Agent Barbara Poelle Wants to Hear About Your Favorite 7 Books

Guide to Literary Agents welcomes
guest blogger Barbara Poelle, literary
agent for Irene Goodman Literary
in Manhattan.

The topic: Her favorite books on the bookshelf and why they excite her as a reader.  Read on to hear more and then share your “top 7” in the comments section of this post.


“Even as a wee Barbara I was a voracious reader, and my love affair with narratives and plotlines and settings and characters has only deepened and turned more maniacal the older I get. However there are only 7 dog-eared, cover worn, Doritos-stained books that I consider my dearest loves, who truly pulled off something outstanding in their genre. The kind of books I would get into a bar fight with, sing drunken karaoke for, or bat my eyes shyly at over a candlit table for two. These titles make me wish I could sustain some sort of head injury and forget their plot points after reading so I could read them for the first time all over again. As it is, I mostly rotate them through every two years so that I can lose myself in their brilliance without needing to throw myself through a plate glass window in order to etch-a-sketch their themes. And they are, in no particular order:

Watchers by Dean Koontz:
The characters in this book are phenomenal. They stray just enough into the field of archetypes so you know what you are getting into without being cookie cutter. And the idea was so unique, so captivating, that it almost didn’t matter what happened as long as you got to watch these characters do it. Who didn’t want Einstein to be their dog? And if you didn’t cry when the Other died you hate Christmas and babies and chocolate. Is it any wonder I married a guy named Travis?

Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
The narrative execution in this is so unbelievable that you will find yourself reading portions out loud even if you are being held at gunpoint during a bank heist. The phrasing and the expert use of perspective lend to a haunting, continuous read, like chewing warm taffy through the entire book. I would lend you mine but entire portions are now scotch taped in and I’m fairly certain that that is peanut butter on page 198.

The Stand by Stephen King
Multiple character plotlines are nearly impossible to pull off, yet this one does it perfectly. These kind of characterizations are unparalleled in any genre, besides perhaps something Russian and heavy.  I don’t really need to say anything more about this except m-o-o-n spells brilliant.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
I judge people as friends by whether or not they have read Anne Lamott and this one is my favorite. Memoir is so difficult sometimes, and the ones who keep it the most honest, the most raw are the true masters of the genre. Lamott carries off  her exploration of motherhood with charm, charisma, humor, and true emotion from the first page to the last. The only reason I will have children is so I can enjoy this from a new level.

Ahab’s Wife; or the Stargazer by Sena Jeter Naslund
Historical fiction is just so tough these days unless your last name is Gregory. (She’s pretty fabulous).  The market is crowded with concubines, traitors, and waltzes on foreign shores, but this evocative, multifaceted work can stand unique among the Tudors and Howards. I am a huge fan of first lines. HUGE FAN. This one leaves “Call me Ishmeal” in the dust. Do yourself a favor, call in sick tomorrow and read this book. You can thank me for it later.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
I laughed. I cried. I dangled my participle. If you love language, you’ll love this book. A must for anyone in the industry to read.

Guardian Angel by Julie Garwood
Ohh, what? You think I was too hoity-toity to get in a bar fight over a romance novel? This was the first Garwood I read and still is my favorite romance of all time. I mean, come on! The heroine is the hero! Strong women that do things they have to not because they want to, no sniveling, no cowering, women with a job to do and the biscuits to do it. That’s my kind of lady. And the love scenes are hot enough to make me clutch my pearls and yell, “Well, I do declare!”

Now, I bet if you and I were clinking mojitos at Havana Central off Union Square, you could come up with 5 or 6 more titles that I would say yeah yeah, that one too! (Time Traveler’s Wife. Staggeringly unique. The kind of rapier swift plotting that’s as edgy as it is accessible. She’s Come Undone. Are we sure Wally is a man? How can he write his female protagonist with such depth? She is a great character. White Oleander. Ingrid is burned into my mind as one of the truly great antagonists, she didn’t even have to be in the scene for me to know she was the puppetmaster behind it.)

But these 7 above are my true loves, some for decades, some for years, but all forever.

So … who would make up your magnificent 7?”

        Barbara Poelle is an agent at Irene Goodman Literary Agency representing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction titles.  She is currently accepting queries directed to her attention at

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13 thoughts on “Agent Barbara Poelle Wants to Hear About Your Favorite 7 Books

  1. Melissa Crandall

    Red Ranger Came Calling – Berke Breathed

    Bones of the Moon – Jonathan Carroll

    A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

    Memos from Purgatory – Harlan Ellison

    To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

    Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

    The Book of the Dun Cow – Walter Wangerin

  2. Bill Camp

    My top 7:

    Dracula by Bram Stoker – One of those, I-just-can’t-put-it-down Classics.

    The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft – I always love H.P.’s style of weirdness.

    I Am Legend by Robert Bloch – Liked this long before the Will Smith film, and I really can’t understand why there are so many filmed versions of the story because it’s actually a very uncinematic story. But I’ve read a lot of Bloch’s short stories and he’s one of my all time favorite writers.

    Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – As you can see by now, I’m a real sucker for classic horror.

    Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne – Another great classic adventure story.

    The Castle of Otranto: a Gothic Story by Horace Walpole – Had to throw this one in there as well.

    Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier – This is one dark, dark romance.

  3. Vanessa

    1. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence. First read for a class on Women in Modernism (where Lawrence got raked through the coals, as per expected, for his misogyny), this book took my breath away at a time when I was starting to get jaded. This story is about choosing whether to exist or to actually live. The very thing about Lawrence was how his characters go against convention because for them, the wrong thing was the right thing to do. And then there was the character of Tommy Dukes, who has surprisingly little written on him and is one of the wisest, most heartbreaking supporting characters in fiction.
    2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I get utterly, completely lost in her world, it’s like reading in surround-sound, or IMAX or something. The most recent in the series got a little over the top cliche, but this book can be credited for awakening my love of all things related to time and time travel.
    3. The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. Apparently I like the old misogynists. The Old Man awakens such compassion in me in his struggle against nature. And this is one of the few Hemingway novels that seems to contain any thread of hope or love at the end; despite the Old Man’s defeat, the boy loves him.
    4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The relationship between them is so beautiful, and despite the time travel, this is about the enduring love and real struggles of a relationship.
    5. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I initially didn’t like Woolf; this novel changed my mind. Again showing I’m a sucker for stories which deal with time travel (and this is, in a sense about navigating through time), Clarissa is beautifully complicated and often underestimated as a flighty, shallow character that is anything but.
    6. Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. To me, the most enduring stories show a timeless, selfless kind of love, something we all want, and maybe illuminates something we didn’t realize we have. This story’s another kind of love story; the relationship between sisters. King’s best works in my opinion always have a dreamy sort of dread to them, the kind of horror that comes in the night but never leaves you screaming, only gasping for air. Lisey’s Story and Bag of Bones (which came close to tying this one) leave me looking at what is familiar and real, and feeling like there’s something sinister just under the surface.
    7. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle. This is the story that made me want to be a writer and academic. And to, hopefully someday, swim with dolphins.

  4. Daryl Andrews

    I threw myself through a plate-glass window. Once. Thank not-the-devil the fall from the first floor was padded by a flower bed of concrete. Of course, I jumped up, held a press conference, and announced I was checking myself into an exclusive rehab center for readers. Can’t tell you how much positive press that incident generated…

    Oh yes, books. The Adderal hasn’t kicked in so I can’t promise to get all the way to number seven before I…

    *Oooo… Something shiny!*

    Birds of Prey by Wilbur Smith
    To this day I don’t know why I prove a chump for any Wilbur Smith book. The first book I ever read with his name on the front was more garage-sale find than purposeful book flipping. A vacation of ten days on the beach loomed before me and I needed a book. At a should-be-hurricaned-off-the-island grocery store in South Padre Island, Texas, this book was the single choice lacking Fabio’s chiseled mug. “Birds of Prey”, a balcony, and the surf as a soundtrack. I was undone.

    Drat. Boss is calling.

    Reams of Piers Anthony
    As a thirteen year old boy, without help from any evil corporation or can of deodorant, I singlehandedly contributed to the extinction of 1.73 percent of an Amazonian rain forest. Did I care about grass skirted JuJu and her pet Anaconda? Not a whit. I had discovered Piers Anthony and he was pun-ny.

    Troy: Fall of Kings by David and Stella Gemmell
    Less than two months ago I snatched it off the shelf ‘cuz of the sweet cover art. (Full Disclosure: I’m a lover of anything series. Probably why I have a man-crush on Wilbur Smith. Where else can I follow a family from Cro-Magnon man until the year 4017 AD.)Imagine if you will my stuck out lip and lavish grunting when I finished this book only to discover… two came before. What had I done? Ugghhh… I’d gone out of order. ADHDer’s can’t go out of order. We shut down. Mumble. Rock back and forth and sing songs from Grease 2. So in my misery, after beating my head in the freezer door, I went out and purchased book one. What? I’m a sucker.

    Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
    You say Follet and I say… well, I say it like a Texan. Again. 200 years of the same family. OK. I’m in.

    Forest For The Trees by Betsy Lerner
    It magically solidified in my basket at a Half-Priced Books almost two years ago. I’d poked around at writing for 20 something years. At the time I had endured some major life changing, I can’t catch my breath, punches. I don’t know why I bought it. No clue. Once home I lounged on my balcony, cracked it open and browsed the opening. On page thirty-three the cigarette fell from my hand and I found myself before my computer Googling the name Betsy Lerner. Thirty-three minutes later her inbox dinged when a harried and mind-blown excited, four page email thudded onto her computer. Oops… Forgot manic. For years I had wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I act like those other people? The good guys. The ones that were pound the table passionate about their nine to five. I’d searched, pleaded, gone into debt borrowing from Peter to pay my therapist, pored over the wreckage of my life, and no one had explained anything. Until, these first thirty-three. I wasn’t alone in my affliction. How could someone that did not know me write about me in such a succinct way? If what her little tome said was 1/88th part true, I was a writer. She never responded and I probably have a restraining order in whatever state she lives in. But the ink soaked into the pages of her book transposed my life.

    Fablehaven by Brandon Mulls
    The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
    Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer
    What? Some days, when yours truly isn’t stalling or, perhaps, flat out refusing to move that comma on page six sixty six of evil, satan-spawn manuscript, revision five, I read in the category I write. Brandon would have been a true bard if he lived in Nancy’s books. And Rick… well, Rick is a Texan. So I gotta like him. Texans spend eternity together in heaven.

  5. Amy Lozier

    I can’t list just 7, but I’ll give you the top 10 listed in 3 tiers (though it seems almost unfair). Oh, to discover them for the first time again!

    Tier 1:
    Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
    Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

    Tier 2:
    Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
    My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult
    She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb
    On Writing, Stephen King
    The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón
    The Red Tent, Anita Diamant

    Tier 3:
    The Other Boleyn Girl, Phillipa Gregory
    The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason

  6. Erin

    1. Persuasion- Lizzie Mr. Darcy gets all the glory, but Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth are hands down Jane Austen’s most achingly romantic couple. It kills me that there’s never been a proper movie version of this book. (please adapt it, Emma Thompson?)

    2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban- This was the moment Harry Potter turned from a cute fad into a timeless literary saga.

    3. The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: a true epic of American pop culture. I want to live in this book with these characters!

    4. Live From New York- speaking of pop culture epics, this oral history of SNL is as compelling and fascinating a saga as I’ve ever read. Someone should give Bill Murray a book deal. It was hard not to skip ahead to his anecdotes. He told them so beautifully.

    5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower- the best tale of teen angst I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot of tales of teen angst!)

    6. Atonement- The book that taught me just how much one sentence can change everything.

    7. Sex Drugs and Coccoa Puffs- I’m always going to wish I wrote that!

  7. Lisa Lane

    1. Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon
    This future history offers an amazing narration, giving its readers brilliant insight into the nature of humankind. The ending falls a little short, but the rest of the book is fantastic.

    2. The Servants of Twilight, by Dean Koontz
    I love philosophical approaches to religion, especially when presented through science fiction and horror.

    3. The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
    This novella, which was inspired by Dante’s Inferno and also was the inspiration for the film Apocalypse Now, is beautifully written, offering spectacular visuals and well presented themes. The use of "dark" and "light" is phenomenal.

    4. Firestarter, by Stephen King
    This book is a classic. The timing is superb. Its characters are well developed and well motivated. Near perfection.

    5. The Shining, by Stephen King
    Again: a classic … and it blows Firestarter out of the water.

    6. A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
    Originally written as two essays for oral presentation, this narrative is not only insightful, but is a perfect example of good narrative nonfiction and essay.

    7. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
    Vonnegut was a master of sci-fi literature. Cat’s Cradle is a great read … but the ending is sure to leave its readers pondering and shivering for some time.

  8. Lissa Rankin

    Dear Barbara-
    Oh my God! I haven’t read any of these (except Operating Instructions and the last three afterthought books, which are all fabulous!) I’m gonna go buy a bag of Doritos and a jar of peanut butter and get started. What have I been doing my whole life???

    But you left out some of my favorites. Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. My husband and I almost named our daughter Chloe because we were so obsessed with the naughty little Juno-like teen in this book. Ahhh.. yes. If only I could read it again for the first time.

    And The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I’m just undone by that mute little girl who writes like a genius.

    And Bob Dylan’s Chronicles. Who’d have thunk? His words are like music, taking you back to a time and a place I desperately wish I could have witnessed first hand. But then, I wasn’t even a fetus.

    And my latest greatest, which makes me a total cliche, is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I finally found my true soul sister, so if you’re out there somewhere, Liz, give me a ring, will ya?

    Time to get reading!!!


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