Here’s the countdown!
10. Olive Kitteridge (2008) by Elizabeth Strout
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
A collection of thirteen integrated short stories about the people of the coastal town of Crosby, Maine. The stories span twenty-five years and focus on the town’s most complicated character, Olive Kitteridge, whose harsh and critical personality is both widely disliked and misunderstood.
Also a 2014 miniseries on HBO, starring Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins and Bill Murray.
9. Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell
Historical novel set during the American Civil War. It’s an epic love story between Scarlett O’Hara, a spoiled southern belle and Rhett Butler, a rogue wealthy gun runner. It’s a look at a period of time with complex racial issues and the book’s controversial depiction of slavery has been the focus of much criticism and scholarly analysis.
Adapted into a 1937 movie starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.
8. A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway used his own experiences as an ambulance driver during the war to tell it. He was also badly wounded and recuperated for six months in Milan, where he fell in love with an American nurse. They had planned to marry, but the relationship ended when Hemingway was sent home and she became engaged to an Italian officer.
Movies were made in 1932 and 1957. The 1957 movie stars Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones.
7. The Book Thief (2005) by Markus Zusak
Story of a young Liesel Meminger, whose mother, at the outset of World War II, gives up her daughter to a foster family outside Munich, Germany. Liesel takes comfort by stealing and sharing books and befriends a Jewish refugee who is hiding in her foster parents’ basement.
Made into a movie in 2013, starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson.
6. The Kite Runner (2003) by Khaled Hosseini
A fantastic story of a young Afhgan boy, his family and his best friend, set just after the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan, during the Soviet intervention and the rise of the Taliban. Hosseini is an Afghan-American writer and The Kite Runner was his first book. He also wrote A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And The Mountains Echoed. His newest book, Sea Prayer is an illustrated short fiction about the current Syrian refugee crisis.
Made into a movie in 2007. Starring Khalid Abdalla, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, and Atossa Leoni.
5. The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck
One of the greatest American stories of endurance ever told. It’s a fictional account of the Joad family and the western migration of about two hundred thousand displaced farm workers during The Great Depression, people who left their homes in Oklahoma and the surrounding states with the promise of work and a better life in California.
When The Grapes of Wrath was published, Steinbeck said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” He put heart and soul into expressing his outrage over the treatment of poor migrant farm workers and he did it with vivid descriptions and powerful characters.
Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell and John Carradine star in the 1940 movie.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee
Set during the Depression in the fictional town of Macomb, Alabama, it’s the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer and widowed father of two children. Finch is called to represent a young black man accused of rape. It’s told by the point of view of Finch’s six-year-old daughter, Scout. It’s a look at southern life and racial injustice and a coming-of-age story for many of Lee’s characters.
The 1962 movie stars Gregory Peck, John Megna and Frank Overton.
3. Life After Life (2014) by Kate Atkinson
A complicated story set in England and beginning in 1910 that begins with both the birth and death of Ursula Todd and moves in different directions as Ursula’s life is saved or rewritten, showing how fate could have taken different turns or if Ursula herself is somehow able to rewind tragedies and try to get them right the next time.
This story spans both World Wars, but focuses on the period during World War II and the heavy toll it took on Europe.
2. All the Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr
Terrific book set during World War II in the walled coastal city of Saint Malo, in occupied France, full of great characters, important themes, and a plot that’s a wonderful mix of reality and fairytale. Story follows the paths of a blind French girl and a German boy.
1. Youngblood Hawke (1961) by Herman Wouk
Herman Wouk has written a lot of great books, including The Caine Mutiny, Marjorie Morningstar, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. And he won the Pulitzer for The Caine Mutiny. He’s 103 years old and his most recent book is a 2016 memoir, published on his 100th birthday.
Youngblood Hawke is set in the 1940s and 1950s and is about a young author from the coal mines of Kentucky, who arrives in New York, is discovered, becomes hugely famous and must deal with all the pitfalls of success. It’s 800 pages, but worth every minute and just talking about it makes me want to read it again!
I’ve never seen the 1964 movie starring James Franciscus and Suzanne Pleshette. It has been hard to find but I just checked and you can stream it through IMDb.
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