What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
March 16, 2020 7:57 PM   Subscribe

You can define best in whatever way is most meaningful to you—most illuminating, most entertaining, most moving, most informative, most can’t-stop-talking-about-it, most beautifully written, most fun, most comforting, most reread able etc. etc. One book. The best book. No judgment, no snobbery. I’m searching for reading list inspiration and suggestions for obvious reasons and want to keep my potential options wide open.
posted by HonoriaGlossop to Media & Arts (121 answers total) 188 users marked this as a favorite

Well, this isn't just one book, but......anything by Bill Bryson. Science, memoirs, history, language -- he does it all and he's very very good at it.
posted by ydaltak at 8:07 PM on March 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

I never quite had a favorite book—if you asked me I would need more parameters, like favorite what kind of book—until I read Riddley Walker. Now I have a favorite book. I don't know why it worked this way exactly! It's NOT necessarily the most illuminating, most entertaining, most moving, most informative, etc. It's just my favorite.

That said, I only recommend it to people after I've asked some clarifying questions about their tastes, because otherwise they tend to get mad at me.
posted by babelfish at 8:09 PM on March 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

It's actually about a 20-way tie, but if I have to pick one, tonight I'll go with Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty.
posted by Redstart at 8:09 PM on March 16, 2020

Bleak House.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:12 PM on March 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Most re-readable/comforting for me, though I can't call any book "best": Pride and Prejudice. I really want to list more books here, but I'll restrain myself.
posted by pinochiette at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

Good Omens.
posted by bunderful at 8:18 PM on March 16, 2020 [10 favorites]

The one that while I was reading it I kept thinking to myself "I can't freaking believe how delightful this book is, how did she come UP with this" was Susanna Clarke's _Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell_.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:20 PM on March 16, 2020 [15 favorites]

Honestly, Handling Sin. In fact, it's a great time to read it again because it is so deliciously wonderful.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 8:21 PM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Religion and the Decline of Magic
Your Inner Fish
Story of Maps
Embarrassment of Riches
posted by effluvia at 8:22 PM on March 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Little Women - easily the most comforting book I’ve ever read mainly because it takes me straight back to my childhood.
posted by bigyellowtaxi at 8:25 PM on March 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would have a really hard time naming a favorite book. I love the variety of books. And there are so many metrics by which to judge.

I think my most re-read book is Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. Discworld as a whole has high re-readability for me, but Guards! Guards! is the most dog-eared, water damaged, broken-spined one of the lot.

I am trying so hard to stick to one book here.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:25 PM on March 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

This is really tough, but I’ll plump for Under The Net, by Iris Murdoch. She has a reputation for being a difficult, serious author, but I don’t know where that came from - this, her first novel, is first of all very funny, and it’s also beautifully (I mean, beautifully) written and offhandedly profound and occasionally sad. Like all truly good books, you may only remember one flavour, but there are a lot in there.

I’m always buying copies of it to foist on friends. I must be keeping the Murdoch estate in good booze and holidays to the south of France.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 8:27 PM on March 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

It's not my favorite book, but Independent People is the best book I can remember reading.
posted by kalimac at 8:27 PM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Cold Comfort Farm
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 8:40 PM on March 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

Anathem by Neal Stephenson
posted by dgeiser13 at 8:42 PM on March 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

posted by holborne at 8:47 PM on March 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Lord of the Rings — I've read it about 25 times and always remain deeply immersed.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:52 PM on March 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

I just really love Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. Her descriptions of food, the emotions of her characters. It’s comforting and beautiful and never gets old.
posted by sucre at 8:56 PM on March 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

I reread Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino quite a bit. It's about all cities, really.

Three Principles of Architecture as Revealed by Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cities' (ArchDaily)
posted by Umami Dearest at 8:59 PM on March 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

The all-time champ: The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.
The recent champ: The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne.
The short-story-collection champ: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.
posted by pdb at 9:00 PM on March 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. It's beautifully written, the story is so engrossing, and it feels so cozy each time I revisit it.
posted by sweetpotato at 9:04 PM on March 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best is so confining, but:

Germinal by Emile Zola really blew me away with its immediacy and contemporary feel.

As I lay Dying by William Faulkner, I wasn't even sure I liked it until about 3/4s through, and then I loved it.

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler - I love all her books, the compassion and understanding of humanity she brings.

The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin - for mine, the greatest science fiction novel.
posted by smoke at 9:05 PM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

True Grit
posted by H21 at 9:06 PM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.

It is not the best book I have ever read, but it is the most meaningful. After being given a copy and reading it, it set me on a career and life path.
posted by AugustWest at 9:10 PM on March 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Silverlock is by far the most fun for a lit geek.

The Book Of The New Sun is the most awe inspiring literary accomplishment, once again for a lit geek.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:17 PM on March 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

A tie between The Poisonwood Bible and Lonesome Dove.
posted by teamnap at 9:25 PM on March 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit.

I have given it as a gift to several friends going through Tough Shit and it has always been... a tugging beacon, a strange walk, a companion who listens well and sees creative connections easily...

I don't know how to take about this book, I just know I can't shop giving it to people I love.
posted by cnidaria at 9:34 PM on March 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
posted by Literaryhero at 9:39 PM on March 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Bluets by Maggie Nelson.
posted by degoao at 9:44 PM on March 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Silence of the Lambs
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:47 PM on March 16, 2020

Savouring the second book about “that pickle person” - Olive Kitteridge (by Elizabeth Strout). Loved the first book and am slowly reading my way through the second - making it last as long as I can.
posted by The Patron Saint of Spices at 9:50 PM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Probably Little, Big by John Crowley. I’ve only read it start to finish once, but I dip back in when I want magic and comfort and strangeness all at once.
posted by rivenwanderer at 9:54 PM on March 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
posted by niicholas at 9:55 PM on March 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

Seconding Catch-22. It’s amazing how it uses absurdity to make war simultaneously hilarious and nihilistically bleak.
posted by ejs at 10:09 PM on March 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am now mature enough to admit that one of the most reread books of my life is Replay by Ken Grimwood. I am not yet mature enough to admit to some of the others.
posted by jjray at 10:11 PM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Black Jewels Trilogy, by Anne Bishop
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:31 PM on March 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

To Reign in Hell
posted by zengargoyle at 10:32 PM on March 16, 2020

Tough to pick just one, but I'll say Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 11:06 PM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

No other book grabbed me like Wolf Hall did.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 11:19 PM on March 16, 2020 [10 favorites]

Eventown, by Corey Ann Haydu. What if grief was a city and you could just move away?
posted by janepanic at 11:25 PM on March 16, 2020

It's Moby-Dick. Seriously, I'm the first one to say it? I can't believe this.
posted by potrzebie at 11:36 PM on March 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

Single best book? Easy: Les Miserables.
posted by athirstforsalt at 12:27 AM on March 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Middlemarch, hands down.
posted by Balthamos at 12:47 AM on March 17, 2020 [13 favorites]

"Best" is challenging. I think it's an irresolvable tie between Ada or Ardor and Les Misérables, though both are far from perfect.
posted by eotvos at 1:47 AM on March 17, 2020

Maybe not ‘the best’, but if you’re into history, here’s a book which I think about surprisingly often considering that the subject matter is seemingly dry and obscure: Peasants into Frenchmen: Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914, by Eugen Weber. It’s full of remarkable and surprising details.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:19 AM on March 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

I Capture the Castle
posted by kitten magic at 3:00 AM on March 17, 2020 [7 favorites]

Buchan's Thirty-Nine Steps, have read it maybe 30 times, it's the first of a loose series of five books. Describes the terrain and place so effectively, explores a number of personality types, and revels in leaps of intuition. Lovely flowing text. I have an illustrated edition
posted by unearthed at 3:02 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

the years of rice and salt

the entire temeraire series

the entire assassin's apprentice series
posted by poffin boffin at 3:12 AM on March 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

It is a hard read, but as a white person in America, I would think The Warmth if Other Suns should be required reading if I didn’t have lots of misgivings about the idea of required reading.
But for favorite in the more common sense, I second Middlemarch.
posted by ElizaMain at 3:58 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Alexandria Quartet, a tetralogy (4 books, oops!) of novels by Lawrence Durrell. Read it when I was 18, still consider it the most beautiful written thing I've ever encountered.
posted by Chitownfats at 4:13 AM on March 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

The Brothers K by David James Duncan is my most re-readable book. It's an ensemble book and I love seeing how the characters I most sympathize with change as my life changes.

Please don't be put off by the baseball + religion description either. I am not particularly into either, but Duncan is such a good writer he can make anything a compelling topic, I think.
posted by dame at 4:16 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Another one for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
posted by tatiana wishbone at 4:48 AM on March 17, 2020

1. All-time favorite: The entire Discworld series. Best writing style, humor, and gentle but biting commentary on politics, religion and other human foibles.
2. Recent favorite: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Beautifully written, and so engaging. Best book I've read in a long time. I found myself reading more and more slowly as I got near the end, so I wouldn't have to leave it.
posted by evilmomlady at 5:00 AM on March 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life, by A.S. Byatt (they are the first two in a series) remain the books that had the biggest impact on my life. I first read them over twenty years ago, and can honestly say they played a small part in defining who I am and how I think today.
posted by EllaEm at 5:00 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Gosh. For now I’ll say Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, and Lee Maynard’s Crum.
posted by jon1270 at 5:01 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

THis is a surprisingly hard question. Willa Cather: "My Antonia" Edith Wharton: "Age of Innocence." Totally different angle: "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:46 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Watership Down is a wonderful adventure story. Don’t be too misled by the terrifying film adaptation. The book itself has darker parts, but it’s a lively, inventive tale with several amazing climaxes and a satisfying ending.

(If I had to pick another, possibly Titus Groan/Ghormenghast).
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 5:47 AM on March 17, 2020 [11 favorites]

Instead of a single favorite book - because there is NO WAY IN HELL I would be able to come up with one - I'm going to give you a short list of things that impacted me dang hard, and tell you why. (And this may be the one book request in AskMe where I do not recommend that one cookbook I recommend all the damn time.)

* Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower. It's in two parts; the first part is a short bit by Wiesenthal himself, in which he discusses an incident that happened to him when he was in a concentration camp. For a complicated reason, a dying Nazi asked him for forgiveness, and he was at a loss as to whether he should comply. He ends the essay by asking the reader "what would you have done if you were me?" The second half of the book is a collection of essays from a series of religious leaders, politicians, philosophers and other thinkers, answering his question and giving a staggeringly huge and deeply thoughtful range of opinions on forgiveness, what it is, when to give it, when to withhold it, and the like. I wouldn't be surprised if it was on the reading list in the writers' room over at The Good Place because it's some deep stuff.

* The Lord Of The Rings. The whole damn thing - I have a soft spot for it because I first picked it up on September 14th, 2001. At that time I lived in New York's restricted zone following the 9/11 attacks (they changed the boundaries a few days later, but at first I was within the zone) and I had just come back from grocery shopping, having to show my ID in order to get back onto my block. I'd been trying to tough it out and stiff-upper-lip things; but that day, I think my brain just kind of said "enough", and when I came back in from the latest run, I happened to see it sitting on my shelf; I'd just been sent a copy of the entire trilogy in one volume, and hadn't read it yet. I looked at it, and I threw the groceries directly in the fridge, bags and all, grabbed the book, went into my room, and shut the door and started reading. And for the next 36 hours I did not leave my room unless I needed to pee or grab some chips or something. I read and read and read. When I fell asleep, I would fall asleep with the book in my hands, and when I woke back up I would pick back up where I left off. I completed the whole thing in a day-and-a-half marathon, blinked a bit and came back out again. I think I just needed to shut my brain off and go to the Shire for a while.

* Cal by Bernard MacLaverty. It's sort of a star-crossed lovers story set in rural Northern Ireland during The Troubles; Cal is a 19-year-old Catholic guy who drove the getaway car a year earlier when his buddy in the IRA killed a Protestant police officer on his doorstep at his home. It's now a year later and a new woman has started working at the local library where Cal hangs out; he starts to develop a crush on her, but then discovers she's the widow of the policeman, and she's still living with her in-laws. By this time he's already accepted a handyman job on their family farm. He keeps the job to sort of punish himself - and then she starts to show signs she reciprocates the attraction. It sounds soap-opera-y as hell, but it's frank and tragic and sad.

* Nthing Riddley Walker.

* The Memory of Fire trilogy by Eduardo Galleano. I was assigned the first volume as part of a college course, and it blew my mind so much I sought out the other two; it is a history of the Americas, starting with pre-Columbian myths and ending in 1984 (the year Galleano finished it), told in a magic realism style and in a series of one- and two-paragraph vignettes. It's like Jack Kerouac and Gabriel Garcia Marquez got drunk and went to an open-mic night at a poetry slam hosted by Howard Zinn, and gives the best possible view of just how chaotic and random history actually is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 AM on March 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

In recent books, Abraham Verghese's two books, "In My Own Country" and "The Tennis Partner."

The first two volumes of "Wolf Hall" are absorbing and I'm not interested in historical fiction.

"Station Eleven" isn't great but it is a great time in the reading. By Emily St. John Mandel. The story is triggered by a sudden, world-wide, swiftly-killing epidemic so maybe it is not something to read right now.

Edward St. Aubyn's five novels, based loosely on his life, collectively called the "Edward St. Aubyn" novels are fun, harrowing, extremely well written. "Never Mind," "Bad News," "Some Hope," "Mother's Milk," and "At Last." Each was printed as it was finished and then the five were printed as one volume. [IMHO, the tv series with Benedict Cumberbatch didn't catch the humor and the masterful shape of the novels. In case you saw it and were turned off.]
posted by tmdonahue at 7:01 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

“How Green Was My Valley” by Richard Llewellyn.
posted by scrubjay at 7:30 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is up there. I read it on a transatlantic flight and was lucky I had a row to myself, because I kept gasping at the plot twists and putting my hand on my heart.

Station Eleven (rec'd above) is phenomenal but I wouldn't recommend it right at the moment for obvious reasons. Maybe in like August... fingers crossed.

The Goldfinch, if you want a bildungsroman with art theft and teenage hedonism; and The Quincunx if you want a bildungsroman with a terribly intricate inheritance scheme in Victorian London.

Anyway, I know that's four books and not one, but you're bound to like at least one of 'em.
posted by wintersonata9 at 7:36 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Reading Choice and Consequence, essays by social scientist Tom Schelling, I realized, "Oh, so this is how to think about public policy." (It's also incredibly accessible; a version of the first essay is here [pdf], if you want a taste.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:37 AM on March 17, 2020

Tough one.

The Robber Bride, Alias Grace or The Handmaid's Tale. Okay, maybe also Oryx and Crake. All by Margaret Atwood.
posted by nanook at 7:41 AM on March 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Here's a link to the 20 books I've tagged as favorites on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/137770?shelf=favorites
posted by wicked_sassy at 7:54 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Homecoming and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt, which are really one story in two parts. More people know Dicey's Song since it won the Newbery but you should read Homecoming first for the full picture.
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:20 AM on March 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany changed my conception of what a book can be.
posted by Dmenet at 8:24 AM on March 17, 2020 [7 favorites]

A classic, to my mind: The Giver by Lois Lowry. Beautiful, painful, hopeful.
posted by BeBoth at 8:46 AM on March 17, 2020

In polite company, at a certain stage of life: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. But really it's Steps, by Jerzy Kosinski (this should not be construed as a recommendation; most people should stay far away from this one).
posted by Bron at 8:54 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Franny & Zooey by JD Salinger
Boy by Roald Dahl
posted by speakeasy at 8:55 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:12 AM on March 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.
posted by unstrungharp at 9:43 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
Trysting by Emmanuelle Pagano
posted by JohnFromGR at 10:05 AM on March 17, 2020

Moby-Dick is tempting, but I think I want to go with Cat's Eye (Margaret Atwood).
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:16 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson

The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris

(sorry, I couldn't manage only 1)
posted by sedimentary_deer at 10:17 AM on March 17, 2020

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. One of the very few books that I've ever put down to just absorb the beauty of the writing (and extend the amount of time reading it)
posted by gaspode at 10:24 AM on March 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

Oh, and The Handmaid's tale, by Margaret Atwood (and Oryx and Crake)
posted by sedimentary_deer at 10:34 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
posted by Frenchy67 at 10:41 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Night Circus - by Erin Morgenstern

The Fire Next Time - James Baldwin

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching - Thich Nhat Hahn
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:50 AM on March 17, 2020

A Soldier of the Great War
posted by Miko at 12:15 PM on March 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

(that was my other choice, Miko. I think I alternate which one of the two I recommend on any given thread)
posted by gaspode at 12:27 PM on March 17, 2020

A few years ago I would've said The Handmaid's Tale but that seems so trendy now because of the TV series. So I'll go with Stephen King's The Stand.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:33 PM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best is nearly impossible to quantify but Cormac McCarthy's The Road is the one that punched me the hardest.
posted by Twicketface at 1:45 PM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is an embarrassment of riches in terms of suggestions! Reminders of old favorites and introductions to new world. Thank you!
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 1:58 PM on March 17, 2020

Down on Ponce
It's a lot of fun.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:09 PM on March 17, 2020

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
posted by soelo at 2:34 PM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is a great post. It's impossible to choose one book, but it's so nice to read the comments.
My desert island books would probably be the Alice books: Alice in Wonderland and Alice behind the Looking Glass. Because if I were on a desert island I'd be looking for entertainment and intellectual challenge and I couldn't bear the tragedy of humanity.
Another hugely important book for me was If This is a Man, which was recommended to me by my granddad who lost family to the Holocaust. I can't separate the history from the literature, but I think everyone agrees that it is great literature.
Also I love Elizabeth David's Italian Cooking. It's not just a cook book. It's a dream and a fantasy about a better life that improved my young life vastly. My stepdad was fired when I was 8, and then we went as a family on a road trip through Europe, definitely inspired by Elizabeth David. We ate ate every local speciality on the way, and ended up living in an Italian villa, catching fish out of the sea and picking almonds off the trees. I have my mother's box-set of David's first four books and it is worn to pieces. In real life my mum didn't cook, she just read about it and dreamt. But my gram did cook and when we came home from our European adventure, all the kitchen dreams came true in her kitchen.
Elizabeth David was a friend of Lawrence Durrell and I can recognize his writing in hers. I too love the Alexandria Quartet, mentioned above, and it has a lot of other wonderful memories for me.
For many years I haven't been reading as much as I did, so my books are old. There are newer books I love, but I'm not ready to put them on the list yet. Midnight's Children is newer than the above, though hardly new, but it is absolutely up there with the best.
posted by mumimor at 2:41 PM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

My evening self wants to change my answer to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
posted by Balthamos at 3:05 PM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by PD James.
There will be no description from me here BUT this is the only book that gave me a nightmare as I closed in on the ending.
A book cannot be any better than this.
posted by Raybun at 4:48 PM on March 17, 2020

As defined by how many additional copies did I purchase and send to friends/family (about 25), Set This House In Order, by Matt Ruff.

Or, if I ignore the rules

Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel Delaney
The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon
The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Letham
posted by Gorgik at 4:54 PM on March 17, 2020

This one! Opus Nigrum (or The Abyss) by Marguerite Yourcenar
posted by haemanu at 5:35 PM on March 17, 2020

My favorite book these days is The Goblin Emperor - which I found through a post here. :)
posted by gt2 at 5:35 PM on March 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

First, thanks for asking this question.

My choice after I asked myself this question was Ray Monk's biography of Wittgenstein, The Duty Of Genius. I literally spent years living with it when I first read it.
posted by wittgenstein at 5:41 PM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

In no real order or ranking or genre organization, these have been 'best' at different points in my life:
Writing Down the Bones Natalie Goldberg (being a writer and writing exercises)
Bleak House Charles Dickens
The Hot Rock Donald Westlake
The Blue Sword Robin McKinley
Bridge of Birds Barry Hughart (*some of it has not aged well)
Lady Knight Tamora Pierce (*in part because of the build-up of the world from the eleven earlier Tortall books Pierce wrote)
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 6:11 PM on March 17, 2020

Choosing one book is like choosing a favorite child...

Charmed Life, Diana Wynne Jones.
End of Term, Antonia Forest.
Shadow of a Hero, Peter Dickinson.
So You Want to Be a Wizard, Diane Duane.
An Interrupted Life, Etty Hillesum.

(Come to see they're mostly YA-directed except for the last, but all stand up to adult reading and then some...)
posted by huimangm at 6:16 PM on March 17, 2020

I’m glad someone else said The Stand first. It seems an odd choice, but it’s the only Stephen King book I’ve ever liked and it’s like comfort food to me, no matter what. It’s not even my favorite, that would be William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.
posted by lhauser at 9:29 PM on March 17, 2020

100 years of solitude
posted by growabrain at 9:37 PM on March 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

So. Difficult.

But I think I have to go with my heart and say The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Changed my life. An exploration of grief.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 11:07 PM on March 17, 2020

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, by Brenda Ueland.

Writing is a metaphor for living.
posted by NotLost at 11:11 PM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

100 Years of Solitude
Pillars of the Earth
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
posted by roadrunner9 at 6:49 AM on March 18, 2020

So many wonderful books, but I know instantly which one to pick, because there's only one book that has changed my life, and continues to do so. Orientalism by Edward W. Said. It was assigned to me in college, and it introduced this silly conservative white girl from the suburbs to the concept of privilege, and the idea that how I live, the things I say, what I buy, even how I think, affects the lives of others. It was a revolution in my life, and I've been trying to live up to it ever since.
posted by backwards compatible at 7:49 AM on March 18, 2020

Best as in this was one of the most powerful, beautifully written books I've ever read - Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Best as in I love them so much and always recommend them to people - Cold Comfort Farm, Geek Love, Zuleika Dobson

Best kids book - The Westing Game

Book that if I was stuck on an island with only one book, forever - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (books 1-3 anyhow)
posted by Mchelly at 9:33 AM on March 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Lots of Margaret Atwood in here already but my pick might be The Blind Assassin.
posted by naoko at 11:18 AM on March 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

1. Nth-ing Lord of the Rings.
2. If we want to limit it to Faulkner, then Light in August. I went down to my library one evening and started re-reading it while standing up and I was 200 pages in before I realized my legs were cramping.
3. As for a series, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Fourteen huge books, and quite a slog in the middle, but the last book (written by Brian Sanderson from notes by RJ) tied everything together wonderfully and gave every one of the huge cast of characters a resolution that made the whole 10-month effort worth it.
posted by Billiken at 11:19 AM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
posted by sandmanwv at 12:13 PM on March 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

sandmanwv, that was my second choice, and I had a hard time choosing between that and Catch-22.
posted by holborne at 4:45 PM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers.
posted by Vatnesine at 6:08 PM on March 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Baudolino by Umberto Eco

But really it's The Lord of the Rings
posted by jabo at 8:04 PM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

The novel in English that I have been the most amazed by is The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.

My favorite novel is Der Nachsommer by Adelbert Stifter; I haven't read the English translation -- as Indian Summer -- and so can't vouch for it.
posted by bertran at 8:29 PM on March 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's impossible to choose the best book, but when I put down The Keep by Jennifer Egan, I was exhilarated but discouraged as my brain told me, "You will never write anything as good as this in a million years."
posted by zeusianfog at 9:54 AM on March 19, 2020

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
posted by poppunkcat at 12:19 PM on March 19, 2020

Hard to say "best", but "most often read" and "most copies owned" goes to Candide by Voltaire.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:20 PM on March 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Watership Down, but since that's already been covered, first runner up is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
posted by the primroses were over at 9:52 AM on March 20, 2020

Dog Years, by Günter Grass. I know he’s fallen from his pedestal after eliding his wartime service in Germany, but that doesn’t change the amazing beauty of the book itself.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:36 PM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

At different times in my life the *best book* has by different books.
Late teens - Crime and Punishment by a mile.
I read Shakespear's Sonnets in college and those took a big chunk of my brain for a while. At the same time, To the Lighthouse and Beloved also set into my head. The latter especially as 'm a white guy, didn't grow up in the US and this book was the first to really impress upon me how very profoundly fucked up slavery is and was - and America's long standing denial is very very very fucked up, like I still don't get it. (Gaslighting at its finest.)
Then in my late thirties I read Villette and that is without a doubt one of the greatest, most unappreciated books ever.
Around the same time I read Moby Dick and was blown away by that to - what a fucking mess! But big parts of it are as powerful as writing can be. Also a refreshingly, surprisingly queer text - it's never talked about (???) but it is, and unapologetically. It's a beautiful book.
Among 'genre' books I think Cotton comes to Harlem by Chester Himes and Ubik by P.K.Dick and all the Miss Marple books are 100% to recommend.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:15 AM on March 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's hard to pick a favorite, but 2666 by Roberto Bolaño is one I really liked. It is not only a joy to read from a literary perspective, but also combines a breadth of topics and many diverse characters in a book that is a thriller sometimes, and a beautifully aimlessly meandering narration at other times.

I have since been trying to find a different author in the same style, but was unsuccessful so far.
posted by milan-g at 5:51 AM on March 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Most recently I've really enjoyed The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt. It's not for everyone, but I loved it.
posted by mecran01 at 2:51 PM on March 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm way late, but had to say it because no one else did: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
posted by quatsch at 6:02 PM on March 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

it's never talked about (???) but it is, and unapologetically. It's a beautiful book.

When I studied Moby-Dick in college, we spent a ton of time talking about the homoeroticism, and that was in 1984, for what that’s worth.
posted by holborne at 9:40 AM on March 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

nth-ing Cal by Bernard MacLaverty. It was made into a film that I also really like, starring Dame Helen Mirren and John Lynch.

nth-ing Invisible Cities as well as If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino.

I also like At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien. It's Irish proto-Modernist metafiction.

My favourite non-fiction books are The New Science of Strong Materials: Or Why You Don't Fall Through the Floor and Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down by J. E. Gordon. He was one of those old British scientists who could really write.

[Moby Dick is] Also a refreshingly, surprisingly queer text - it's never talked about (???) but it is, and unapologetically. It's a beautiful book.
The homoeroticism in Moby Dick has been discussed previously on MeFi.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:04 PM on April 10, 2020

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