Off the Shelf

A List of Books Seemingly Everyone Has Read by Carol Urban

There are some books that everyone has read — or so it seems. Here are six books that I and almost all my family and friends have read and loved. If you haven’t read them yet, you’ve got some satisfying reading ahead of you!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

It is a few years after the Russian Revolution and handsome Count Rostov has been sentenced to life imprisonment in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol. However, as the Washington Post review describes it, “This is not a novel of thrilling conflicts so much as charming encounters.” The eight episode television series of the novel has begun streaming and is getting rave reviews. But don’t deny yourself the pleasure of reading this marvelous tale before watching it!

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

“If you had to make a bet, a good one would be that a book about netsuke — intricate, thimble-size Japanese carvings — would not fly off the shelves. But de Waal, who inherited a collection of 264 (including the hare in his title), ingeniously puts the figurines at the heart of this elegant account of his family’s survival in Nazi-occupied Europe.” So said the New York Times in its review of this glorious work of non-fiction.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Historic fact: William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway had a son named Hamnet who died at age 11. In this brilliant work of historical fiction, O’Farrell imagines the emotional, domestic, and artistic repercussions of the child’s death. Per The Guardian’s very positive review, “There is an elliptical, dreamlike quality to her prose in Hamnet that, though not obviously steeped in 16th-century language, is essential to creating a world that feels at once wholly tangible and somehow otherworldly…”

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning novel takes place in France and Germany in the years leading up to and during World War II. NPR’s Maureen Corrigan praised it as a “magical adventure novel” and compared Doerr’s “sweeping plot and sumptuous language” to that of Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas. Don’t let the dreadful 2023 television series adaption keep you from reading this hauntingly beautiful book.

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, this novel is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles — and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined. Per the L.A. Times, this sweeping and emotionally riveting novel “shows how history and landscape and accidents of birth conspire to create a story of a single life.”

Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Welcome to 1960s Southern California, where we meet Elizabeth Zott, described perfectly by Elisabeth Egan in her New York Times review as: “a scientist by training, a cooking show host by default,” and who is “opinionated, funny and intelligent.” Don’t be put off by the bubble-gum pink book cover. If fact, one of the lessons of Lessons is that, when it comes to people, we should never judge them by their “cover.”

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