In the meantime, I've read about 4000 books. Or three. Whatever. Anyway, for about two years (coincidentally, about as long as I've been out of grad school), my attention span has been wrecked. I haven't been able to sit through any book more than 350 pages long unless the main character is a teenage girl living in some sort of dystopian future. But I did it, y'all! I actually read The Goldfinch from beginning to end without putting it down to read a shorter book in the middle! That's 771 pages of straight up literary fiction.
Anyway, without further ado:
by Chinua Achebe
The fact that this is one of those books you see at every used bookstore (my copy was $2 in a library sale) anywhere you go speaks for itself. It's hugely and enduringly popular. It's one of those short, easy reads like Of Mice and Men or The Lord of the Flies, that just begs to be put on a syllabus because it has an easy lesson in it while being a little punchy and more than a little ironic. I get the impression that a lot of people where probably forced to read this book in class and ended up really enjoying it despite themselves.
The story is about a very gruff and manly man who lives in a village in Nigeria at the end of the 19th century, for whom, as you might have guessed from the title, things are falling apart. The chapters are sometimes more like snapshots than a narrative stream and it works to give you an idea of life for the main characters and the culture they live in. Achebe's style of writing is easy without being simple and moving without being heavy handed. This is the perfect book to read if you want to feel like you're reading something really smart and literary without having to commit to something really intense like Sophie's Choice or Les Miserables.
By Donna Tartt
I have a lot of friends who rated this book very highly, and Tartt's The Secret History is one of my all-time favorites. If that were not the case, I would not have picked up this monster book, which took me nearly a month to finish.
Tartt enjoys writing about artistic people who are somehow both deeply entrenched in high society, and totally alienated from it, as though it's a party they've walked into on accident, just before the doors were sealed shut, trapping them inside. Her characters are often lonely and out of their depth, usually because they have one type of smarts but not the other. They're book smart but not street savvy, or they know everything about being alone and nothing about how to deal with other people. They like poetry and art and music and know things like who Aeschylus is and what a sheridan chair looks like. They're charming and infuriating at the same time.
There were many points in this book where I wanted to shake and/or slap the main character, who can be almost insufferably mopey and overly philosophical for many dozens of pages at a time. I think the best description of the book that I can give is this: I felt that is was about 200 pages too long, but I still couldn't put it down. Even when I wanted to give up, I couldn't. It was good, and if it was just a little bit tighter and cleaner, it would have been great.
By Marissa Meyer
Yup, this is one of those teenage-girl-in-a-dystopia books. I will admit that I absolutely and 100% only bought this book because of the cover. It's a re-telling of Cinderella in the future, in China ("New Beijing"), and the main character is a cyborg. Done. Sold. Sign me up.
I folded over the corner of the page where I figured out how the book was going to end. It was page 41. STILL, this is a decent milkshake book. The premise is pretty original even if the plot isn't, but you know that going in BECAUSE LOOK AT THE COVER. (There are no zombies or vampires in the entire book! What?) You know that since it's a fairy tale there's going to be a prince and an evil step mother; and since it's teen fantasy, there's going to be a battle to save the world that hinges entirely on the success of one quirky teenage girl who doesn't know she's attractive (even though she obviously is). Basically, if your expectations are reasonably tempered, you won't be disappointed. Read it in the bathtub or on an airplane.