Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon (Houghton Mifflin Co., $25), chooses six favorite books.
Sula by Toni Morrison (Knopf, $25). This slim, stunning novel creates an entire black community, with attendant love, anguish, envy, and greed-and, most significantly, the core friendship between two women. It was my first experience with language so lush and yet stark; I still vividly remember each character to this day.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (Viking Penguin, $13). This novel is told not in linear form but in a truly original circular, storytelling way. Silko gives us the landscape of the Southwest, the people who originated the Native American culture, and their collision with World War II and universal and personal evil. It is timeless, brave, and unequaled.
Lizas England (The Centurys Daughter) by Pat Barker (Virago Press, $20). Barker weaves her native, working-class Northern England community into a tapestry of ordinary lifecourage, squalor, and decades of British war and peace. Her characters, from turn-of-the-century women to contemporary men, are unforgettable.
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (Laureleaf, $7). A masterpiece of black life in America, with alternating voices of heartache and anguish and betrayal, written with a love of language and examination of religion that can lift people from those states. Baldwins first novel travels from New York to the South and back, and from despair to something like love.
Fools Crow by James Welch (Penguin USA, $14). Everything sacred to the Great Plains, from the daily life of early Native American people to the arrival of a devastating new culture, is in this panoramic novel. The landscape is grand, but the struggles of the individuals are intimate and indelible.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (HarperCollins, $24). This novel filters the early immigrant experience, in all its hope and gritty resourcefulness, through Francie, a girl who loves books. Her unfailing desire to tell stories made her a heroine to millions of struggling girls, including me.