Read Harder

Read Harder 2023 Task #2: Read One of Your Favorite Author’s Favorite Books

Fact: We all have favorite books. Some of us can even narrow it down to our VERY favorite book. That often leads us to calling the people who wrote those books our favorite authors. But have you ever wondered about your favorite authors’ favorite books?

While I can’t narrow down just one book as my favorite, I do feel certain when I say my favorite author is Elizabeth McCracken. I have been a devoted fan since her debut novel The Giant’s House. I was really excited to get this assignment, because I was wildly curious to find out what McCracken considers her favorite book. So I asked her on Twitter and she was nice enough to respond! Then I got nervous — would I love the favorite book of my favorite author? Spoiler: Absolutely, as you’ll see below.

Now you are probably asking yourself, “How do I find out my favorite author’s favorite books?” In this age of social media, authors often mention the books they love, so you can search their Twitter or Instagram feeds, if they have them. One helpful way I discovered some of my favorite author’s favorite books for this post was by googling “(their name) favorite books”. A lot of results came up for interviews with these authors, which I scanned for mentions. Or you can watch/attend an event with the author and ask them. There are a lot of ways!

Below are nine recommendations from some of my favorite authors, including the one recommended by Elizabeth McCracken, which I then read for this post. Most I came upon in interviews, and a couple came from glowing praise they heaped on the book. Book blurbs on the cover of a book work on me, if they’re from an author I love. I hope you find something here you want to read, and good luck with the 2023 Read Harder Challenge!

xx, Liberty

cover of Escape from Baghdad! by Saad Z. Hossain; brown dirt behind the font

Escape from Baghdad! by Saad Z. Hossain

This is a favorite of Nick Harkaway’s, and is one one of my favorite indie press books. It’s a madcap, razor-sharp satire of war in the vein of Catch-22 or Fobbit, with a touch of Three Kings. It’s set during the U.S. invasion of Baghdad, and follows two men who sell goods on the black market who wind up in possession of a prisoner who says he will lead them to Saddam Hussein’s riches if they let him go.

cover of They’re Going To Love You by Meg Howrey; painting of a ballerina sitting on the floor

They’re Going To Love You by Meg Howrey

I picked this one up because it was so enthusiastically and beautifully blurbed by Jami Attenberg. And I am so glad I did, because it ended up being one of my favorite books of the year! This one will wring so many tears from your heart. It’s about a dancer who is deciding if she will visit her estranged father after learning that he is dying. Perfect for fans of Tell the Wolves I’m Home and A Little Life.

cover of The Known World by Edward P. Jones; cream colored with a magnolia blossom in one corner and a green leaf in another corner

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

When pressed, I will tell you that this novel is definitely in my top three favorite books. It’s about the death of a former slave and what happens with his widow, who tries to manage his plantation and the enslaved people who work it. It’s a gorgeous, powerful work, and one of the winningest books for all ties, in both accolades and cash awards, including the Pulitzer. It was no surprise to me when one of my favorite authors, Colson Whitehead, mentioned it as being important to him while writing his first Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Underground Railroad.

cover if The Dubliners by James Joyce; paiting of people looking down into a river

Dubliners by James Joyce

And speaking of Edward P. Jones, he mentioned once in an interview that he was influenced by this collection of stories by James Joyce while writing his own collection, Lost in the City. Believe me when I tell you that Jones is one of the best living short story writers, so while I haven’t read this book, it’s on my TBR for sure. Jones loves Irish story writers — he has also mentioned Mary Lavin as another favorite.

cover of Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith; collage image of a woman's face made of photos and snakeskin

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith

Any book blurbed by the magical Kelly Link is an auto-buy for me, and this is probably my favorite that I picked up for that reason. It’s set in Vietnam, back and forth over decades, involving two missing young women in different times, a priest, war, and a whole lot of snakes. It’s a visceral, astounding novel.

cover of The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing; photo of a young woman in a white nightdress reading a book

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

In researching what books the amazing Charlie Jane Anders loves, I came across a list with a few recommendations. This is one I have always meant to read, and I actually own, so I think I will pick this one for the 2023 Read Harder Challenge. Lessing is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and this is the story of a young writer who keeps four different colored notebooks (black, red, yellow, blue) for four different facets of her life, but may one day combine them into — you guessed it — the golden notebook.

cover of Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Millhauser; illustration of a young boy standing in front of a white house

Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer: 1943 – 1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright by Steven Millhauser

And this is the book recommended to me by Elizabeth McCracken, which I eagerly read and loved! The title is a bit confusing because it’s a fake biography of a child genius (Edwin Mullhouse) written by a childhood acquaintance (Jeffrey Cartwright) but of course really all written by Steven Millhauser. It was quirky and darkly humorous and brilliant, and it made me feel like I was seeing a bit into McCracken’s brain, because her work is also all of those things. This novel turned 50 this year, and I can now see Millhauser’s possible influence on A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and Less by Andrew Sean Greer, and Patrick deWitt’s upcoming novel The Librarianist. What a treat it was to be assigned this task.

cover of True Grit by Charles Portis; styled like a old-time circus flyer, in yellows and reds

True Grit by Charles Portis

After Donna Tartt released The Secret History, it was ten years before she released her next book, The Little Friend. It was a very different style than her first, and did not receive the same love that The Secret History was given. I myself loved The Little Friend, and I also love the works of Charles Portis. When I learned that True Grit is Donna Tartt’s favorite novel, it was so easy to see Portis’s influence on The Little Friend. I personally think True Grit is the greatest Western ever written, and worth reading, even if you don’t like Westerns. And if you love Donna Tartt, recent editions include an afterword written by her, and you can also hear her read the audiobook in her lovely Southern accent.

cover of I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin; black and white photo of a closeup of a young Asian woman's face

I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin

And last but not least, another book I am considering for the 2023 Read Harder challenge recommended in an interview by one of the most amazing authors I’ve read: Alexander Chee! It’s the story of a young woman and her three college friends set amidst the political turmoil of South Korea in the 1980s. The narrator, Jung Yoon, recounts past tragedies and relationships in her life.

Want to read books from this newsletter? You can, for free!Get three free audiobooks with a trial to Claim your 3 free audiobooks now!

To get even more awesome recommendations and hopefully find more books you will love, be sure to sign up for our weekly New Books newsletter, and subscribe to All the Books!, the podcast where we discuss our favorite new releases each week and more!

Click here for the full Read Harder 2023 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.