The Book You Have to Tell People About

Ever read a book that was so just so good you had to tell everyone about it? So good that every sentence felt like a revelation? So good that you wished you were there, with the characters?

Well, I have. More than once. And at the end of each month I’ll recommend the best book I’ve read that month. Or re-read. And you get to do the same.

This month’s recommendation is a collection of 16 previously unpublished short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. They’re unbelievably good. I especially liked “Money Talks” and “The Humbugs.”

I’ve always been a big fan of Vonnegut’s writing. I read Slaughterhouse Five in one day (I’m pretty sure it was night.) Then I just had to read it again. Because Vonnegut is the only one who can add tragedy to what first appears to be a comic situation. Or is it the other way around? You never know with Vonnegut. You never know where the story is headed, what’s going to happen next.

While Mortals Sleep is this month’s best read.

Oh, and did I mention that you get some illustrations by Vonnegut himself? That sounds like a bonus to me.

Now it’s your turn. What’s the best book you’ve read this month?

Let’s try to keep it to books published this century though. I know it’s tough, but just one book per person. And try to keep it short. Don’t want to make people read  a thousand word recommendation.

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124 thoughts on “The Book You Have to Tell People About

  1. I love this idea! The best book I read this month was Stuck by Oliver Jeffers. Yes, it's a children's picture book (I write 'em, so I read 'em), but it was really fun and funny. It's about a kid trying to get his (stuck) kite out of a tree. New, hilarious twist on an old problem.

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  2. I've read everything that Vonnegut has written, but haven't read this. Thanks for the tip. The book that knocked me off my chair this month was Classified Woman – The Sibel Edmonds Story: A Memoir.

    Just when you think you know what going on, you read something like this and the audacity of government explodes in your mind.

    And thanks for the post.

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  3. In light of the current commentary in the US presidential race – I started reading Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." It's about 4000 pages long though, so it may end up taking me six months to finish it (should've started reading it during the Republican primaries to give myself proper lead time!). Thanks for the post and I'll be sure to check out your recommendations.

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  4. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates- I've re-read this so many times over the past 5 years at different points of different relationships- from falling in love to finding love lost, and each time the sadness of the Wheelers situation is overwhelming.

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  5. Cristian,

    Mine is Rodney Ross' The Cool Part of His Pillow. This is Ross' debut novel and is it outstanding. It is the story of a man's journey from debilitating grief to recovery from the loss of his partner of 24 years. The writing is crisp, the journey emotionally realistic and the character's voice so distinctive I would recognize it outside the novel. My review is posted on Amazon and Goodreads as well as my website. I brought it up as books often categorized as "bittersweet" are passed over on the way for "happier" tales. This has as much joy and humor as it does angst and needs to be promoted more.

    Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and Fictionwise.

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  6. I must ask: how many books do you read per month?

    Sometimes I start two, and finish none. I used to read books to the end even if I could hardly take anything about the plot, the characters, the style once I reached the middle…now I can't do that anymore, so I hardly finish any fiction which makes me feel bad.

    I herewith recommend everything that Haruki Murakami has ever written.

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  7. Love Vonnegut as well and have yet to read this one. And foreword by Dave Eggers? Bonus.

    For my own recommendation: I have been telling every person I meet how damn good 'The Name of the Wind' by Patrick Rothfuss is. Best fantasy (hell, best fiction) I've read in a long time.

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  8. What a good idea ! The only trouble is, I have only on rare occasion found the books you describe, but I'm open to suggestions and it's rather welcomed. But my style is more around the poetic, quality, romantic, so if anyone has come across such books, as you describe, being memorably well written, I'd be happy to check on amazon if they sell it ! Thanks!

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  9. My best read this month has to be Wizards First Rule by Terry Goodkind. It has a strong female as one of the main characters which you do not get that often in the fantasy genre. Not consistently well written but a great book non the less.

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  10. Oh Vonnegut! I (re) read Timequake this past month…and it still made me feel the same way it did when i read it the first time. Growing up, he was a god among men at my house. Point in case: my mom gifted me with the bible for my 10th birthday, my dad gave me Cat's Cradle.

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  11. I went through a huge Vonnegut phase when I first discovered him, and now I reread him on occasion just to get that feeling back. Such good stuff. I'm currently in the first couple hundred pages of Wally Lamb's 'The Hour I First Believed' and it's definitely creating a self-reflective space for me as a reader. I read his "I Know This Much Is True" and felt much the same, so I'm hoping Lamb's aesthetic just has that effect, rather than the stories themselves. A lot of adult themes and scenes (violence, sex, mental disorders, death) are in his writing, but are written in a way that doesn't make me feel uncomfortable or that he's taking a safe route. What I really appreciate is being disturbed by a book -not with the negative connotations, but just influenced enough so that every time I close the book, I am sitting and thinking, and when I'm going to check the mail I remember a particularly interesting passage, and in the shower I wonder what so-and-so will find out in the next chapter. Great books never really leave you.

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  12. New Jersey's Famous Turnpike Witch by Brad Abruzzi

    It's an Amazon Kindle exclusive, I believe. It's a novel about a woman who lives on the New Jersey Turnpike and begins to attract a media following by doing odd vandalism/performance art things, and the people who follow her, and the people who try, in different ways, to exploit her, and the people who hunt her, and how the new media (web sites, twitter, blogs, cell phone videos, and so on) both reports and makes the news.

    It's written by a lawyer who brings a really good understanding of the mechanics of media to the story. It made me laugh and made me cry and most of all made me think.

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  13. 'Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe' by Peter Burke is a classic study from the 70s exploring exactly what it suggests in the title. Though not about short stories, it tries to get a handle on the sort of things 'ordinary' people immersed themselves in, whether written, artefacts, pictures or whatever, in a Europe when literacy was only just starting to spread beyond a favoured few. To understand what excites us moderns about narratives I found this fascinating, especially as it drew on lots of examples from around Europe from 1500 to 1800.

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  14. This month I've read 'we, the drowned' by a Danish writer, Carsten Jensen. It was first published in 2006 and it is just such a beautifully poignant book that it was almost painful when I finished it. The eloquence, in part is owed to the translators who've done a tremendous job. My father was in the navy and it resonated particularly well, but I feel everyone can relate to it. a must read.

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  15. I'm definitely going to have to look up Mortals today.

    Another writer who has perfected the marriage of comedy/tragedy is David Sedaris. His book 'When You Are Engulfed In Flames' is, in my opinion, his best work. It's classic Sedaris in that it's a series of short essays. The central theme is mortality and death, but when you read it there will be several moments where you will laugh out loud. I did…and all too often in a public space.

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  16. I don't think I've ever read a novel published in the 21st century, let alone in the last month. Most of the novels I read are from either the 19th century or the first half of the 20th century.

    "The best book this month" does reduce the choice somewhat, I doubt that I read more than four a month.

    This last month there's only been one I hadn't read before and that is "Hangover Square" by Patrick Hamilton published 1941.

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  17. I just finished Alice Hoffman's "The Dove Keepers." I was devastated when I turned the last page. If you love historical fiction – then this is the best that's come along in a long time.

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  18. My best book in September was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It was simply amazing…actually my best book all year. A Baptist minister accepts a missionary assignment and takes his wife and four young daughters from Atlanta, Georgia to the middle of the Belgian Congo in 1959 – the year the Congolese began their fight for independence. The story is stunnning, the writing beautiful (both poignant and humorous), and some of them never return home.

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  19. Sounds like something I would like. Last couple of months I have been reading the dark tower series from Stephen King. I usually don't read a lot of Mr. King, but so far so good. The first book, The Gunslinger is very good in my opinion.

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  20. I absolutely love the book "Stiff" by Mary Roach (2004). I was on the verge of every word, enjoying the lovely combination of macabre, informative, and funny. It looked at death in a very head-on aspect, with a lot of dry humor and wit thrown in for good measure. I also enjoyed seeing the viewpoints of professionals who had to deal in death and the aftereffects on a daily basis. Great book.

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  21. I love Vonnegut. Slaughter-house Five was incredibly well written; his style is definitely one I try to emulate. If I were to recommend a book at the moment, it'd be "Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell. Not the most engaging story line ever (the title pretty much tells all), but with humor and nitty gritty details throughout. And Orwell is, as always, fantastic.

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  22. Since fall started I have been reading a lot of text books, but before they took over my life the best thing I read was the millennium series. I had been meaning to read it forever and finally got around to it. Thanks for sharing!!

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  23. This is a fantastic idea. I love your blog so much, it is full of wisdom and truly inspiring.

    Can I recommend "The Boy who Harnessed the Wind" by William Kamkwamba?

    It's not a novel, it's autobiographical. He is a boy from Malawi who describes, first, what it is like when you are too poor to go to school any more. Then he describes what happens when famine is coming, and you gradually see the people around you starving to death, including your own family. Then he describes how he borrowed some books from his ex school, collected scrap metal and other junk lying around, and used it all to build a windmill that generated electricity in his village – all alone, while everyone laughed at him, till the very last minute when they saw that it worked.

    This book made me feel that I knew William personally, and all the things he showed me changed me a little bit as a person.

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  24. My nomination is "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge, M.D. Most books about cognitive disorders offer neither hope nor solutions. Neuroplasticity has been rejected outright by many in the medical and scientific community. Although Doidge's book has no definitive solutions, by recounting actual and verifiable stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science, he does at least offer hope to the sufferers of cognitive disorders and their caregivers.

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  25. I regret I have been unable to enjoy a good read for a while now. It comes and goes. I can't recall the title of the last book I read. Vonnegutt is a personal favorite though, I was distraught when he died.

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  26. What an awesome post! I'm in the middle of reading several books right now but am enjoying most of all "The Emergency State" by David C. Unger. It's an interpretation of decisions made by recent U.S. Presidents. The book underscores the impact of decisions upon the power (or not) of the United States, all in light of historical events.

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  27. Pox Americana, by Elizabeth Fenn. Traces the history of the smallpox epidemic that spread throughout the entire North American continent in the late 18th century, and its affect on politics, trade, the French and Indian War and the outcome of American Revolution, and of course its devastating affect on native populations. The breadth of the epidemic was greater than I ever imagined, and how it moved like a tidal wave from one community to another is astonishing.

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  28. 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' by Lionel Shriver is one of those books that leave you feeling physically winded. The narrator's painful wondering about love, relationships, and family goes to the heart of all the questions we have never dared to ask.

    Why did you have children? What good did you think it would do? How much do you take your relationships for granted? When your child does bad stuff, how much blame can you take as a parent?

    This book should be required reading for everyone who's ever had children or thought about it.

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  29. Great idea! The best book for me this month was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It was one of those books that was so good I got worried partway through in case the story tailed off or the ending was weak but I needn't have worried because it was superb right to the end. It is one of my top 5 favourite books of all time.

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  30. This is great inspiration ( or slap in the back of the head) to start reading again, but really reading. I've been stuck with my YA or supernatural scifi ( love the vamps and fallen angels , what can i say). But, tis true. I need literature in my life again.

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  31. Ah, my problem is that the best book I've read this month, "The Legend of Allyn-a-Dale", is an unpublished work by a writer friend, Danielle E. Shipley.

    It was well-paced, deeply emotional, and hilarious. It was a beautiful action-adventure, boasting time-travel, mental illness, music, and Robin Hood.

    Can I just recommend that you watch for it when it becomes available on the markets? You can meet the (awesome) characters here, to start. http://www.facebook.com/Ballad.of.Allyn.a.Dale

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  32. Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors and his words of inspiration that I carry with me; "It always seems darkest before it goes absolutely black." An interesting poet is Mark Strand in a similar line of bleak stoicism.

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  33. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. My history professor in college constantly recommended reading it, and I finally got around to it. It's a work of Indian fiction that has a lot of historical elements to it (in particular the period of colonialism in India) and was shortlisted for the man booker prize 2008.

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  34. Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers. I learned so much about writing by reading him.

    As far as my favorite book of this month, that would be "American Salvage" by Bonnie Jo Campbell. It's a collection of vivid portraits of beaten down people with few choices.

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  35. Alas ive not read fiction in a while. What i did read was 'How to be happy, dammit' by Karen Salmonsohn. A wonderful motivating little book, with interesting facts, and a wonderfully quirky look at life. Sad to say i have not read Vonnegut, but i'm about to go check it out :)

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  36. I just finished Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart…i LOVED it and blogged about it this week…it was a semi-futuristic funny look at America and political and societal change.

    This is a great blog post and I'm going to have to revisit the comments for my next book choice!

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  37. I'm reading it right now! Just got to the part where the railroad comes to Macondo and all the gringos too….trying to force myself to press on even though I feel like the story is gonna be slow pace at this part.

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  38. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson…it's historical nonfiction that looks at the worlds fair in Chicago and the United States first known serial killer.

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  39. Surprisingly, a self-published novel. Treehugger by Kea Alwang. It's been a long time since a book shut off my inner editor enough to let me just enjoy the story. This one did in spades. Great YA book with amazing worlds and cultures.

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  40. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I mentioned it to my mother and she said she wondered if she might have already read it, but that I told her that is impossible. You don't forget a book like that. It's haunting.

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  41. You had to make it hard with just picking one, didn't you? ;-)

    Okay, here goes. My favorite in August (since I haven't finished any this month) was "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" by Mary Norton. It's actually a children's book, but I had so much fun reading it, getting in touch with the inner kid again. It's a lovely tale on magic and belief, both in magic and in oneself.

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  42. "French or Foe" by Polly Pratt

    Clear, concise explanation of French attitudes and behaviors. A must-read for anyone planning to spend more than a few days in France. (I moved here 5 months ago and wish I'd read it before I arrived!)

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  43. I am a HUGE Vonnegut fan so I will definitely be checking this one out – didn't even know about it! Shame on me. Anyway, my best read of the month was "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern.

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  44. The Help, Kathryn Stockett.

    I have told everyone I know about how much I loved it, even wrote a review about it on my blog and I still feel the need to shout out to the world it should sit down and read it. Very entertaining yet truly meaningful.

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  45. Read Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut a couple months ago and loved it. As an English major, it feels like I'm always reading, but the best book I've read in the last month was Shame by Salman Rushdie. It's a satirical look at post-colonial Pakistan and the complex relationships between the country and the rest of the world.

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  46. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. Of course it was the only fiction I read in the last two months, since it clocks in at 900 pages. It's a fine book, though I'm sure my attraction to it was due partly the "death bounce" effect — the jump in sales attributable to the author's having died recently. Speaking of the recently deceased, Gore Vidal, who died 2 months ago, once said that Truman Capote's death "was a wise career move." That was nearly 30 years ago, so I guess Vidal wasn't all that eager to follow Capote's lead. 2666 is Bolaño's last novel, and while writing it he knew he was likely to die soon. It's so packed with stories piled upon stories, I got the sense that he wanted to tell as many tales as he could before he died.

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  47. Now, I read something like two books per week. More or less. But I also start and never finish a phenomenal number of books. I also buy books like I'm retarded or something. Mostly Kindle, hardly any paperbacks.

    When I was young, I used to keep a ledger. And I also read more. I think my absolute record is something like 164 books in a year. Then I discovered girls and it all went to hell.

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  48. The Ripening Sun – I love this book because I fell in love with France at age 16 on a school visit and this story proves that determination, hard work and belief in yourself will help you succeed and get you to your goals. In 1990 Patricia Atkinson found herself running a vineyard in France, alone, unable to speak the language and with no knowledge of wine-growing. She didn't give up and today has turned it into an internationally famous vineyard near Bordeaux.

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  49. I didn’t read it this month, but the best book I read this summer was Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. In the middle of Night Circus right now, but am finding myself crushed under the weight of details. Not as easy of a read as I thought.

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  50. His Dark Materials, a trilogy by Philip Pullman, "Once in a lifetime a children's author emerges who is so extraordinary that the imagination of generations is altered. Lewis Carroll, E Nesbit, CS Lewis and Tolkien were of this cast. So too is Philip Pullman'. I've read them three times. I own them. Now I'm stealing words and ideas for my own writing from them. It's for adults too, like Gullivers Travels.

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  51. A rich and complicated story combining sexual, political, and philosophical elements. About a young woman’s unflagging love for her philandering husband, a successful surgeon, a man torn between his love for her and his persistent womanizing. About his mistress, a free-spirited artist who lives by betrayal, in a way that condemns her to “extreme lightness of being” – while her other lover, a university professor, noble and gentle and good, is weighed down by too-strong emotions of passion and political conviction. The novel traces the lives of these four main characters in a time of political unrest, where we as readers are taken through profound representations of love and of life.

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  52. This is such a great idea for a post! Already Dead: A California Gothic by Denis Johnson… psychadelic and murderous, but gorgeously written and, oddly, the best description of life in Northern California that I've found.

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  53. The Best book that I love to read is Detective Conan, Kindaichi though it is a a manga. Followed by "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and Shakespeare.

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  54. Shibumi – Trevanian. YOU HAVE TO READ IT! it's just such a right mix of everything. I happened to find it in a library here. I know! I still go to libraries !! I'm lame like that. But this Book! Just totally blew me away.

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  55. Freedom – Jonathan franzen. Great read, a three generation family saga (I know, that sounds boring, but it totally isn't) in modern post-9/11 America, it's got everything. The guy writes with more style than i've seen in a long time, and it's balanced and well-paced.

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  56. I have read a very riveting book when I was young… I can actually feel and see what the character was experiencing in the story. It was about a boy who was dead — he thought he was.
    I forgot the author’s name tHe book title was very cliche-ish
    It was something about comma or black out or something like that

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  57. I love Vonnegut too :) My favourite of his (so far) is Mother Night, I didn’t want to finish that book.

    At the moment I’m reading The Grapes of Wrath. It’s such an astonishingly good book.The opening paragraph hooks you within oh, maybe a few sentences? And at the end of the first chapter I felt like I’d visited Oklahoma. Like I could smell the heat in the air and taste the dirt and sweat. Steinbeck’s writing is just so elegant and perfect…a real piece of art.

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