The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (Vintage, $13). I was a Nancy Drew addict as a kid, but I’d never read a grown-up mystery until I heard about this classic in my early 20s. Wickedly funny, it introduced the unforgettable Nick and Nora Charles to the world, and there’s a great twist at the end.
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson (Harper, $16). Utterly riveting. You are right there. This 2006 nonfiction best-seller totally jump-started my fascination with the Civil War.
Getting Things Done: The ABCs of Time Management by Edwin Bliss (out of print). When people ask me how I find time to write books while having a busy day job, I credit this guide, first published in the 1970s (you will probably have to buy a used copy). Though it’s embarrassing to admit, I owe it all to the “salami” technique. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, that means I slice big projects into very thin, very manageable parts.
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (Picador, $15). Like Lady Gaga and so many others, I was a dateless oddball in high school. When I read this book at 16, I identified with the protagonist, Harry Haller, who finds escape in the Magic Theater. I began to sense that there might be a place for me, too, somewhere in the world. For that, I remain eternally grateful.
While I Was Gone by Sue Miller (Ballantine, $15). Published in 2000, this novel about a married woman reconnecting with a figure from her past is a gripping tale of desire, secrecy, murder, and betrayal. I still can’t get it out of my head.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Bantam, $5). I read a ton of plays, in part because they are lightweight and I always carry one in my purse, in case I’m stuck in a long line. In truth, Macbeth ties in my rankings with Jean Anouilh’s Antigone. Each is a chilling tale about a choice—one evil, one noble—that leads to disastrous consequences (and gore!). Oddly, my favorites all seem to involve murder, death, and destruction.
—Kate White is the editor of Cosmopolitan and the author of the best-selling Bailey Weggins mystery series, as well as several popular self-help books. Hush, her first stand-alone thriller, has just been published by Harper