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What Are Your Top Three Books?

reading books

We’ve asked about your top three movies, and I’d love to know your top three books. As of this month, I have a new all-time favorite…

olive kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge. Have you ever read it? Even though Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite authors, and this particular novel won the Pulitzer (no biggie), I had somehow never found my way to it, but I picked it up this summer and never put it down. The story features Olive Kitteridge, a crotchety retired schoolteacher in Maine, and the townspeople around her, who are just trying to get through life (easier said than done). I adored the lines that echoed her no-nonsense personality, like, “The girl was neat as a pin, if plain as a plate” and “She didn’t like to be alone. Even more, she didn’t like being with people.” I absolutely fell in love with Olive and her brutal honesty — she calls people “nitwits” and “flub-dubs,” but she’s deeply caring underneath it all and touches many more people than she realizes.

Oh, how I loved this book! When I finished it, I lay in bed and hugged it for 10 minutes. I now have that sad, nostalgic feeling after ending a novel — there should be a word for that — and miss living in Olive’s windswept world.

Since it’s often hard to name your #1 favorite book — people seem to freeze and forget every book they’ve ever read — I’d love to ask about your top three. My list would also include Dept. of Speculation and An American Marriage. And if we’re allowed to include short stories, Away From Her.

Tell me! What are your top three books? I want to hear…

P.S. Our top three movies and what’s the most beautiful line you’ve ever read?

  1. Melanie says...

    Amazing post!! Just ordered 3 books from this list! (Middlesex, Olive Kitteridge & A little life).
    It’s too hard to pick just 3, so I’ve decided to go with a theme. And because this is a community of wonderful women, here are my top 3 novels portraying women in an haunthingly beautiful way.
    Nothing Holds Back the Night – Delphine de Vigan
    Blonde – Joyce Carol Oates
    Three Women – Lisa Taddeo

  2. carla says...

    Men without Women is wonderful! Murakami for the win.

  3. Anita says...

    Fave by far is Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters – along with the full series

  4. Laura says...

    The. Magnificent Spinster – May Sarton
    The Color of Water – James McBride
    I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
    The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
    Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl

    • Laura says...

      More than three I know, but it’s election time and I needed this! Also, I couldn’t forget The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. My Amazon wishlist is now filled with so many of your recommendations – thanks to all!

  5. Tiffany says...

    Tell The Wolves I’m Home
    Pillars of The Earth
    Tell Me More
    Untamed
    Children of Blood and Bone

  6. dana vance says...

    The Blue Shoe by Ann Lamott
    A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (really anything by her)
    The World According to Garp by John Irving

  7. MK says...

    Into Thin Air
    Never In My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman’s Life in Journalism
    Born A Crime

  8. Lesley says...

    Kind of impossible to pick three – I have a small shelf where I keep about 10-12 of my favorite books, and these are probably the top three.

    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (I have read this many times and just love it-such a great story)
    The Sunne in Splendor by Sharon Kay Penman (her first book that I ever read, and which led to me reading all of her books – I re-read Sunne in Splendor and Here Be Dragons frequently)
    Watership Down by Richard Adams (my favorite book as a child and one I have read over and over)

  9. Katie says...

    So hard to pick! But:
    Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
    In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
    Recursion by Blake Crouch

    • Sage says...

      Recursion is one of my favourites EVER!!!!! It DEEPLY affected me. I’ll look at the others you like too!

  10. Jordyn says...

    Adding because I’ve SO enjoyed reading everyone else’s, but I couldn’t just do 3!
    -Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts)
    -All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
    -The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Mark Haddon)
    -Johnny Got His Gun (Dalton Trumbo)
    -A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

    • jdp says...

      love love love a little princess. love!

  11. Emily says...

    Top 3 books of 2019-2020:
    Writers & Lovers- Lily King
    The Dutch House- Ann Patchett
    The Lying Life of Adults- Elena Ferrante

  12. daphne says...

    Have to add in mine, and I must add that this is an impossible task:

    1. Little Women: I come back to it again and again
    2. The Lord of the Rings: It’s a trilogy, but you have to read them all, so…
    3. The Shell Seekers: Shaped my sense of romance and nostalgia

    Plus at least 500 more books!

    • Ashley says...

      Shell Seekers is absolutely wonderful as all hers are!!!

  13. Abby says...

    Oh it’s so difficult to pick just three but here goes!

    1. Slaugherhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
    2. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    3. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

    Always looking for new books to read so loving this comment thread =)

    • Annie says...

      Hi, if you liked Lolita, there was a good memoir that came out earlier this year called Being Lolita, by Alisson Wood, that references Lolita a lot! It was difficult at times but a very goo read.

    • Claire M says...

      Based on your 1+2 may I recommend Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. Its sad and deep but very immersive similar to your picks. Adding your #3s to my list :)

  14. Amy says...

    Currently reading Anne of Green Gables thanks to this thread (and the fact that it was on my daughter’s bookshelf). It’s such a balm for the soul.

  15. Judyann n Bentick says...

    The Warmth of Other Suns
    The Known World
    Poisonwood Bible

  16. Emily says...

    For posts like this – it would be so amazing if someone were able to comb through the responses and make a graph or something showing the most common answers. I’d be so curious to hear what the top occurring picks are because i really trust the opinion of this community!

    • Anna says...

      Great suggestion!!!

  17. Jumi says...

    Please do a post on the top ten… heck the top 20 recommended books from the comments!

  18. Dens says...

    My favourite books
    1 Star of the Sea Joseph O’Connor
    2 The Secret Scripture Sebastian Barry
    3 The Invention of Wings Sue Monk Kidd

    From childhood Rebecca Daphne du Maurier

  19. Amy says...

    Beloved by Toni Morrison
    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson– all in the series are perfect: Lila, Home
    Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

    • jdp says...

      when i was 18, nothing could compare to tom robbins “skinny legs and all.” it was It. a book that covered all the craziest thoughts a person could have in a way that was fun, trippy, confident and exciting, kind of like great music.

    • Erin says...

      Gilead is in my top three as well and I’ve been meaning to read more of Marilynne Robinson. For my other two I’d have to go with:

      Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
      The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

      Top nonfiction are anything by Joan Didion, In Cold Blood (if that counts) and Names on the Land, which is a fascinating and hard-to-find book about how all the places in the US got their names.

  20. Courtney says...

    Love this post and all these recommendations!

    Sooo hard to narrow down to 3! Going to go with:
    1. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
    2. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)
    3. The Godfather (Mario Puzo)

    Also, some recent reads I’ve loved: A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles), Pachinko (Min Jin Lee), The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein)

  21. Loren says...

    The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
    Shine on, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin
    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett

    There are certainly plenty more but if I need to get lost in a book those three are what I reach for.

  22. Benedicte says...

    – Family Happiness by Laurie Colwin
    – The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd
    – The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

    also Suite française by Irène Nemirovsky , The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Aurevoir Là-Haut (The Great Swindle) by Pierre Lemaitre

    • Stephanie says...

      Yes ! The Ginger Tree.

    • Lesley says...

      I loved The Ginger Tree!

    • katie kruger says...

      Love The Hours. It’s neck and neck for what is better, movie or book for that one

  23. Lamah says...

    Yes, yes!

  24. Marie Dolan says...

    These are the books that made me fall in love with literature, but have loved many more so hard to choose so went with first loves!
    Empire Falls by Richard Russo
    Chesapeake by James Michener
    The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

  25. juli says...

    1. Nine Stories – JD Salinger (better than the rest)
    2. Dragon Seed – Pearl S. Buck (even better than The Good Earth IMO)
    3. Dune – Frank Herbert (I know this has the movie coming up but this has been my favorite book since I was 16 despite me not being a fantasy/sci-fi person. It is an epic story of human behavior and the environment.)

    honorables: Little Fires Everywhere, Never Let Me Go, Pride & Prejudice (duh), The Mozart Season (YA and not well known but still so good always)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh wow, nine stories! I’ve never read them, but I just re-read catcher in the rye for the first time in 25 years and I loved it so much. man, what a lovable amazing character.

    • juli says...

      For Joanna: I just reread Nine Stories for the the millionth time and it is just as good now as it ever was. Brilliant thoughtful writing. Subtleties galore. With snippets of the Glass family, which is rumored to be the basis for the Tenenbaums (wes anderson). Their stories are developed more in Franny & Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam… but these are the beginnings. All good especially Franny but for me, Nine Stories is the best. Hope you get to read it!

    • annie says...

      nine stories has always been the best salinger book! i used to work at a bookstore and would recommend it to EVERYONE.

  26. Jackelyn says...

    The Color of Water- James McBride (my favorite from my teenage years, I have re-read it many, many times)
    The Overstory: A Novel- Richard Powers (hauntingly beautiful)
    tie for #3
    Let’s Pretend This Never Happened- Jenny Lawson (the funniest book I have ever read)
    The Thirteenth Tale- Diane Setterfield (Story in a story)

    • Claire says...

      Reading The Overstory now and I knew it would be an all-time favorite after the first, epic whirlwind chapter.

  27. Ro says...

    I love all the recommendations!
    Maybe it exists already and I don’t know about it, but creating a Cup of Jo Goodreads group would be great :)

  28. Michelle Wruck says...

    I read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson which is about a woman who keeps dying and being reborn into the same life. So every chapter ends with her dying a different way, and the next chapter picks up just before the last one left off and continues with a slightly different story – it changes in that she doesn’t die but maybe has a funny feeling about a situation that makes her take a different path.
    Shortly after I read this I happened to find two more books with a similar plot but the way the authors handle the details is different:
    The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Catherine Webb (the main character keeps dying but he always remembers his past lives and adjusts his actions based on what he learned) and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Greer (the main character switches lives with another version of herself living in a different dimension).
    I’m not sure these are the best books I ever read but it was interesting to read them one after another to see how the authors had different ideas on a common theme.

    • Christine says...

      Life After Life and A God in Ruins are so beautiful! I love them both so much.

  29. Vivian says...

    The Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy
    Ragged Company – Richard Wagamese
    The Master Butcher’s Singing Club – Louise Erdrich

  30. Anna Royal says...

    The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
    The Land of Spices by Kate O’Brien
    Men without Women Murakami

  31. Katie Levitt Greene says...

    1. Middlesex
    2. The Goldfinch
    3. Educated

    • whizzer says...

      if you liked educated i think you might like unfollow: a journey from hatred to hope by megan phelps-roper!

  32. Don’t ask me why – Tania Kindersley
    The Summer without men – Siri Hustvedt
    A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

  33. amanda says...

    Oh, goodness me… this is HARD, and is ever changing, but here is my current.

    Contemporary,
    “Solsbury Hill,” Susan M. Wyler
    “Circe,” Madeline Miller
    “Outlander,” Diana Gabaldon

    Classic,
    “A Farewell to Arms, ” Hemingway
    “Jane Eyre, ” Charlotte Bronte
    “Siddhartha,” Hesse

  34. Katie says...

    What I Loved -Siri Hustvedt
    The Secret History – Donna Tartt
    Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

    • Katie says...

      Honorable mentions
      – “Free Food for Millionaires” – Min Jin Lee, I think better than her other book, “Pachinko”
      “A Little Life” – Hanya Yanagihara. Also by this author is “The People in the Trees”. A GREAT book, not quite as disturbing as A Little Life

    • Janet says...

      I adore all three of these books too. “What I Loved” is an especially great pick that not many readers know about. I’ll have to read your honorable mention choice from Min Jin Lee since I loved Pachinko too.

  35. Kay says...

    I have every single one of these books on my shelf but haven’t read any of them except Homegoing which killed me in the best way. Going to make these titles a priority.

  36. Maria says...

    All the Harry Potter books ??‍♀️

  37. Sarah says...

    To Kill a Mockingbird
    Lonesome Dove
    The Unbearable Lightness of Being

  38. Joan hreno says...

    Margaret Atwood
    Cats eye
    Robber bride
    Oryx and crake.
    All of her books are brilliant .

    • Sage says...

      She’s a great poet as well. Good lord was the follow-up to Handmaid’s Tale such a gross, YA-leaning cash grab, though.

  39. Malika says...

    State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
    The Levant Trilogy by Olivia Manning
    Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn (and all the Patrick Melrose books in that series)

  40. Claire M says...

    One Hundred Years of Solitude
    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    Gone with the Wind

    Honorable mentions
    Under the Volcano
    War and Peace
    Angela’s Ashes
    Birds without Wings
    Harry Potter :)

  41. Kate says...

    1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (my forever favorite)
    2. Educated by Tara Westover
    3. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

    • Meg says...

      This is the exact list I was looking for. I ate up “Educated” and “Where the Crawdads Sing” this summer and have been looking for my next read. “Middlesex” it is!

  42. Kristin says...

    These comments are a treasure trove!

    So hard to choose (and it’s ever-changing), but…

    1. A tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty smith
    2. The shell seekers by rosamund pilcher
    3. The nightingale by kristin Hannah

    Harry Potter is also my absolute favorite series.

    And non-fiction- Personal history by Katharine graham is incredible.

  43. Linda says...

    Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
    The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
    Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
    everything by Alice Munro
    The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
    The Group by Mary McCarthy
    and so many more…

  44. Jesse says...

    Too fun not to chime in! Don’t know if these are all time faves, I’m terrible at this kind of list, but the first three amazing novels that come to mind are:
    The Wind Up Bird Chronicle- Haruki Murakami
    Lincoln in the Bardo- George Saunders
    Geek Love- Katherine Dunn

    • Sage says...

      Do you have a goodreads? Add me if so, my username is schweinxgehabt

      Anyone who loves Murakami & Saunders is a fan of mine :)

  45. Sam says...

    Top 3 favorites among the Classics:
    1) Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell — I’m a native southerner who reached a ripe age without ever seeing the movie or reading this book. I was always resistant to reading it, but when it came time to check it off the classic list, I gave in and read it. I thereafter wrestled with Scarlett in my dreams four days running. It’s a stirring read which leaves an impression to say the least. * no apologies for having read it or for placing it at the top of the list — it inspired me to read “A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and other history based books.
    2) The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas — a masterpiece of delicious revenge.
    3) Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley — Frankenstein was righteous in every emotion and I felt great compassion for him.
    (Note: I just read “Persuasion” by Jane Austen based on comments in this post — it’s now my favorite Jane Austen classic).

    Three favorites among contemporary fiction which I only recently read:
    1) Gentleman in Moscow (that Count Rostov … ooooph … swoon)
    2) Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (so much about this book I love)
    3) — grrr last choice in this category is hard — I loved “Me Before You” by Jo Jo Moyes and I just finished “Circe” based on comments in this post — it too is a contender.)

    Three favorites among NonFiction:
    1) The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin — read a while back, but it’s a book I love and give to others.
    2) Calypso by David Sadaris (he’s so funny)
    3) Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb (she’s an excellent writer and I love her different perspectives during therapy.)

    Three favorite books I read when grieving the loss of my true love:
    1) The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
    2) The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard
    3) …. there is a third, I just can’t decide which to choose.

  46. T says...

    I just dusted Olive Kitteridge off my shelf because we just moved to a small town in Maine and it seemed obviously topical. Have you seen the mini-series on HBO?? Frances McDormand plays Olive and it’s a revelation.

  47. Rosalie says...

    I love so many books on this page, but I haven’t seen one of my all-time favorites:

    The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

    It starts slowly, but if you stick with it, you are rewarded with the most beautiful, outrageously brilliant, unbelievably clever book you will ever read. It’s fairly long, but I read it during my first maternity leave three and a half years ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I plan to reread it soon.

    • Kristen says...

      I need to go back to this book! I’ve started it twice but never stuck with it.

  48. lauren says...

    INFINITE JEST, David Foster Wallace
    TRAVELS IN SIBERIA, Ian Frazier
    PRIESTDADDY, Patricia Lockwood

    I’m a sucker for devilish geniuses that stealthily break my heart. Novels are my first love and DFW just flattened me, but brilliant creative nonfiction makes me want to be a better writer. I have a crush on Ian Frazier’s curiosity, and Tricia is just a swashbuckling word pirate – I feel smarter every time I read her, and she’s so goddamn funny.

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      Swashbuckling word pirate. Love this description.

  49. Autumn says...

    This post is a real treat! Adding so many to my reading list. I have a bad memory so instead of all time favorites will just list 3 I have loved:

    1. The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
    2. The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
    3. The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

    Can I also say that I just did not love A Little Life or Normal People which are mentioned often here. Too disturbing for me!

    • jdp says...

      i’ve been wondering about that, too. yes, a little life is so well written. but it’s so brutal. of course lit should challenge comfort zones, but that book was too much for me.

    • Katie says...

      Hanya Yanagihara, who wrote A Little Life, has another book called “The People in the Trees” which is AMAZING and overlooked

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      The Vanishing Half blew me away. Such a magnificent book. Re A Little Life, I know what you mean. I found certain parts of it disturbing, overblown, emotionally manipulative and unrealistic; but ultimately the superb writing, engrossing story and Willem – my love – won me over.

  50. Emily says...

    Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
    The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
    The Idiot, Elif Batuman

    • Mariana says...

      Your first two are my absolutely favorites. Must read the third.

  51. Ramune says...

    This was always one of my first questions when I was dating (a million years ago). You find out so much about people by their book love, or (sadly) no book love at all…
    My favorites:
    Ocean Sea – Alessandro Baricco
    Cosmicomics – Italo Calvino
    1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
    The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
    The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

    • Merrie says...

      Loved The Year of Magical Thinking!

    • Jane says...

      I love Ocean Sea!! No one else knows about ti!

    • Erica says...

      Ah yes… Ocean Sea. Such a beautiful book

  52. margaret says...

    Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
    Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

  53. Beloved, Toni Morrison
    The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
    She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb

    • amanda says...

      Oh, I read She’s Come Undone in high school, around the time it came out. It was beautiful and melancholy and hopeful all at once. It was poignant, as I’ve struggled with weight my whole life, and throughout my 30’s, and now early 40’s, depression. So good!

  54. Jennifer M says...

    I LOVE these posts and recommendations! I’m late to the party but mine are:

    1. A Little Life
    2. Sweetwater
    3. Normal People

    And so many more…

    • Taylor says...

      1. The bell Jar – Sylvia Plath ( I read this in high school and re-read as an adult, it always sticks with me and still is timely)
      2. Gentleman in Moscow – amor towels
      3. There there – tommy orange

    • Jenny says...

      A little life. What a masterpiece.

    • Stephanie says...

      A Little Life has come up so often in this post that I will give it another try. I might have read 10% & then just couldn’t feel interest but I will go at it with a fresh look now. I know it is a difficult subject.

    • Yvonne says...

      Jennifer A Little Life blew my away. I enjoyed Normal People and I’ve ordered Sweetwater. Please recommend more….I like your taste :)

  55. Carla says...

    – Geisha: A Life (by Rande Brown and Mineko Iwasaki)
    – Walking With the Wind (John Lewis)
    – My Old True Love (Sheila Kay Adams)

  56. Kelly says...

    This is the most amazing post! I am going to savour ever single comment! I am in tears remembering some of these books and how much they have meant to me! Thank you!
    My list:
    1. Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’dell
    2. The Light Between The Oceans – M.L. Stedman
    (So clearly I have a thing for solitude and the ocean)
    3. The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
    My runners up – Olive Kitterage is Completely Fine and Educated

  57. Laura C says...

    Oh gosh my favourite films and books all have the same theme: women who are brave enough to live life on their own terms and don’t take shit… the books are: 1. Heartburn, 2. The Painted Veil, 3. Madame Bovary

  58. Lydia t says...

    My top three :
    – pachinko
    – little prince
    – love in the time of cholera

    • Katie says...

      Have you read ” Free Food for Millionaires” by Min Jin Lee? Arguably better than Pachinko

  59. Nubia says...

    Oh my goodness! I love this post!
    My favorites:
    1. Siddhartha-Herman Hesse
    2. South of the border west of the sun -murakami
    3. Shantaram-Gregory Roberts

    • Mia says...

      Love Shantaram! Read it as a young woman backpacking and have re-read it about 4 times. So immersive – especially now when we are all at home.

  60. Hayley Stanfield says...

    Favorite 2020 / Quarantine books – PSA this list is all over the place LOL:

    1. Beneath a Scarlet Sky – (By far my favorite. purchased and have now given as a gift multiple times since reading, everyone loves)
    2. Pachinko – (will read again, and again)
    3. This Little Life – (this book was a challenging read. It’s tiring and sad, but I couldn’t put it down – beautiful writing)
    4. RED RISING SERIES – (5 books. WOW. As a big Harry Potter fan I don’t know how I didn’t know about this, but it’s the futuristic adult version. Obsessed)
    5. Homegoing – (Extremely unique format, timely and thought provoking)

    *I also loved Nightingale and Lilac Girls but those seem like a given these days!

    • Donna says...

      So tough to pick just 3!

      Favourite fiction:
      1. Beartown by Fredrik Backman
      2. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
      3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
      4. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
      5. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
      6. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

      Favourite non-fiction:
      1. You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris
      2. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
      3. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
      4. Becoming by Michelle Obama
      5. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
      6. Food and the City by Ina Yalof