retelling; it’s a new mystery series which casts a young Walt Whitman as its protagonist. So much fun!).

Favorite movie/television adaptation of a classic: Don’t crucify me for this, but I think I have to go with some of the more free adaptations, such as The Lion KingPride and Prejudice and Zombies10 Things I Hate About YouGet Over It, and Edward II directed by Derek Jarman. Huh. I just realized all of these are based on plays (mostly Shakespeare, plus one Marlowe) with a Jane Austen spin-off thrown in. I must like other classic-to-film adaptations, but I can’t think of any right now. (Was Ethan Frome good? I remember watching it, but I don’t remember whether or not I liked it. Of course, there’s Diary of Anne FrankCall of the Wild, and some of the Great Gatsby films.) See. Best not to think too long about this. I’d be here forever.

Worst classic-to-movie adaptation: I hated Keira Knightley’s Anna Karenina adaptation. That’s all I have to say about it.

Favorite editions you would like to collect more of: I absolutely love the Penguin Deluxe Classics editions with the beveled edges. I also like the Penguin Clothbound editions, but if I started collecting those it would be just to have them, not to read them. The Puffin editions are cute, but I don’t have any of them and I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to collect them. I do love Folio edition and editions from The Easton Press. These are the more high-priced, leather-bound, “look at my fancy and expensive library” sorts of editions that you would want to insure and keep in a climate controlled case. So, naturally, I don’t have very many (my parents did get me the complete Sherlock Holmes from The Easton Press, though, which was unbelievably generous of them.) As for favorite editions that I like to collect and actually read, I go with the Penguin Classics and the Norton Critical editions, all the way.

An under-hyped classic: There are three books that I always think of whenever someone mentions this category or something like it. The first is Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade and the second is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordan Pym of Nantucket. Melville’s Confidence-Man was his last completed novel and the last to be published during his lifetime (the rest of his publications were poetry and Billy Budd, which was unfinished, was published posthumously). This book is essentially an American response to Milton’s Paradise Lost. I plan to read both Paradise Lost and The Confidence-Man sometime this summer, as I’ve never read them together (but it’s something I think will be highly illuminating). One gets a sense of Melville’s loneliness and despair in this last novel. It was released 6 years after his masterpiece, Moby-Dick, which was not well-received and which left him both financially spent and critically dismissed. We know better now, of course, but the brilliance and pathos of The Confidence-Man, read in context, is not to be missed.

I also think Poe’s sole narrative, Arthur Gordon Pym, is well worth reading, even if it isn’t the most well-written piece. It further demonstrates Poe’s talent and range, though, and reminds us that Poe was not just a short story writer and poet, but also a brilliant literary critic who knew a great deal about literature and the novel, too. It very much feels like Poe and, if one remembers that what he was doing was being done first by him, it encourages a deep appreciation for the poor man.

The third novel I usually recommend is Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden. I think this is my favorite Hemingway work, despite the fact that it was never finished. Hemingway worked on it for many, many years, always refusing to finish it or to publish it, likely because it revealed too much of himself. Anyone who has read a lot of Hemingway will be surprised by this one, I think, because it is intensely emotional, sexually explorative, and psychologically complex; in short, everything Hemingway always tried to suppress, or at least hide, in his other works.  Garden of Eden left me breathless, so it’s hard not to recommend it, and yet I also kind of like keeping this one to myself.