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Anne Tyler Books in Order: 20 Character-Driven Novels


Literary Fiction At Its Best

When I first picked up an Anne Tyler novel, I had no idea who she was or what I was getting into. I just grabbed a book off the store shelf -- I guess the cover art caught my eye -- then paid my twelve dollars and was on my way. I didn't start reading page one for weeks.

But when I did, I didn't put the book down until I'd turned the final page. I was enthralled. The characters were so real, so wonderfully flawed. And the plot ... um, what plot?

Okay, yes,Tyler's books do have plot. But it's what I call "small" plot. Things often move slowly, sometimes seeming to flow more like the tempo of my own life rather than the faster-paced action you might expect from a novel. When it comes to Anne Tyler's writing, though, I like the unhurried nature of the stories, so I can take in every minute detail. She must be quite the people-watcher.

That first book of hers I bought on a whim happened to be her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Breathing Lessons. From there, I went on to read nearly every book Tyler had written. Some I liked -- even loved -- more than others, but all left me feeling like my time as a reader, as well as a self-taught student of creative writing, had been very well spent.

Here, I'd like to share with you a little about the author and a lot of her work. If you've never read an Anne Tyler novel but enjoy sometimes quirky, often troubled, always far from perfect but beautifully sculpted characters, I encourage you to give one of her books a try.

Anne Tyler once said, "I'm scared of the very idea of a 'message' in a novel. All I ever want to do is to tell a story." And does she ever do it well.

A Little About the Author

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1941, Anne Tyler spent most of her childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated from Duke University at the age of nineteen and then earned a graduate degree in Russian studies at New York City's Columbia University.

Before relocating to Maryland, Anne worked as a librarian and bibliographer. In 1963, she married Iranian novelist and psychiatrist, Taghi Mohammad Modarressi, and had two daughters. Her husband passed away in 1997.

Anne Tyler has authored 18 novels, including her latest, The Beginner's Goodbye, released in 2012. Six of her books have been adapted to film--one, Accidental Tourist, on the big screen and five others as made-for-television movies. She's also written two children's books.

(Sources: Wikipedia and

If Morning Ever Comes (1964)

This is Anne Tyler's very first but incredibly insightful novel, written when she was just twenty-two years old.

The Tin Can Tree (1965)

This one, I haven't read. Yet.

A Slipping Down Life (1969)

This book was made into a film, starring Lili Taylor and Guy Pearce. The movie was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1999 Sundance Festival and, in 2004, won the Special Jury Prize at the Indianapolis International Film Festival. This isn't a happy story, but sometimes that's how life goes.

The Clock Winder (1972)

I have to admit, if I were pressed to choose my least favorite Anne Tyler book (of those I've read), well, I guess it would be this one. But that's not to say I didn't basically enjoy it anyway and read every word. I'm just, you know, being honest; this one just didn't stack up to some of her other greats, for me.

Celestial Navigation (1974)

The style of this book taught me that it's actually okay to write a novel from different perspectives. Each chapter has the voice of a different character, and Anne Tyler gives each one a unique tone. I could only wish to handle shifting points-of-view so splendidly.

Searching For Caleb (1975)

I've been told by a number of Anne Tyler fans that this is their favorite of her books. It's definitely near the top of my list, too. As usual, the characters are so real, so flawed and so easy to relate to.

Earthly Possessions (1977)

Transformed into an HBO movie starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff, this story has more in the way of plot, I'd say, than many of Tyler's other novels.

Morgan's Passing (1980)

I was intrigued by the main character in this book, always pretending to be someone he isn't.

Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant (1982)

Anne Tyler considers this novel her best work. Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1983. The story follows three siblings, exploring how they lived through the same events during childhood but experienced them very differently. The novel is told from these different points of view, so readers witness the same event several times but with different emphases.

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The Accidental Tourist (1985)

I actually saw the movie before reading the book, and I must say I preferred the latter. I liked the movie well enough, being the William Hurt fan that I am, but the characters on the screen just couldn't live up to those on the pages. The Accidental Tourist was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1985 and was a finalist for the 1986 Pulitzer Prize.

Breathing Lessons (1988)

This is the book that got me hooked. It's also Anne Tyler's 1989 Pulitzer Prize-winner.

Saint Maybe (1991)

The characters in the book are more ordinary, you might say, and less eccentric than those in other Anne Tyler books. But though the characters may be ordinary, the events that befall them are anything but, and their heroic behavior in the face of disaster is beautifully portrayed.

Ladder Of Years (1995)

I have to say, this was my favorite Anne Tyler book, I guess mostly because this main character was my favorite. There was a time (not recently, though) when just up and walking away from it all was something I almost envied but never would have had the guts to do. But Delia Grinstead did.

A Patchwork Planet (1998)

"I am a man you can trust." Another first sentence that drew me in right away. And I really liked the rest that followed. This one is in a tie for my second favorite Anne Tyler book, along with Breathing Lessons.

Back When We Were Grownups (2001)

Anne Tyler had me at the first sentence: "Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person."

The Amateur Marriage (2004)

Spanning sixty years in the lives of a mismatched couple, this is one of those novels of quiet desperation but without the Hollywood ending.

Digging To America (2006)

This is a story about what it is to be an American, and about an Iranian-born woman, who, after 35 years in this country, must finally come to terms with her "outsiderness." This novel received critical acclaim, but, to be honest, as favorites go, it's second from the bottom on my Anne Tyler list. Unlike her previous novels, there are obviously autobiographical threads within the fabric of these fictional lives, as Anne was married to an Iranian man for 34 years.

Noah's Compass (2009)

This is the story of schoolteacher, Liam Pennywell, who has been forced to retire at the age of sixty-one.

The Beginner's Goodbye (2012)

In this newest Anne Tyler novel, she explores how a middle-aged man, torn apart by the accidental death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances -- in their house, on the road, in the market.

Anne Tyler Interviews - They don't happen often.

Anne is known for not granting face-to-face interviews, and she rarely does book tours or any other public appearances. She has, however, made herself available for e-mail interviews. Here are a few of them, along with a more recent NPR interview

  • January, 2004
    Anne Tyler explores the dramas of everyday family life.
  • April 2006
    An interview about her work, her approach to her craft, and, in particular, her latest novel, Digging to America
  • May, 2006
    In this USA Today e-mail interview, Anne explains why she hasn't given an in-person interview or gone on a book tour since 1977.
  • Anne Tyler speaks - Blog Post | BookPage

Have You Read Any Anne Tyler Books? - What did you think?

Lois Miller on June 10, 2016:

I read her first book in my 20's (If Morning Ever Comes) and loved it so much!! Through the years, I have continued to read every one of her books. She is my favorite author. I wrote her a fan letter in the '80's and she was kind enough to write me back.....saying she appreciated my loyalty! I look forward to reading her new book "Vinegar Girl" .

Mickie Gee on June 29, 2011:

Anne Tyler is one of my very favorite authors. Thank you for reminding me to read her again--and again! Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was the first book I read by Ms. Tyler--my journey began!

julieannbrady on February 24, 2010:

So! Do we think that Anne based "The Amateur Marriage" on personal experience? I think I'd like to read that book as I'm always striving to be a pro at most things ... even marriage! ;)

LoKackl on January 24, 2010:

Just finished reading Ladder of Years and decided to check Squidoo and see if anyone had done a lens on Anne Tyler - uh-huh, uh-huh! I so enjoyed your reviews and remarks! Delightful! I've had Searching for Caleb and Back When We Were Grownups on my bedside bookcase for a long time. Guess it's time to read them!

Deb Kingsbury (author) from Flagstaff, Arizona on August 20, 2009:

[in reply to Stazjia] Thanks for letting me know! :) Our library seems to have most or all of them, and other libraries none. Glad you at least found one.

Carol Fisher from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on August 20, 2009:

I thought I'd let you know that because of this lens I read Anne Tyler's novel 'Digging to America' this week. It's the only one I could find in the library but I enjoyed it and will certainly read more of her books now.

Thanks, Deb, for introducing me to her.

MikeMoore LM on May 02, 2009:

Another tremendous lens. And welcome once again to the Readers and Writers group.

KimGiancaterino on April 29, 2009:

I've never read anything by Anne Tyler, but now I'm intrigued! Beautifully designed lens.

Carol Fisher from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on April 28, 2009:

This is a great lens because now I want to try one of her novels and that is after trying to read one of them many years ago and not getting past the first chapter.

hlkljgk from Western Mass on April 28, 2009:

lovely lens; well done

Bambi Watson on April 27, 2009:

very well done and interesting!

religions7 on April 25, 2009:

Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

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