Celebrate National Book Month: 25 Must-Reads on Amazon for Under $20

January is National Book Month — put these bestsellers on your to-read list.

How long has it been since you’ve noticed someone seated on a park bench or on the subway with his nose buried in a book? You might think reading is a dying hobby if it’s been a while, but a survey recently by Pew Research Center indicates that’s not entirely accurate. Seven out of 10 polled American adults said they’d read at least some part of a book in the last year. Of course, the book might have been in e-format, which might explain why you didn’t notice many readers clutching a hardback or paperback.

If you’re not one of that 70 percent, it might be time to turn a new page in 2017 in celebration of National Book Month and get back into the printed word. Here’s a list of some of the best must-reads to get you started — and they won’t set you back financially.

‘Sweetbitter’ by Stephanie Danler

Cost: $17 and Under

People magazine loved this one, and foodies all over America applauded it, too. Upon its release, People named “Sweetbitter” its “Book of the Week” and said, “Danler’s sexy, astute debut is really a love story about the addictive pull of restaurant life… Anyone who’s ever tied on an apron will think, ‘Finally, someone wrote a book about us.’ And nailed it.”

The story follows 22-year-old Tess, who moves to New York City to pursue a job at what’s reportedly the best restaurant in Manhattan. It’s not just an inside peek at the culinary industry, but also about coming of age in the city that never sleeps with a little dark romance thrown in as well.

Published in May 2016, it’s Danler’s first novel. Tess’s restaurant is said to be mirrored after the Union Square Café, where Danler once worked.

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‘The Whistler’ by John Grisham

Cost: $15 and Under

John Grisham has been around for a while, knocking novel after novel out of the best-seller park for years. This one is No. 1 on The New York Times Jan. 8, 2017, hardcover fiction best-seller list and has spent nine weeks on the list.

“The Whistler” shares common ground with many of Grisham’s other novels. It’s about the legal profession, and it features Lacy Stoltz, a lawyer who works as an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. She’s hot on the trail of not just one crooked judge, but a whole network of them, and the plot spans the country and covers decades.

Grisham, who first published “A Time to Kill” in 1988, has written a novel every year since then. He’s been called America’s No. 1 best-selling author, so no list would be complete without mention of him.

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‘The Gene: An Intimate History’ by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Cost: $19 and Under

This one is for non-fiction buffs. Mukherjee won the Pulitzer Prize for his best-seller “The Emperor of All Maladies,” published in 2010. Now “The Gene” is a No. 1 New York Times’ best-seller. The Times has also named it to its Notable Book list, and The Washington Post and The Seattle Times have called it the best book of the year.

“The Gene” is a biography of — you guessed it — the gene, with a focus on Mukherjee’s family and their ongoing battle with mental illness. It also touches on the history of research on mental illness, from Aristotle through the 21st century.

Sound dry? It’s not, but it will make you think. The New York Times said, “Dr. Mukherjee’s explanations are sometimes so thorough they invite as many questions as they answer,” and added, “Love Dr. Mukherjee, love his puns.”

‘Imagine Me Gone’ by Adam Haslett

Cost: $17 and Under

“Imagine Me Gone” has tallied up enough notable honors to make your head spin, earning it a spot on any must-read least.

Time, Newsweek and the San Francisco Chronicle named it one of the “top 10 novels of 2016.” The Wall Street Journal named it one of 20 books that defined the year. It’s longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

This book is about depression, but it’s a fictional story about the fiancée of a man who is hospitalized in 1960s London. Does she go through with the wedding and stand by his side or cut her emotional losses and move on rather than face decades of heartache? The book switches points of view periodically to portray the dilemma from the eyes and hearts of five family members.

‘The Underground Railroad’ by Colson Whitehead

Cost: $16 and Under

“The Underground Railroad” rode the New York Times’ Best-Seller List for 20 weeks as of Jan. 8, 2017, where it sat at No. 4 for hardcover fiction after achieving No. 1. Called a “magnificent tour de force,” the novel has received a National Book Award.

The plot follows Cora, a young slave in Georgia, who learns of the Underground Railroad and, along with another slave named Caesar, decides to use it to escape her life on the plantation. Murder and mayhem ensue as they trek through a secret labyrinth, first north to South Carolina, then state by state, continuing northward with slave catchers hot in pursuit.

The “railroad” is real and literal in Whitehead’s book. The New York Times Book Review said of “The Underground Railroad”: “In its explanation of the foundational sins of America, it is a brave and necessary book.”

‘Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide’ by Michael Kinsley

Cost: $11 and Under

It might seem as if 2016 was the year of infirmity in fiction and non-fiction alike because Michael Kinsley’s “Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide” delves into the issue as well. But this book is definitely not a downer. In fact, it’s been called “surprisingly cheerful.”

Kinsley, a columnist for Vanity Fair and a victim of Parkinson’s disease, explores the baby boomer generation as the cohort reaches retirement and enters old age. His book is actually a collection of essays. Time named it one of the “Best Books of 2016 So Far” in June.

The New York Times Book Review quotes Kinsley as writing, “There is going to be a tsunami of books about health issues by every boomer journalist who has any, which ultimately will be all of them.” If it’s true that misery loves company, this book may be a must-read if you were born before 1964.

‘Two by Two’ by Nicholas Sparks

Cost: $13 and Under

Nicholas Sparks is a No. 1 New York Times’ best-selling author, and “Two by Two” is No. 2 on the Jan. 8 list, having appeared on the list for 12 weeks.

Sparks is a master of love stories, and “Two by Two” nails the genre again. It’s the story of a young man sitting on top of the world who suddenly has the proverbial rug pulled out from under him. His perfect wife is gone, he’s left alone to care for his young daughter, and he’s also lost his perfect job. Amazon calls it a book about “unconditional love.”

Published in October, this is Sparks’ 20th book since he burst onto the scene with “The Notebook” in 1996 — which was made into a movie starring Ryan Gosling — and it doesn’t disappoint. Some versions of the book come with an accompanying soundtrack.

‘The Association of Small Bombs’ by Karan Mahajan

Cost: $18 and Under

The list of publications that think this is one of the best books of the year is long: Esquire, New York, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and POPSUGAR, to name just a few. The New York Times Book Review additionally named “The Association of Small Bombs” one of the 10 best books of 2016, and the Washington Post listed it as a “Notable Fiction Book” of 2016. It’s a National Book Award finalist.

Set in Delhi, the book follows the lives of two parents who lose their young sons to a “small” bomb in a marketplace. Other characters are memorable as well, including Ayub, an activist, and Shockie, a bomb-maker.

The Washington Post called this a “beautifully written novel … ambitious,” and said that it “carries us deep into the human side of tragedy.” It’s a must-read in today’s turbulent world.

‘What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours’ by Helen Oyeyemi

Cost: $13 and Under

“What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours” is a collection of tales that Amazon said “teases boundaries between coexisting realities.” It involves a series of special keys, both real and imaginary, that open and reveal various issues in her characters’ lives. The stories are all artfully intertwined.

Esquire magazine named “What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours” one of the best of 2016, while Oprah.com added it to its 2016 “25 Books to Read This December” list. Slate and NPR say it’s the best book of the year. It’s been long-listed for the PEN Open Book Prize. The New York Times Book Review called it “transcendent,” and NPR described it as “flawless… another masterpiece from an author who seems incapable of writing anything less than brilliant.”

Oyeyemi is the award-winning author of several other books, including “Boy, Snow and Bird” and “Mr. Fox.”

‘Innocents and Others’ by Dana Spiotta

Cost: $17 and Under

Elle magazine said “Innocents and Others” is “a brilliant novel … about female friendship, the limits of love and work, and the costs of claiming your right to celebrate your triumphs and own your mistakes.”

It’s about two LA girls who grow up to become filmmakers. They’re best friends but polar opposites, and the novel chronicles their diametrical approaches to various life issues, particularly when a third friend — Jelly — is introduced into the mix. Esquire said the book is about the “power of the phone — particularly the landline.” That should give you a hint as to how the plot plays out.

The New York Times Magazine said Spiotta “has created a new kind of great American novel.” Esquire calls the book “sexy, painfully insightful, and strangely redemptive.”

‘Cross the Line’ by James Patterson

Cost: $15 and Under

“Cross the Line” is installment No. 24 in James Patterson’s Alex Cross series; these books never get old.

This one begins with an incident of road rage and ultimately throws a greater spotlight on another character, Alex’s wife, Bree, as they work together to bring down what Amazon calls “a fiendish mind.” It’s definitely all the nail-biting stuff Patterson’s books are noted for.

It’s No. 5 on The New York Times’ Best-Seller List for hardcover fiction as of Jan. 8, 2017, after its release in November 2016; it’s spent five weeks on the list.

‘No Man’s Land’ by David Baldacci

Cost: $15 and Under

David Baldacci is another author who regularly tantalizes readers with his recurring characters. “No Man’s Land” brings John Puller, a U.S. Army veteran and investigator, back for the fourth time.

Puller’s whole family appears in this one. The book delves into the disappearance of Puller’s mother, Jackie, when he was a boy. Puller’s father stands accused of murdering his mother, and Puller’s brother, Robert, aids him in his search for the truth.

“No Man’s Land” is No. 5 on The New York Times’ list for hardcover fiction as of Jan. 8, 2017. It’s spent six weeks on the list since its release in November 2016.

‘Small Great Things’ by Jodi Picoult

Cost: $17 and Under

Jodi Picoult has been a household name — at least for avid readers — since the release of her first novel, “Songs of the Humpback Whale,” in 1992. She’s published 22 more books, culminating with “Small Great Things” in November 2016.

“Small Great Things” is about an African-American labor and delivery nurse who is told not to care for a white newborn whose parents are white supremacists. Then the baby goes into cardiac arrest, and the only one available to administer CPR and save the infant’s life is Ruth, the nurse who has been reassigned. A legal battle ensues, fraught with issues of trust, racism and parenting concerns.

The San Francisco Book Review called the book a “novel that puts its finger on the very pulse of the nation that we live in today” and said that it’s “a fantastic read from beginning to end.” It’s spent 11 weeks on The New York Times’ Best-Seller List for hardcover fiction as of Jan. 8, 2017, including a spell at No. 1. The Times said it leads “readers to question everything they know about privilege, power and race.”

‘Night School’ by Lee Child

Cost: $16 and Under

“Night School” has spent seven weeks on The New York Times’ Best-Seller List for hardcover fiction since its debut in November 2016.

It’s one of the books in Child’s immensely popular Jack Reacher series — this one something of a flashback to 1996 when Reacher is still in the Army and is sent back to school. Reacher finds himself trying to save the world from what Amazon calls “an epic act of terrorism” along with two other men, a CIA analyst and an FBI agent, who were sent to school with him.

The New Yorker promises that “this latest installment has all the classic ingredients: a great setting … a good villain … and a mystery that draws you in efficiently, escalates unpredictably, and has a satisfying resolution.”

‘Turbo Twenty-Three’ by Janet Evanovich

Cost: $16 and Under

It’s not possible to read any novel of Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series without bursting out in laughter at any given moment. “Turbo Twenty-Three” is no exception.

“Turbo Twenty-Three” is set in Trenton, just as are all the Plum books. This one has bounty hunter Plum chasing down a guy who was arrested for trying to make off with an 18-wheeler loaded with bourbon. Yes, all our favorites reappear along the way: the dizzyingly attractive Ranger, Grandma Mazur — who Evanovich has given a new boyfriend — the equally dizzying Joe Morelli and, of course, the inimitable Lula.

Go ahead — we dare you to read this one without laughing aloud and squirming in your chair simultaneously. Evanovich’s latest came out in November 2015, and it’s spent six weeks on The New York Times’ Best-Seller List for hardcover fiction.

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‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr

Cost: $17 and Under

When a book spends 133 weeks on The New York Times’ Best-Seller List, you know it’s good — very good. “All the Light We Cannot See” was also the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner in fiction.

This is one of those books you can’t not read, whether it’s National Book Month or any other day of the year. Set in World War II, the novel follows the paths of a brilliant German boy and a blind French girl who eventually meet in France during the occupation.

The San Francisco Chronicle writes that Doerr’s epic novel contains a “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors.” It reportedly took the author 10 years to write.

‘Moonglow’ by Michael Chabon

Cost: $18 and Under

A.O. Scott said, “This book is beautiful” in his review for The New York Times Book Review.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Chabon puts it all in this woven tale of an old man’s deathbed memories and confessions. It’s said that the man is the author’s grandfather — Chabon traveled to visit him after the publication of his first novel, and “Moonglow” was born. Amazon said the book “revisits an entire era through a single life.”

This intriguing concept took “Moonglow” to The New York Times’ Best-Seller List where it’s prevailed for five weeks as of Jan. 8, 2017. The Washington Post named it “Best Book of the Year,” as did The Wall Street Journal, New York magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle.

‘The Wrong Side of Goodbye’ by Michael Connelly

Cost: $15 and Under

Harry Bosch is back. This time he’s hot on the heels of someone who may not even exist.

Fans of this series know that private investigator Harry Bosch doesn’t work for just anyone. A reclusive billionaire seeks his services in “The Wrong Side of Goodbye.” He wants to know if a woman he once had an affair with had a child, and if he has an heir. Bosch takes the job; then, in typical Connelly fashion, he’s drawn even deeper into the case by similarities it bears to his own past.

The Washington Post has named “The Wrong Side of Goodbye” a “Notable Book” of 2016. It’s enjoyed eight weeks on The New York Times’ Best-Seller List for hardcover fiction as of Jan. 8, 2017.

‘Commonwealth’ by Ann Patchett

Cost: $17 and Under

“Commonwealth” vaulted to No. 1 as a New York Times’ best-seller and has remained on the list for 11 weeks. Author Ann Patchett is no stranger to notoriety — she’s won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize.

“Commonwealth” tells of the fallout that occurs when an uninvited guest to a child’s christening party kisses the baby’s mother, who is previously unknown to him. That fallout tracks through five decades, touching four parents and six children.

The Washington Post calls the book a “masterful novel of family and family secrets.” The reviewer goes on to report, “Patchett is daringly elliptical here. Not only are decades missing, but they’re also out of order.” If you’re looking for a work of fiction that will really challenge you, this one might be it.

‘Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets’ by Svetlana Alexievich

Cost: $17 and Under

Another New York Times’ best-seller, this nonfiction work by the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature has been called a “magnum opus.” The Swedish Academy credited Alexievich with “inventing a new kind of literary genre,” and “Secondhand Time” doesn’t disappoint.

The book monitors the slow and steady death of Communism through the eyes of Russian citizens over a period of 30 years, including interviews the author conducted from 1991 through 2012. It’s both contemporary and historical, a behind-the-scenes peek at both human nature and the history of a nation.

The New York Times said the book is “an intimate portrait of a country yearning for meaning after the sudden lurch from Communism to capitalism in the 1990s plunged it into existential crisis.” The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Kirkus Reviews and The New York Times all named it one of the 10 best books of 2016.

‘Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran’ by Barry Meier

Cost: $18 and Under

“Missing Man” is a non-fiction account of FBI agent Robert Levinson who became a private investigator and disappeared in Iran in 2007. Turns out he was in Iran on a mission for the CIA.

Meier is infinitely qualified to tell Levinson’s story and of the ensuing search for him. He’s received awards as an investigative reporter for The New York Times, so he has a gift for both interviewing and writing. “Missing Man” rockets along and will have you flipping pages or e-book screens as fast you can read.

Levinson remains missing; he would now be 74 years old. Meier told NPR in a May 2016 interview, “If there’s one thing I hope this book does is encourage lawmakers to investigate the CIA, to make sure that the truth about its role in this episode does come out, to find out why the CIA did not ring alarm bells about Bob Levinson after he disappeared, why the agency abandoned him.” That definitely sounds like a must-read book.

‘Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis’ by J.D. Vance

Cost: $17 and Under

Nobody can say that the 2016 presidential election wasn’t pivotal and nationally divisive. The New York Times has tagged “Hillbilly Elegy” as one of six books that might help readers understand Trump’s win. The book is a No. 1 best-seller, so many readers apparently agree.

“Hillbilly Elegy” examines what Amazon calls a “culture in crisis — white, working-class Americans.” Vance tells their story beginning with that of his own family, his “dirt poor and in love” grandparents from the Appalachian area of Kentucky.

The Economist has said that “you will not read a more important book about America this year.”

‘All the Gallant Men: An American Soldier’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor’ by Donald Stratton

Cost: $19 and Under

This one’s for history buffs, particularly those who want to know all there is to know about Pearl Harbor.

The author of “All the Gallant Men” was aboard the USS Arizona at 8:06 a.m. on December 7, 1941. This is his memoir of that day and how he and four other sailors survived while more than 1,100 of their shipmates died. Stratton is now 94 years old and a great-grandfather.

The book is a New York Times top-10 best-seller and has been called “epic,” “intimate” and “unforgettable.” Amazon’s review said it’s “a book for the ages.”

‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi

Cost: $15 and Under

Author Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer when he wrote “When Breath Becomes Air.” At 36, he was a successful neurosurgeon when he became ill. His book traces his inner growth and struggles his days as a medical student to a patient facing death and his answers to some of life’s most fundamental questions, such as the meaning of life.

Kalanithi died in March 2015 without quite finishing this No. 1 New York Times best-seller. The Washington Post, The New York Times and NPR all named “When Breath Becomes Air” one of the best books of 2016.

Janet Maslin said in her Times’ review, “I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.”

‘what if? serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions’ by Randall Munroe

Cost: $15 and Under

Let’s finish on a light note. “what if” is just plain fun. A New York Times non-fiction best-seller as of Jan. 1, 2017, it’s the latest offering by Randall Munroe, creator of the web comic xkcd.

Apparently, xkcd fans have asked Munroe a lot of questions over the years, including, “Is Al Azizia in Libya really the hottest place on earth?” Never one to shirk responsibility, Munroe took it upon himself to find out. He’s learned the answers through computer simulations and some good old-fashioned research, and here they are, yours for the reading.

So put on your thinking cap and consider these hypothetical — and some not-so-hypothetical questions. You’ll be a hit at your next cocktail party or social gathering.

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