Nikki's All Time Favorite books

You know when you play that icebreaker game where you’re supposed to tell people an interesting fact about yourself and you immediately forget everything you’ve ever done and every single thing about your personality? That empty-headed panic is pretty much what it feels like to whittle down a lifetime of reading into five favorites.

Aside from my forever number-one, this is a good mix of some OG life-changers and more recent reads, listed in no particular order after the top-billed title. Hope you enjoy!

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Before anyone comes at me: yes, I know most people consider Lord of the Rings a trilogy—but the master himself wrote it as a single work, and far be it from us mere mortals to count it as anything but.

I read Lord of the Rings when I was a kid (and have reread it countless times since), and the story has shaped much of my life; the movies led me to major in film and to move to New Zealand (where I still live) when I was 21. They also sparked an enduring love for epic fantasy that’s guided me to many other beloved authors—among them Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin—and they’ve given me four of my 10 tattoos.

Buy it here.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Outside of Lord of the Rings, David Mitchell’s extraordinary Cloud Atlas marks the first time I remember being absolutely overwhelmed by the power of literature. It blends together everything I love about books—rich and exquisitely detailed language, memorably wrought characters, deft exploration of profound and complex themes—and I’ve been recommending it to friends for nigh on a decade.

Buy it here.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

My father has always been a massive sci-fi nerd (Star Trek was frequent background noise in my house, and I remember him imploring me to read Dune when I was younger—advice I ignored until embarrassingly recently), so for me, good science fiction always has the added benefit of a good hit of nostalgia.

Seveneves isn’t just good, though; it’s great on every level, from the actual hard science (deeply researched, hugely interesting, and highly informative) to the plot (high-stakes and propulsive) to the characters (real, flawed, and surprising). It’s a big boy (nearly 900-pages big), but trust me: you won’t care.

Buy it here.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Unlike Lord of the Rings, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is, in fact, written as a trilogy—so I’ve gone with the titular volume so I can cap this list at five. Often billed as “Harry Potter for adults,” The Magicians combines a compelling and diverse cast of characters with true genre originality (in my opinion, at least) and a genuine darkness that’s even startling at times. There’s a particular visual toward the end of the book that I think about regularly, and I read this more than seven years ago.

And a side note: Syfy’s series adaptation of The Magicians is one of the best shows on television. If you’re not already watching, do yourself a favor!

Buy it here.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

As far as I’m concerned, Irish author Sally Rooney is an international treasure. I’m in absolute awe of her immense talent, more than a little jealous of what she’s managed to achieve at such a young age (we were born in the same year), and deeply grateful for her debut novel Conversations with Friends.

As has become evident with the publication of her wildly popular second novel Normal People, Rooney’s considerable literary prowess lies in her ability to literally perfectly juxtapose the intricate uniquities and universal commonalities of relationships.

The quiet, singular heartbreak of Conversations with Friends had me openly weeping. An instant classic.

Buy it here.

Honorable mentions

Did I say I’d cap the list at five? Apparently I can’t help myself. Presented without comment and in no particular order:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

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