When I was 13, I was stranded on the island of Sardinia with my father, his young wife, their baby son, a nanny, my older sister, and our two younger half-sisters who didn't speak English. I found a copy of King Rat on a bookshelf and it saved me. Historical fiction then became my favorite genre. Shogun was the first book I devoured as an adult.
Stoner by John Williams (NYRB Classics, $15).
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A perfect book. This tale of a Missouri farmer's embrace of a life of letters is spare and yet full of emotional detail and longing.
Dalva by Jim Harrison (Washington Square, $17).
Another gem, this 1988 novel is set in the world of Native American rights and wrongs and loss and foundlings. The description of the land is gorgeous.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Penguin, $18).
The tale of two brothers and their families is played out in riveting form and provides a platform for some of the finest op-eds I have ever read: "And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual."
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (Vintage, $17).
I once attended a lecture series called "How the West Was Written" that included discussion of works by Willa Cather, Raymond Chandler, John Fante, and Stegner. Stegner's Pulitzer-winning 1971 novel is presented as the attempt of a wheelchair-bound historian to capture the lives of his settler grandparents. It's all here: the bravery and adventure of those who explored the West; the sacrifice and the love. Amazing!
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Vintage, $17).
Mistry's novel is gutting. Set in 1970s India, it introduced me to a world of hardships and class boundaries that I never knew. It's a reality too hard to imagine, and yet it is happening, every second.
— Jamie Lee Curtis is a child of Hollywood and an award-winning screen actress who currently appears in the Fox comedy-horror series Scream Queens. Her 12th children's book, This Is Me, asks readers what they'd pack if leaving home for a new country.
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