12 Brilliant Books You Can Read in a Weekend
There’s something for everyone in this diverse collection of novels, memoir, and nonfiction and each book can be devoured, cover-to-cover, in 48 hours.
Improvement, by Joan Silber
In Joan Silber’s novel Improvement, winner of the 2017 National Critics Book Circle Award for fiction, a handful of lives crisscross in a tapestry that weaves together an eccentric aunt named Kiki, her niece Reyna, Reyna’s loveable-but-troubled boyfriend Boyd, and more. Silber, often compared to Alice Munro, delivers her characters with a naturalness that’s spellbinding. At the very heart of this novel are desire, redemption, and a deep resonance for what it truly means to live ones’ life.
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A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking was a natural teacher, and his landmark book A Brief History of Time takes complicated subjects like string theory and the expanding universe and packages them a way that is clear and approachable. The qualities that make this evergreen science classic binge-worthy reside in his voice, and in the way that he allows us to so easily anchor ourselves into the fabric of this great universe—and beyond. While the world has lost this giant, we haven’t lost the elegant theories he’s left behind.
Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was the writer darling of the storied filmmaking team Merchant and Ivory in the 1980s, producing nearly all of their screenplays. Her 1975 novel Heat and Dust, winner of the Booker Prize, demonstrates why. In this story, which traverses generations, Anne traces the life of her English grand-aunt Olivia back to India (Olivia was on shaky ground with her family because she fell in love with a minor Prince, the dashing Nawab of Khatm). Spanning fifty years, the book illustrates sharp differences—and similarities—between pre-and post- Indian independence from the British Empire.
Hunger, by Roxane Gay
In her incredible memoir Hunger, writer Roxane Gay takes us through the most vulnerable places in her personal history. She describes her body as “wildly undisciplined” and indeed, it’s been a source of pain and sorrow, bravery and wisdom. Her story is a compassionate and important look at human frailty and the strength we don’t even know we’re in possession of until we most need it. These are the ten best autobiographies you should have read by now.
An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler
This beautiful book by the New York Times food writer Tamar Adler, is a sumptuous ode to cooking and hospitality. Tamar Alder, inspired by M.F.K. Fisher’s WWII book about frugality, “How to Cook a Wolf,” shows us how to cook “with economy and grace,” ultimately leading to a thoughtful and loving relationship with your kitchen and the very things that are important in this life. There are recipes folded throughout… be sure not to miss the Rosemary Olive Oil Cake!
She Read to Us in the Late Afternoons, by Kathleen Hill
In Kathleen Hill’s memoir about traveling and working in Nigeria and France as a young woman with her husband and growing family, she finds deep comfort in novels. The challenges that familiar characters surmount (Henry James’s Emma Bovary, Willa Cather’s Lucy Gayheart) become intrinsically linked with her own challenges and desires. In the end, her time as a young woman, raising children and pushing through the demands of marriage and early parenthood, are forever marked by the literature she encountered along the way. This memoir has the power to inspire devoted readers to rekindle their own relationships with beloved characters.
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Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
The Brontë sisters, who reside in the annals of literary history, are always worth revisiting after long spells away. The most iconic governess of them all—Jane Eyre—snaps into life as easily today as she did in 1847 when this classic was first published. We can’t forget the terror of the madwoman in the attic, and the passion between Mr. Rochester and Jane, whose troubled love story still stands the test of time.
Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler
In Sweetbitter a young woman named Tess moves to New York City to escape her proverbial small hometown. She lands a job as a back waiter at the eponymous Union Square Café, but the challenges of adulthood might prove too much to stick it out. As she moves through heartache and passion she offers us a delicious dive into the world of fine dining and what happens behind the scenes to keep up the illusion of perfection.
Happiness, by Heather Harpham
Heather Harpham’s memoir Happiness takes readers on a swift journey to hell and back. In the middle of a challenging courtship, she and her true love become parents and have to face questions no one ever should: How far will you go for the health of a desperately sick daughter? How much would you sacrifice? Will they be able to survive their journey on the “crooked little road to semi-ever after”?
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Preparation for the Next Life, by Atticus Lish
Atticus Lish, a longtime literary agent, took the literary world by storm in 2014 with this stunning fiction debut of his own. This complicated love story follows the relationship between Zou Lei, a recent Chinese immigrant, and Skinner, a veteran who’s completed three grueling tours in Iraq. These broken spirits manage to find ways to surprise and help each other along the way. Lish’s compelling characters and lightning pace keep the pages flying. This is a novel not to be missed.
Department of Speculation, by Jenny Offill
“There is still such crookedness in my heart,” muses Offill’s thoughtful protagonist, The Wife. “I had thought loving two people so much would straighten it.” The Department of Speculation is a short and experimental novel that tells the story of a marriage, motherhood, and so much more. Her ruminations are as fragmented and deeply honest as a diary. This is a tale that finds its magic in the mundane nature of the daily grind, and puts it into a beautiful perspective: Life is luminous if you can keep your eyes open, and take the time to value your own experiences and observations.
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The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
Renée is a building super in a bourgeois Paris apartment building who lives a quiet life in Paris with her cat and her daily tasks. She’s curmudgeonly and reclusive and set in her ways. Her 12-year-old neighbor, Paloma, is a precocious adolescent who doesn’t understand boundaries very well. Throw the new handsome and wealthy Japanese tenant Ozu into the mix and extraordinary things begin to happen for everyone. This is a lovely and elegant translation from the French that’s impossible to put down.
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