Fellow book lovers, I ask you: What do we read for if not the
experience of being utterly swept away from our own run-of-the-mill lives (no
offense) and into the mesmerizing, captivating, vibrant details of a well-told
story? I don’t know about you, but books with really beautiful imagery are one of
the main reasons I fell in love with reading to begin with. And not only that,
but on particularly challenging days (like when I’m out of gas, and have 74
cents in my bank account, and haven’t done laundry in approximately two months,
and it’s cold out) gorgeously imagined stories become one of my main motivations
for keepin’ on keepin’ on.
There’s just something about the feeling of getting entirely
lost in a good book — you really can’t beat it. Plus, books don’t make you do
the laundry. And they definitely don’t care if you’ve eaten mac ‘n cheese for
breakfast four days in a row. The books on this list are the kind of books that
will take you on an amazing journey of the senses; propelling you out of your cozy
armchair and into landscapes of color and light and taste and sound.
Here are 14 books to read for their really beautiful imagery
— and hey, the stories they tell are pretty darn good too. You definitely won’t
want to skip these.
1. The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
Not only is the subject of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus
, Le Cirque des Rêves, filled
with dazzling images, her novel will take you on a mind-blowing sensory journey
as well. Gardens of ice, mazes of clouds, brilliantly decorated performance
artists, and an olfactory bombardment of the most delectable of circus treats
(think: that state fair funnel cake you dream about all winter long, only
better). Morgenstern’s artful imagery, plus her thrilling plot, make this feast
of images a cannot-miss read.
2. The High Mountains
of Portugal by Yann Martel
If you completely loved The Life of Pi (and seriously, who
didn’t?) then you’ve probably been counting down the days until this dazzling
gem of a novel hit bookstore shelves. Filled with all the vivid, brilliant description
you’ve come to love in Yann Martel’s writing,
The High Mountains of Portugal tells the story of Tomás — a man
living in turn-of-the-century Portugal
who discovers an old journal that leads
him on a quest filled with treasure, ghosts, politics, mystery, and of course unforgettable
A LOT of words have been written about the ever-fluctuating cultural
standards of beauty in the world — but few stories approach the endless pursuit of
physical perfection quite like Amanda Filipacchi’s The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty. The novel is equal parts
magical realism, murder mystery
, all-too-identifiable melodrama, and utterly
hilarious. Following a group of artistic friends (and one professionally
unfulfilled police officer) as they struggle to mold their outward appearances
at their will, this book will definitely make you think about beauty
differently — all while you enjoy Filipacchi’s completely captivating imagery.
4. The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This classic of F. Scott Fitzgerald was probably required
reading back in high school — but you may not have appreciated all the
The Great Gatsby
had to offer back then. (Let’s face it: we all had a lot going on in high
school.) But if you’re in the mood to devour some really beautiful writing, now
is a great time to give the tragic tale of Jay Gatsby, his unrequited love for flaky
Daisy Buchanan, and their once-in-a-lifetime parties another read.
5. Daryl Hall Is My
Boyfriend by Erica Lewis
Quick: What pop song was playing during your first slow
dance, let’s say, circa eighth grade or so? Don’t even pretend like you don’t
remember the complete euphoria of placing your hands on the shoulders of your
then-crush, and swaying back and forth while arm’s length apart. Erica Lewis’s Daryl Hall is My Boyfriend is all about
those pop song memories; a gorgeous and candid poetry collection that digs deep
into the music-filled nostalgia of your past, and reframes those memories — and
their accompanying soundtrack — for who you’ve grown into today.
6. The White Album
by Joan Didion
Joan Didion’s The
White Album is another collection of beautifully composed images that
stakes it’s jumping-off point in the realm of music and memories. A haunting
exploration into the post-Summer of Love years in America
, Didion’s essay collection
tackles everything from one of the last recording sessions of infamous band The
Doors, to the Manson murders and the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party.
Though Didion’s subjects might not always be beautiful, the imagery she uses to
invoke them certainly is.
7. Madame Bovary by
This literary classic is filled with imagery you’ll want to
indulge in over and over again. Madame Bovary is the story of Emma Rouault,
whose married life is not at all the experience of comfort and passion she
expected. Taking on a lover in the wake of her disappointing relationship with
husband Charles Bovary, Emma moves in and out of both passion and despair
writing that’s so alive you’ll be experiencing it all right alongside her.
8. Station Eleven by
Emily St. John Mandel
When a devastating flu outbreak changes
the course of
civilization forever, a traveling band of artists and actors take it upon
themselves to perform works of Shakespeare throughout the remote communities of
survivors. Blending timeless works of art into a world fighting its way back
from the brink of collapse, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is a mesmerizing tale of survival, beauty, and the
sustainability of artistic creation.
9. We Are Water by
Author Wally Lamb is kind of my automatic go-to when I’m in
the mood for some really gorgeous writing
, vivid images, and a well-told story.
We Are Water definitely meets those expectations,
and more, telling a story that centers around wife, mother, and artist Annie
Oh, who can no longer exist within the family of her making, and instead
decides to alter the course of the Oh’s lives forever — by marrying her lover,
Vivian. Told from the alternating perspectives of each member of the Oh family,
We Are Water
is a novel about love
and loss, passion and forgiveness.
10. Bright Dead Things
by Ada Limón
This poetry collection is one you will undoubtedly want to
turn to again and again throughout the course of your life. Written with great
complexity, vibrancy, and mindfulness of the present moment, Bright Dead Things is a poetry
collection dedicated to the evolving self
— what it means to be a woman; what it
means to construct one’s own identity throughout changing landscapes and unfamiliar
cities; what it means to grow up, fall in and out of love, and lose loved ones.
Constructed of sharp, vivid images, this poetry collection is simply gorgeous.
11. Anna and the
Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Seven-year-old Anna Łania finds herself utterly alone after
her father, a Polish linguistics professor, is taken from her when German
soldiers are imprisoning and/or murdering all the scholars and intellectuals of
Poland. When she meets the Swallow Man, he takes on an almost mystical,
father-like figure in her life
. Anna and
the Swallow Man
is written like a love song for language — heartbreaking and
entrancing and filled with characters whose survival is intimately, sometimes
tragically, tied to their love of words.
12. Extremely Loud and
Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
If you haven’t yet falling in love with Oskar Schell — either
via the pages of Extremely Loud and Incredibly
Close, or by way of its on-screen adaptation — then it’s about time you
were introduced. After his father is killed on September 11, Oskar
heads out on a "round the city odyssey" to discover the meaning of a mysterious key
he found in his father’s closet. Written as a love story for New York City
the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, the imagery in this novel will
place you not only in the heart of NYC, but will take you around the world and
back into the heart of Oskar as well.
13. The Enchantress of
Florence by Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie has always been a master of creating
captivating images from words, but his novel The Enchantress of Florence
might just be one of his very best. Filled
with the very best qualities shared by all great fairy tales, this novel tells a
story of unexpected travelers, long-lost princesses, lovers and soldiers and
enchanted sorceresses and men with too much power. You’ll be utterly swept away
not only by the story, but the magic of Rushdie’s language.
14. Chronicler of the
Winds by Henning Mankell
When a young member of a Mozambique street gang, Nelio, is
found bleeding to death from a gunshot wound on the street outside a theater,
his only wish is to be taken to the building’s roof in order to watch the
skyline of his beloved city as he dies. Over the course of Nelio’s nine
remaining days, he tells his rescuer, José Antonio, his entire life story — an unforgettable
tale filled with mysticism, ancient wisdom, strength, and survival
. Chronicler of the Winds
is a vividly
imagined tale that will take you all the way from the streets of an African
city into a world of magic.