I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ~ Maya Angelou Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age–and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns about love for herself and the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a modern American classic that will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.
The Glass Castle ~ Jeannette Walls Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever. Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape.
In Cold Blood ~ Truman Capote "Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans--in fact, few Kansans--had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there." If all Truman Capote did was invent a new genre--journalism written with the language and structure of literature--this "nonfiction novel" about the brutal slaying of the Clutter family by two would-be robbers would be remembered as a trail-blazing experiment that has influenced countless writers. But Capote achieved more than that. He wrote a true masterpiece of creative nonfiction.
Into the Wild ~ Jon Krakauer After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska, where he went to live in the wilderness. Four months later, he turned up dead. His diary, letters and two notes found at a remote campsite tell of his desperate effort to survive, apparently stranded by an injury and slowly starving. They also reflect the posturing of a confused young man, raised in affluent Annandale, Va., who self-consciously adopted a Tolstoyan renunciation of wealth and return to nature.
The Devil in the White City ~ Erik Larson Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison. The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works.
Lucky ~ Alice Sebold Sebold's memoir of her rape as a college freshman and its aftermath is searingly honest and harrowing, and her quiet, personal narration is equally riveting. The gifted author occasionally tinges her intimate tone with irony as she acknowledges the bitter paradoxes of her situation (e.g., the vicious beating she received from the rapist became a "plus" during the trial, because her bruises and wounds proved the encounter wasn't consensual). She also finds irony when a police officer tells her she was lucky because she was "only" raped, not murdered, and later, when the police view her as a "successful rape victim" (one whose rapist ended up behind bars). Through her prose and her reading, Sebold ably conveys both the raw immediacy of her feelings at the time, and her more insightful, aware viewpoint of today.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X ~ Alex Haley From hustling, drug addiction and armed violence in America's black ghettos Malcolm X turned, in a dramatic prison conversion, to the puritanical fervor of the Black Muslims. As their spokesman he became identified in the white press as a terrifying teacher of race hatred; but to his direct audience, the oppressed American blacks, he brought hope and self-respect. This autobiography (written with Alex Haley) reveals his quick-witted integrity, usually obscured by batteries of frenzied headlines, and the fierce idealism which led him to reject both liberal hypocrisies and black racialism.
The Diary of a Young Girl ~ Anne Frank Hiding from the Nazis in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building in Amsterdam, a thirteen-year-old girl named Anne Frank became a writer. One of the most moving and eloquent accounts of the Holocaust, read by tens of millions of people around the world since its publication in 1947.The Diary of a Young Girl is the record of two years in the life of a remarkable Jewish girl whose triumphant humanity in the face of unfathomable deprivation and fear has made the book one of the most enduring documents of our time.
Other Suggestions • The Signal and the Noise ~ Nate Silver • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave ~ Frederick Douglass • The Art of War ~ Sun Tzu • The Prince ~ Niccolo Machiavelli • The Second Sex ~ Simone de Beauvoir • A Room of One’s Own ~ Virginia Woolf • The Feminine Mystique ~ Betty Friedan • Outliers/Blink/The Tipping Point ~ Malcolm Gladwell • Freakonomics ~ Steven D. Levitt