A list by Cara Duncan
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Cara Duncan
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Middlemarch
George Eliot
I met James Mustich at the 2018 ALA conference and when he asked me for one of my favorites, I told him that I had recently read and loved Middlemarch. It remains in my heart as one of my favorite books of all time.
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Johnny Tremain
Esther Forbes
Enlivening already thrilling historical events with vivid characters and page-turning drama, Esther Forbes’s novel of the American Revolution—and of Johnny Tremain’s personal and political adventures in the shadow of the looming rebellion—has remained a favorite of young readers for decades. Peopled...show more
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Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Set in Nigeria during the decade culminating in the 1967–70 Biafran war, a secession conflict that left more than a million dead from violence and famine, this story is at once a historical drama and a tale of family struggles and romances gone right and wrong. Half of a Yellow Sun established Adich...show more
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The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame
From its first pages, in which the amiable Mole and the resourceful Water Rat inaugurate their friendship with a waterborne picnic, The Wind in the Willows transports us to a genial and welcoming world. The story of life on the riverbank is peopled with a cast of players—Rat and Mole, the formidable...show more
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Robinson Crusoe
Daniel Defoe
Inspired by the real-life experience of Alexander Selkirk (1676–1721), a Scottish sailor who was marooned for more than four years on a South Pacific island, Robinson Crusoe gave enduring form to fundamental themes of the Western imagination. With his parrot and parasol, the castaway Crusoe is an e...show more
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All Creatures Great and Small
James Herriot
All Creatures Great and Small is a semiautobiographical account of a Yorkshire veterinarian of the animals he treated, and, most tellingly of all, the farmers, families, and neighbors of the town of Darrowby and the surrounding countryside. Herriot’s professional attention to the calves, horses, dog...show more
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David Copperfield
Charles Dickens
David Copperfield is a novel so filled with character, invention, suspense, and inspired storytelling that one finishes it with an overwhelming regret: The turning of the last page closes the book on such a vivid world that one feels immediately impoverished. Dickens famously called Copperfield the ...show more
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Ten Years in the Tub
Nick Hornby
For the ten years between 2003 and 2013, with interruptions now and then, Nick Hornby, novelist, screenwriter, and soccer-obsessed memoirist, contributed a column called “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” to The Believer magazine. If you happened upon them on their initial publication, you won’t be surprised...show more
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The Arabian Nights
Is there an entry in the annals of story more charming than the tale of the brave and brilliant Shahrazad, who, by dint of cunning and invention, puts off her death at the hands of King Shahryār for a thousand and one nights? Bewitching the king with a nightly dose of suspenseful storytelling, she s...show more
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Meditations
Marcus Aurelius
Perhaps even more than the great Athenian statesman Pericles, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius fulfilled Plato’s notion of the philosopher-king. He was well trained for the role, having been handpicked by Hadrian at the age of eight to succeed that imperial luminary. The beneficiary of the finest e...show more
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Harold and the Purple Crayon
Crockett Johnson
With the aid of a magic purple crayon, a small but very resourceful boy named Harold draws himself into an assortment of delightful adventures. Deciding to go for a walk in the moonlight, he draws a moon and a long straight path, then sets off. The products of his purple crayon—a tree, a dragon, a p...show more
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84, Charing Cross Road
Helene Hanff
This book is on my shelf as a guaranteed happy book for any time I need a smile.
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A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens
You know the story of this quintessential holiday tale, but have you ever read it? So many times has the tale been told—in numerous stage and screen adaptations—that we are apt to take the power of its invention for granted. Yet no retelling comes close to capturing the humor and human sympathy, the...show more
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The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster
Like many kids, Milo, the protagonist of Norton Juster’s quick-witted fantasy, is chronically bored. Until the day, that is, when a mysterious package appears in his room without explanation. What follows is one of the most exuberant, clever, silly, mind-bending, and joyous expeditions in children’s...show more
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Persuasion
Jane Austen
Persuasion is my favorite of Jane Austen!
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Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
The best introduction to Austen’s work is surely the second of the six novels she wrote before her death at only forty-one, Pride and Prejudice, in which she introduces us to Elizabeth Bennet, the wittiest and most vivacious of five sisters on the hunt—if their mother has her way, at least—for husba...show more
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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie
Drawing on Sherman Alexie’s personal experience growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a young adult novel that has more to say about big virtues like tolerance than a whole shelf of earnest adult tomes could ever manage. The book’s unflinchi...show more
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The Complete Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
While the success of the Sherlock Holmes tales can properly be seen as a catalyst for the boom in crime and detective literature that began in the early twentieth century and seems to grow larger every year, the pleasure of Arthur Conan Doyle’s narratives rests only in part on the cleverly contrived...show more
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The Poetry of Robert Frost
Robert Frost
Many, if not most, of the best-known modern American poems were written by Robert Frost: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “The Road Not Taken,” “Fire and Ice,” “Dust of Snow,” “‘Out, Out—,’” “Birches,” to name a few. The pleasures of poetry, with its uncanny ability to plumb the well of exper...show more
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The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne
The story, at least in outline, is probably familiar. Its setting is seventeenth-century Boston, during the Puritan era. Hester Prynne wears the scarlet “A” that marks her as an adulteress. While she thus pays openly for her sin, the “godly” Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale endures the torments of a guilt...show more
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