This list was first compiled in response to a request from a 14 year old who likes books meaty
enough to read for a while. She had just finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo and was
asking for another "fat" book.
These are in no apparent order. Our prejudice is to let our kids read/listen to whatever they choose, so I can't guarantee total absence of "mature" themes.
Click here for some books that are slightly easier to read.
A Box Full of Matches by Nicholson Baker
One of the best books "about nothing" that we've ever come across.
A gentle family man describes his philosophy of life in a diary format. Features highly opinionated disquisitions on topics such as:
The best way to scrub an encrusted pan in the morning in the dark and make sure it's clean.
The progression of a fever.
The best ways to pick up a pair of underwear with your bare toes.
Will make you want a pet duck.
Suitable for: Mature high school level readers (others are likely to be bored out of their minds rather than amused) and adults.
The Industry of Souls
by Martin Booth
Well, it's not physically fat, but it is fat in ideas. The gentle words of the plot quietly convey
both the great good and the unspeakable, unthinking evil that humans do to each other. The story of an
innocent British citizen who is freed after laboring for 25 years in a Soviet gulag. By the time Alexander Bayliss leaves the gulag,
he does not forgive and does not forget, but accepts that good and bad can come to all people for no reason.
This is a great book to read in times of sorrow.
Girl With a Pearl Earring by
Fictionalized biography of Vermeer told from the point of view of a servant girl in his household.
The Awakening and Selected Stories by Kate Chopin
Hard to believe that these stories were written more than a century ago. Although they are firmly rooted in the bayous of
Lousisiana just before the turn of the 20th century, the women in these stories face choices heartrendingly similar to those of women today.
My favorites this week are Regret, in which a childless woman, set in her ways, is obliged to care for a some of her
neighbors' children for a while. And, The Awakening itself, a novella about a woman who seems to have it all, but does not.
The Cider House Rules by John Irving
Complex, heavily plotted, LONG, John Irving disquisition on the dicotomy between official rules/laws and unwritten norms is unequally enforced based on gender, social status, and other factors. In other words, it's about the politics and the realities of Making Hard Choices.
Unlike Jane Eyre and David Copperfield, orphans in The Cider House Rules are routinely well cared for and frequently give in to temptation (for good causes, of course). Irving bravely compares himself to these two, and to Dickens, and bravely proclaims the utility and necessity of lying (aka creation of fiction) in the face of unfair rules.
Once you finish reading The Cider House Rules, you will feel compelled to (re)read David Copperfield and Jane Eyre.
The Princess Bride William Goldman
Everyone in the family loves this book, and we might just love the
more. But that's because we know that Mandy Patinkin can do no
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Say you got stuck on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a hyena, a tiger named Richard Parker, a locker of
stores and a succinct but helpful survival manual. What would you do? This lovely, serious book about
fate, faith, and man's relationship with animals and nature describes exactly what a teenage boy does to survive.
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
The best book about the relationship between a teenage girl and her father that I've ever read.
Great analyses of the teenage mindset and how bullying pervades society. Melodramatic scenes
of horrific violence that are strongly foreshadowed early on.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Earle Stegner
Elderly historian recreates the story of his grandmother's life in the American West. I found the flashback format annoying;
the grandmother's life and plight is so much more interesting than the historian's pitiful contemporary problems. And
the ending of the present-day plot is positively gross. And yet, the story of the grandmother's eventually
unsuccessful marriage to an intelligent, dynamic but unlucky man who was way ahead of his time resonates.
City of Light by Lauren Belfer
Kind of a Handmaid's Tale (without the explicit sex) that takes place in Buffalo, NY at the dawn of the 20th century.
Till We Have Faces : A Myth Retold
by C. S. Lewis The legend of Cupid and Psyche is revisited in this beautiful but extremely sad consideration of the necessarily stressful
interactions between humanity and its deities.
Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
Makes the case for either marriage for love or marriage for convenience, but that it's necessary to decide upfront
which it's going to be. Still relevant after all these years.
Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Actually, she has become a Dickens fan; but this is a good one to start with.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Very violent sci fi. Challenging to read because
it's written in a mush of English and Russian. But there are
translations of the hard words in a glossary in the back.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
What being a slave does to a person's humanity
Watership Down by Richard Adams
A rabbit-civilization faces challenges.
The King Must Die by Mary Renault
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
A difficult book; much, much sadder than I had remembered from when I'd read it to myself a
very long time ago. It's about temptation and the definition of bigamy. My daughter was really shocked by the way
children (Jane Eyre and her classmates) were treated in the beginning of the book. She was horrified by the
sacrifices that Jane felt required to make in order to resist temptation and preserve her good name.
I'm pretty sure that, although the book is fiction, the conditions it describes are ones that affected many women at the
time depicted in the novel.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Huckleberry Finn in the 1960s and with all girls and the Goddess. I would have liked to
have felt more Joy but my friends tell me that the 14 year old narrator is still in shock from
all that she's learned. Anyway, the bees and the Sisters June, May, & August make
this book well worth reading.
Colleen McCullough's series on Rome (The First Man in Rome, Caesar, Caesar's Women,
The Grass Crown).
The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough
The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks (the first of a trilogy)
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
Turgenev's Fathers and Sons
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
It is amazing how a book that was written nearly two centuries ago can ring so true to this day.
It's an age-old story, obviously. A teenage girl is mortified by her family and feels that they adversely affect her romantic prospects. And, the young man she favors agrees. All of Jane Austen
Iberia by James Michener
I read this while traveling through Spain.
Orchid Thief by Susan Orleans
Story of a man obsessed with orchids. The language is rough, but the book is well worth reading because of its fascinating descriptions of the orchids and the man and life in this particular stratum of Floridian society, which spans Seminole tribe members to British nobility.
The Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset, for which Undset won the
Nobel Prize in literature. Set in 14th Century Norway.
Involving for an adult reading it, but very difficult to read, perhaps because the translation is old. The theme
of the book: struggling to avoid pre-marital sex is difficult, even among church-loving
people. Fascinating, detailed depictions of life on the farms, and in villages, towns
and convents of medieval Norway.