good books to read

12 Provocative Books to Read That You Won’t Want to Put Down

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Do you ever feel like you want to read more, but don’t know what books to read?

Commit to a 2019 Reading Challenge today!

Because I was an English major and have always been a big reader, my friends and family are constantly asking me for interesting books to read. It’s sometimes hard for me to think about a few book recommendations off the top of my head, so I decided to sit down and write a post about my recommendations. I am following the format of my own reading goal for 2019 – 12 books in 12 months.

I keep track of books I’ve read online using GoodReads, as well as the ones I’m looking forward to.

(If you want to know what I’ll be reading this year, check out my GoodReads side panel on any page on my website. If you want to read them too, it could be like we’re in an online book club!)

Some of the suggestions here are popular books that may have appeared on book club reading lists, while others aren’t as well known.

Whether they’re one of Oprah’s book club books or not, all of these are good books to read, in my humble opinion. Maybe one day my opinion will be valued as much as Oprah’s. If I keep reading until then, I’ll become a very well-read person.

For your convenience, all of the books listed here are linked to Amazon, in case you just can’t wait to get your hands on them and want them NOW (AKA in 2 days).

Amazon is a great place to find cheap books. They have new books AND tons of used books from different suppliers that are rated by quality. You can get a killer deal on a secondhand book if you don’t need the condition to be perfect.

Without further ado, here are my top picks for books I think you should read this year and why.

 Books to read in 2019:

  1. Gone Girl.

Why you should read this:

I just read this one as I was traveling over the holiday season. I know, I know. I REALLY missed the wave on this one, but I got there eventually. I thought it was a highly entertaining read.

I loved the format of the narration switching back and forth between two characters every other chapter. I thought it was an interesting look at relationships – marriage in particular, but relationships in general.

I personally think it’s fascinating to see one relationship from each person’s side/viewpoint. It’s also very mentally stimulating to have to hash out as a reader what you want to believe, who you think is the more reliable narrator, and whose side you’re on. As humans, I think we like to think that our perspective is objective, but the discrepancies between the two accounts in this book highlight the falsehood of that idea.

This book is really enjoyable, suspenseful, and a unique meditation on people’s motivations and how subjective our perspectives really are. I couldn’t wait to return to this book every free moment I had.

2. Catch Me If You Can.

Why you should read this:

I am a sucker for true crime stories. This one is special because it’s a story told by the criminal himself, and he sure is charming.

I saw the movie adaptation of this first, several years ago (LOVE Leonardo DiCaprio!). Ever since then, I have been wanting to read the book in the words of Frank Abagnale himself. In case you don’t know the basic story, Frank was a con artist in the 1960’s – a master imposter and check fraud extraordinaire.

He convinced so many people that he was someone he’s not – an airline pilot, a teacher, a doctor, and more. He got away with tricks that no one could ever get away with now, which just adds to the fun of the read. It’s truly a tale that was only possible in its time period.

For those of you who like the idea of a true crime story but don’t like violence or the macabre, this is one of the best books to read for you. The book version definitely did not disappoint. There are a lot more details that are unbelievable, and it’s a real treat to hear about them from Frank himself.

3. The Devil in the White City.

Why you should read this:

This book is a two for one special. If you haven’t read it, this is a MUST.

The Devil in the White City chronicles the long, arduous process that Chicago went through just before the turn of the 20th century to create a magical wonderland out of a grimy slaughterhouse city.

The 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago was an event that spurred the invention of many things that you would recognize today. I personally read this book twice, because Larson’s writing is so good. He manages to tell a non-fiction story in a beautiful narrative style.

I also read it twice because it is so chock full of fascinating information about the wondrous things that were created at the fair. Just to give you an idea without giving too much away, Walt Disney’s father was one of the men that worked on constructing the fairgrounds. He would come home at night and tell his children about the magical place he was helping to build (seems to me like it very well might have inspired something).

BUT! This story has a dark underside. As it chronicles the development of one of the most spectacular events in American history, it also chronicles the evil activities of H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who preyed on young women who came from all over the country to see the fair. For those who like history, innovation, and the macabre, it doesn’t get any better than this!

4. Stiff – The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

Why you should read this:

For those who like the macabre (I really do, if you can’t tell) but don’t have the stomach for the violence and malevolence in The Devil in the White City, Mary Roach’s Stiff is a great option.

Mary Roach is a non-fiction writer who lives in my own city of Oakland, of all places. She is very sharp and clever in her writing.

I wouldn’t expect to be laughing out loud as I read a non-fiction book that takes a scientific approach to the topics she tackles in her books, but that is exactly what I get.

This book covers a lot about the history of human dissection, the role cadavers play in our study of the human body (then and now), experiments involving cadavers, the physical changes we undergo as we decompose, what we do with our dead now and the possible issues with each method of body disposal, and much more!

This is a truly fascinating read. As I sit here writing about it, I’ve decided that I want to read it again! Read this, recite some things you learned from it at social gatherings, and you’ll be the life of the party!

5. Dept. of Speculation.

Why you should read this:

I read this one not too long ago because my favorite professor from college recommended it.

I thought this book was really unique in the way that its narrator includes so many references to other works of literature. If you are a book nerd like me, I think you will really appreciate this. Even if you aren’t and you don’t get the references, it won’t take too much away from your experience of the story.

The references make the story come across as very stream-of-consciousness, in a way that in turn feels almost conversational. The narrator is a woman who is struggling in her marriage while trying to raise her young daughter and make sense of everything.

She expresses her feelings and thoughts in a way that makes you as the reader feel privy to her thoughts, or the process of her sorting out her thoughts, which include the other books and poems she thinks of that she relates to her life circumstances.

It feels very intimate – like you are either inside her head or a friend she is so close to, she is willing to express all thoughts and half-thoughts in real time as they occur to her, in hopes that you, the dutiful friend, will help her sort it out.

This book is unlike any other I’ve read, because of those dimensions, and I really was moved by it.

Frank McCourt Teacher Man

6. Teacher Man.

Why you should read this:

Teacher Man is the third of a series of memoirs by Frank McCourt, and it describes his time as a teacher in New York. McCourt was an immigrant from Limerick, Ireland, and he’s a charmingly flawed fellow. There are hardly any other authors that are such a delight to read and provide such a tortuous yet satisfying mix of feelings.

I love Frank McCourt and have read all 3 of his books, but I think Teacher Man is a good place to start. He is most famous for Angela’s Ashes, which is also excellent, but I think I enjoyed Teacher Man slightly more than that one or ‘Tis.

I secretly pretend that Frank is my old friend. I think of him every time I drink a beer (which is often), and I feel like I am taking him along with me to do things together when I bring his book with me.

I know, that’s embarrassing and sounds stupid. And let’s be honest, I do that with other authors and books too, but Frank is special. And if you read his books, you might understand. McCourt is so endearing, so charming and simultaneously pitiable.

He has mastered the alchemy of humor and sadness, entertainment and the depressing, harsh realities of life.

When you read his writing, he is so unassuming and you come to feel like you know him well.

You can predict his actions and motivations, you know his weaknesses, you want to be his champion at times and at other times you just want to shake him (like you might feel toward a close friend).

Frank makes you feel reassured about your own fallibility and like he can commiserate with you, and vice versa. He is an absolute pleasure to read, albeit a not always pleasant journey.

7. Passing.

Why you should read this:

I read this book in a college African American Literature class, having never heard of it before. I think there’s something really special about this book.

It reminds me a little of Hemingway’s style of simple sentences, straightforward language and the ability to read the story just on a surface level, but if you pay close attention, there’s an iceberg lurking beneath the surface and a whole lot going on.

Passing follows the relationship between two women, both half black and half white, in 1920’s society.

One of them marries a white man and passes for white – her husband has no idea about her true ethnic background. The other identifies and is identified by others as black, and she marries a black man.

The rekindling of their relationship forces them to evaluate racial identity, community, belonging, and keeping up appearances. It explores how these pressures and social constructions can strain a relationship and muddle the feelings between people and the interpretations people make. I have read this one twice as well. It’s not taught or talked about very often, and I really think it deserves to be.

8. The Iliad.

Why you should read this:

I am reading this one now, but I only have about a chapter and a half left, so I feel comfortable recommending it. The Iliad is called an epic for a reason. If you don’t know, it’s about the Trojan war between the ancient Greeks and the Trojans. So many adaptations have been made of this story, and so many allusions are made to it that it is definitely worthwhile to read the original version (or as close to the original as we are able to have with our modern English translation of it).

This book is full of really violent, gory fighting scenes, as well as surprisingly sweet and tender moments. I appreciate how the story alternates narration from one side of the war to the other. As a reader, I can’t help but feel sympathy for and find myself cheering on whatever side’s perspective I’m currently reading. It’s a good reminder that it may be easy to villainize the “other side” in war, but each side has their own history, trials, and feelings of being wronged.

I also particularly enjoy the Iliad because it favors elaborate, extended similes that are striking. It’s also fun to witness the mythological gods that are at least somewhat familiar to us meddle in the conflict and act no more mature than any human.

I have been surprised by how much everyone in the story knows the detailed family and community histories of everyone else, even across enemy lines. To me, that communicates high value placed on storytelling, respect for elders, family, and traditions, and a high level of community and “global” awareness.

It is quite the undertaking because it’s by no means a quick read, but I think it’s rewarding to spend so much time with all of its characters so you can fully appreciate and immerse yourself in its entire world. This book is truly epic.

9. The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon.

Why you should read this:

This is an Old West novel, set in a small town, about a young Native American boy, Shed, who lives and works in the town brothel. It’s a coming of age story for him, focusing on his sexuality, as well as the way he figures out how to relate to the world around him.

There are a lot of rough circumstances in the Old West, including prejudice, drug use, religious righteousness, and murder, and Shed must navigate these challenges by clinging to his makeshift family – a charismatic cowboy, an enchanting prostitute, and his employer, the owner of the brothel/town mayor.

I fell in love with this book because I thought it was endearing to see all of these outcasts be a family to one another. I think the book goes into some strange places that are worth exploring, are thought-provoking, emotionally stirring, funny, and the whole story gleams with a hazy film of the mythic.

10. The Age of Miracles.

Why you should read this:

This book is also a coming of age story about a young girl in Southern California, but it takes on a different hue.

The novel details all the pain and awkwardness and sweetness of growing up – from first crushes to navigating friendships to navigating the relationship with your parents and becoming aware of their relationship for the first time. But it’s all happening in the context of the world slowly ending by changing rapidly.

The earth’s rotation begins to slow, and scientists struggle to figure out how, why, and what is to be done about it as the citizens of the world must face the multitude of consequences the slowing brings. I thought the idea behind this story was incredibly clever, and by the end, it left me feeling both afraid for our own future and reassured.

11. A Widow For One Year.

Why you should read this:

It’s very hard for me to pick one John Irving novel to include on this list. I first came across him in high school, and literally every time I read a new book of his, I felt that it became my new favorite book, ever.

Irving is masterful at character development, and all of the families he creates in his novels are captivating.

This is a difficult book to summarize, and I don’t want to say too much, but it is lush with the interconnectedness of people’s lives and with surprising turns. I realize I’m writing very little about this one, but I think it’s honestly a book best to come to freshly. Be forewarned: reading this book may turn you into a raving John Irving fan.

12. Room.

Why you should read this:

This one has been around for a while and had a lot of buzz, especially when it was adapted into a film, but in case you missed it, it’s worth reading.

Room is told from the perspective of a five-year-old, who happily describes to the reader the life he lives with his mother in their room. What he is too young to realize is that he and his mother are being held captive there. His mother must do her best to shield him from the ugly reality of their situation and still give him the happiest childhood she can manage, while preserving as much of her own sanity as possible. Inspired by a real case, this novel is a gripping read.

Commit to a reading challenge today!

Reading is one of the best ways to enjoy your leisure time and keep yourself mentally stimulated.

I know how easy it is to have good intentions about reading more, but not actually do it because you don’t have any specific books in mind to start reading.

Order one of these books (or a few!) on Amazon today. The longer you put it off, the more likely you will not start reading at all!

If you click any of the titles or images above and place an Amazon order, I will get a small commission on the sale at no additional cost to you. Those small things are what help me keep this blog running 🙂

You can’t go wrong with any of these picks, and if you take on a 2019 reading challenge, you will feel so accomplished by the end of it. I know I will.

It doesn’t have to be 12 books for the year – you can choose any number of books to read that feels right for you. 12 felt doable for me, but also will require me to stay on it so I don’t fall behind.

What’s on your reading list? How many books will you challenge yourself to read this year? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time,

P.S. If you’re wanting to read something with your partner, check out my post about books that are best read with someone else.

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Hey there! I'm Megan.

Hey there! I'm Megan.

I believe in cultivating a happy life with intention, using one small building block at a time.

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