The best-selling writer handpicks five 20th-century novels that provoke, haunt, enchant, and upend her thinking (in the best way possible).
I think we have stories because they help us understand who we are. But there's a tendency to assume that a story must be ingested in a certain way, that it must mean one thing. So readers are always trying to ferret out the truth. I want to argue that this idea is a raging and utter lie. The reader brings as much to the book as the writer does: You're bringing your past, you're bringing your thoughts, you're bringing your future. It's my job as a writer to tell you a story that's going to take you away from whatever you're doing—your laundry, your kids, whatever—but that, to me, is the least important part. When I sit down to write a book, my goal is to make you ask yourself, "Why are my opinions what they are?" I'm not going to make you change them necessarily. You might if I've done a good job, but at the very least, you're going to ask yourself where you stand on a given issue. To me, the mark of a great book is that it can move a variety of people, even though each person is connecting in a different way. The purpose of a story is to be a crowbar that slides under your skin and, with luck, cracks your mind wide open.