A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (Anchor, $16). This recasting of King Lear as an Iowa farmer would have turned Shakespeare green with envy. Smiley’s novel is much, much richer and more psychologically complicated than the Shakespeare play and, like every other entry on this list, A Thousand Acres is a book I felt the need to buy again after I’d pared down my library when I moved.
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson (Dial, $15). When Lawson’s third novel, Road Ends, came out last year, I was happy to recognize some of the characters from her first, so of course I had to read that again. Both novels view the family as a weighty but beloved burden, and they offer a haunting view of a far-northern landscape that readers don’t often get to see.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (Harper Perennial, $17). A group of musicians and their audience are taken hostage by terrorists, but this is not the story you might then expect. I love the way everything changes so imperceptibly that we’re shocked to see where we end up.
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes (NYRB Classics, $15). Another kidnapping — children captured by pirates — and another unexpected shift of vision. The author’s original title was The Innocent Voyage, which is more appropriate; just put an ironic little twist in your voice as you say the words.
The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (Picador, $20). When this 1940 novel was rediscovered in the 1960s, poet Randall Jarrell said that if human beings were raised in orphanages for the next thousand years, they could learn purely from reading the book how to form families again. Well, heaven forbid that anyone should form a family like the Pollits’. Still, it’s a powerful, unforgettable story.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf (Vintage, $15). The publication of Haruf’s lovely Benediction in 2013 sent me back to this earlier novel, in which two Colorado cattle-farming brothers take in a pregnant teenager. It was just as touching and funny and kindhearted upon a second reading, and I’m now contemplating a third.
—Anne Tyler is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Breathing Lessons, The Accidental Tourist, and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Her 20th and latest novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, is a current New York Times best seller.