Mating by Norman Rush (Vintage, $17). Rush, who spent time in Botswana with the Peace Corps, used that experience to craft this National Book Award winner about a female anthropologist who treks through the Kalahari Desert and falls for the visionary founder of a secret utopia. Mating is both a brilliant novel of ideas and a stunning story of what happens when love becomes tangled with obsession.
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (Penguin, $16). A fictional autobiography of an ordinary woman spanning from conception until death. Shields, who died in 2003, wrote from an unapologetically "female" perspective, rendering the experience of being a woman with startling insight and a powerful intellectual breadth.
The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq (Vintage, $16). I was living in France when this polemical novel was published. Houellebecq's story of two half-brothers raised apart incited defenders and detractors in every French home. It was fascinating to watch a work of literature virtually divide a nation: Houellebecq was either the greatest French novelist since Balzac or a pornographer and a nihilist. While I don't agree with every opinion he expresses, I admire his audacious and unflinching voice.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (Vintage, $14). Carver's economy with language and the power of what he doesn't say resonated with me as a reader and, later, as a writer. These masterful stories are essential reading for any aspiring writer of short fiction.
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (Picador, $14). Every story in Lorrie Moore's collection is powerful, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be "People Like That Are the Only People Here." The story of a mother grappling with her infant son's cancer, it takes my breath away every time I read it.
New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver (Beacon, $17). Mary Oliver writes about the natural world with an incredible sense of humanity and grace.
— Molly Ringwald gained fame as a member of Hollywood's 'Brat Pack,' starring in such films as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Her debut novel, When It Happens To You, was just published by HarperCollins
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to adopt the perfect rescue dog
- Ferguson riots were terrible — but this racist reaction was worse
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
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