In my experience, starting a new book is kind of like going
on a first date — and sometimes, it’s vastly more satisfying. With some books
(or dates), you know immediately that they’re just not for you. You don't connect with the dialogue, you’ve heard some variation of the plot a dozen
times before, and even though you know
you shouldn’t judge a book by its — well, you know — the cover is just all wrong. Definitely not a keeper. Other
books take a little while to warm up to. OK, the back flap summary isn’t really
doing it for you, but about 50 pages in, you’re pretty convinced that you and
this book will end up being good friends. So you make a little room for it in
a corner of your shelf.
Then there are the rare, elusive, totally spellbinding books
that grab you from the very first page and pull you into their world
completely. It’s a total “You had me at hello” moment. We all love stumbling
across books like these. Just like perfect first dates, they’re uncommon,
but they’re out there.
Get ready to toss out all those fabulous plans you had this
weekend in favor of curling up under the covers with one of these gems. Here are 12 books that will hook you immediately — some even from the very first
1. Zinky Boys By
There’s a reason the Nobel committee just threw tradition right out the window by giving the Nobel Prize for Literature not just to a woman, but to a female writer of
nonfiction. “I never want to write
another word about the war,” Svetlana Alexievich tells readers at the beginning
of Zinky Boys. So of course that’s
exactly what she ends up doing. Alexievich felt her story about the war between
the Soviet Union and Afghanistan was too important to pass up — and from the
first page, you will, too.
Lydia Lee is the favorite child of her parents, Marilyn and
James. She is beautiful, popular, and destined for great success. Unfortunately,
she’s also dead. Her family just doesn’t know it yet. So begins Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, the 2015 ALA
Alex Award winner about family secrets, concealed identities, and a tragedy
that will either save the Lee family from each itself or destroy
their lives forever.
June Elbus is 14 years old and seems to have
only one friend in the world: her uncle Finn Weiss. So naturally, when Finn
dies under mysterious circumstances, June’s young world is turned upside down. Tell the Wolves I’m Home
is filled with loss, mystery, intrigue, and discovery. It unfolds the
way all great can’t-put-‘em-down novels do: with expansive emotion, surprising
twists and turns, and unyielding hope.
From his lonesome imagery of the high wheat plains of
western Kansas to his haunting description of a family farm so isolated that
four explosive gunshots in the middle of the night go undetected by the nearest
neighbors, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood
is a work of investigative journalism that you will not be able to put down, from first page to last.
Roxane Gay is one of the few contemporary writers who can begin her novel
with the words: “Once upon a time, in a far-off land” and totally succeed. An Untamed State
begins with the intensity already so heightened that you can feel her words
moving around inside you, and she just keeps turning the dial up. “I was
kidnapped,” her first sentence continues, “by a gang of fearless yet terrified
young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned
their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.” Wow.
The Last American Man,
an early work of nonfiction by the irresistible Elizabeth Gilbert, begins with
the line: “By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a
knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.” OK, yeesh … But now
you definitely have to read more, don’t you?
So apparently, this novel has become notorious for being left unfinished towards the end, and I suppose I can see why. The Goldfinch begins
explosively enough — teenage Theo Decker witnesses his mother’s death in a
terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art before fleeing with one of the museum’s more valuable works of art. Then it takes a
bit of a psychoanalytical turn that completely changes the tone of the novel. Fine.
But you should probably give The Goldfinch
the benefit of the doubt and just finish the thing.
“It was a queer, sultry summer,” this novel begins, “the
summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in
New York.” If you’ve read The
Bell Jar before, you know how difficult it is to get through. Yet
you keep reading, because the writing draws you back in, line by line by line.
An intimate depiction of one woman, Esther Greenwood, and her decent into insanity, the writing is so intense that you might wonder if you’re going a little insane, too.
“My sharpest memory is of a single instant surrounded by
dark.” So begins The Liars’ Club,
a memoir of Karr’s upbringing in an east Texas oil town, surrounded by her
fierce, wild, substance-abusing family members, who are somehow both unbelievable
and totally recognizable at the same time. With an opening line like that, how could you resist this
From the blue jeans so unwashed that they’re greasy to the
deafening cacophony of revving motorcycle engines, Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels grabs you from the very
first image and pulls you into a setting you never thought you’d be a part of: the largest and most notorious biker gang in the world. “The Menace is loose
again …” wrote Thompson, and indeed, his unparalleled storytelling has set that
Menace — the unpredictable, road-worn, violent, and complexly human
personalities of the Hell’s Angels — loose in your mind.
Ana Jurić is 10 when the Yugoslavian war begins, transforming
her once-carefree childhood into a landscape of violence, child soldiers, air
raids, and escape plans. Fast-forward to Ana’s much-changed environment of her
20s — one in which nobody knows of the trauma of her past. Ana must journey across the world and into herself to revisit and resolve this trauma.
You won’t be able to put Girl
At War down until you learn what she discovers.
It’s been one week since 69-year-old So-nyo has gone
missing, last seen by her husband in a Seoul subway station, where they were
separated in the throngs of fast-paced commuters. As it turns out, her family —
daughter, son, and husband — never really knew her at all. Told from four
utterly disparate perspectives, Please Look After Mom will have you turning pages to find out not
only what happens to So-nyo, but also how each of her family members, and she herself, understands it.