This is just one list of Jeanne’s 25 all-time best recommends for reading.
Note: I put this list together for a friend who hasn’t yet read all that much but wanted a good background in books, both contemporary and classic.
It was compiled Nov. 9, 2008 (in no particular order, but fiction first) along with a little commentary on each…with additions made Jan. 21, 2009 (when I realized I couldn’t leave out some of these!)
1. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner: a Pulitzer Prize winner that deserved the honor; based on a real woman and real place, with a contemporary character sure to make you think.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; though you might have read this in high school, it’s even better as a grown-up (and one of the few books ever turned into a movie that actually conveyed its authentic sense.)
3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; a must-read story if one wants to have an inkling of the cultural differences between Westerners and those who call the Middle East home.
4. The Way West by A.B. Guthrie; a thoughtful look at those who crossed the country on the Oregon Trail by a Montana writer who gave his state the notion of The Big Sky (forerunner to this book.)
5. Oh Pioneers by Willa Cather; Peter did his Master’s thesis on another book by this early 20th century writer—this one captures a sense of community like none other.
6. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck; after winning the Pulitzer for Grapes of Wrath (and the US joining World War II) Steinbeck went to work at the Propaganda Office—this is a short look at collaborators and resisters that was smuggled into many countries in Europe to provide inspiration to the latter.
7. The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham; another short one, a lyrical lovely story of a painter who leaves his conventional life and eventually ends up in Tahiti (think Gauguin.)
8. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: brings post-WW2 Barcelona to life in vivid color: a little mystery, a little obsession, a little of the book world (and less well-known than many of the titles in this list.)
9. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry; another Western? Yes! But really a wonderful tale of adventure and two men who are friends to the end.
10. Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig; again, another Western? Yet another yes. This one’s a tale of adventure and two men who are friends but NOT to the end.
11. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway; if you’ve ever tried to reach a goal and thought you’d done it (only to find it had slipped from your grasp), well, this one’s for you. (Besides, I HAD to include at least one Hemingway.)
12. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; I like to think I can’t imagine a world without books—after reading this book, you can…
13. A Brother Cadfael mystery by Ellis Peters: I especially like A Morbid Taste for Bones or One Corpse Too Many—first and second in the set but any would do—the lack of widgets (they’re set in the 12th century Britain) and the deep understanding of human nature make this my favorite mystery series (oh, but what about Tony Hillerman, Steven Saylor and so many others? Mysteries make worthy reading, especially when you’re in the mood to be entertained.)
14. Night by Elie Wiesel: while Diary of Anne Frank may be more famous as Holocaust literature, I find this recollection of the author’s teen years in a concentration camp more horrifying (and insighful) by far.
15. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder; the story of Dr. Paul Farmer will give you inspiration about making a difference.
16. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson; more inspiration about one person’s ability to create miracles and the power of education.
17. Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg; Teton Valley’s 2007 One Book One Community choice, a remarkable memoir of growing up on Wyoming’s oldest dude ranch; An Unfinished Life is also worth reading (is’s a novel.)
18. Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams; one of the most beautifully written books ever, interweaving the saga of her mother’s death from breast cancer against the story of the flooding of the Great Salt Lake.
19. Any “big book” by Edward Rutherfurd: my go-to of his historical, multi-generational epics would be Sarum, which brings Stonehenge and England’s Salisbury plain vividly to life.
20. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller; the memoir of growing up in Africa by our friend, Bo Ross, of next door Jackson Hole, this was (deservedly) the BookSense Book of the Year in 2002.
21. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby; another very short book (I reread it several times a year) Bauby was the editor of Elle Magazine in Paris when he had a stroke, and ended up communicating by blinking an eyelid—an amazing reminder to live fully.
22. Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose; this book truly brings history to life. While the bulk of the story is about the adventures of the Corps of Discovery, it also illuminates Thomas Jefferson’s vision of America, his faith in his friend Meriwether Lewis and his wisdom in choosing William Clark as co-leader.
23. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin; another history lesson in a book. During the Union’s time of strife, Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with people who disagreed with him, much to the country’s benefit.
24. Any history by David McCullough; I like the ones about particular events (i.e., the Johnstown Flood, the building of the Panama Canal) but the ones about particular historical figures (i.e., Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, John Adams) are also spectacular!
25. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien — completely different in tone, time-period and subject matter than any other title on this list, this writerly book seems to blur fact and fiction within its stories. While ostensibly about the Vietnam War, it is really about America and Americans, especially those, like O’Brien, who saw combat duty in Vietnam.
Note: Did not include co-authors’ names or sub-titles (mostly going from memory here!) Tried to assemble a variety of settings and styles of writing, but does seem to have an emphasis on Western Americana (what can I say? I live in Idaho!)