Recommended Reading

SUMMER 2014: My summer reading list is up on the BOOK/SHOP blog: Part I, Part II.

Titles marked with an asterisk denote standout books worth picking up immediately. For more book recommendations and discussions, see these posts and their comments.


Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion*
I Remember, Joe Brainard*
The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Lydia Davis
The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt
The Flame Throwers, Rachel Kushner*
My Life on the Mojave, June LeMert Paxton
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead*
Redeployment, Phil Klay
How Should a Person Be, Sheila Heti
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Derek Jarman's Garden, Derek Jarman*
Swimming Studies, Leanne Shapton*
Cassandra at the Wedding, Dorothy Baker*
The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, Joe Brainard
Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion*
Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
Speedboat, Renata Adler*
A Sort of Life, Graham Greene
The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles*
The Luzhin Defense, Vladimir Nabokov
Pym: A Novel, Mat Johnson*
Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, M.C. Richards
Anni Albers: Selected Writings on Design, Anni Albers
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
A Rumor of War, Philip Caputo*
The Quiet American, Graham Greene*

West with the Night, Beryl Markham*
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
Guston in Time: Remembering Philip Guston, Ross Feld
The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72, Molly Peacock
The Native Trees of Canada, Leanne Shapton
The Redbreast, Jo Nesbø
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach
Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead*
Swamplandia!, Karen Russell
The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin
A Passage to India, E. M. Forster
The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes*

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry*
Just Kids, Patti Smith*
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy*

Other Favorites
Blue Highways: A Journey Into America, William Least Heat-Moon*
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby*
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh*
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides*
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie*
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri*
At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Peter Matthiessen*


  1. Ah. . . what a lovely idea.

    Tinkers, by Paul Harding
    The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
    Housekeeping, by Marilynn Robinson
    Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
    The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

    Gives me a rush of wonderment even just to type them out.

    1. YES, Crossing to Safety and Housekeeping!!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Ah. . . what a lovely idea.

    Tinkers, by Paul Harding
    The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
    Housekeeping, by Marilynn Robinson
    Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
    The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

    Gives me a rush of wonderment even just to type them out.

    1. I'd forgotten to include The God of Small Things, which is one of my favorite books. I re-read it while I was in Kerala (the state in which it takes place in India) and it still haunts me.

      Crossing to Safety has been on my list for years now- thanks for the rec!

  3. Ah. . . what a lovely idea.

    Tinkers, by Paul Harding
    The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
    Housekeeping, by Marilynn Robinson
    Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
    The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

    Gives me a rush of wonderment even just to type them out.

  4. Would absolutely recommend reading anything and everything by
    Peter Carey,
    Rachel Cusk,
    Alan Hollinghurst
    David Lodge
    Howard Jacobson
    Ross Raisin (two books Gods Own Country and Waterline which will require you getting to grips with Scots and Yorkshire dialect, we all need a challenge!)
    I could go on for ever, I won't.........
    Jane x

  5. my absolute favorites are:

    White Oleander by Janet Fitch
    The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
    On Beauty by Zadie Smith

    there are more but those are the ones i'd grab if my house were burning. love your list!

  6. Oh, The Time Traveller's Wife was wonderful! I would add Don't Sleep, There are Snakes.

  7. I would add for british charm: a spot of bother by Mark Haddon who also wrote the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

  8. All fairly recent and very good:

    "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Hardbach
    "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi" by Geoff Dyer
    "The Abstinence Teacher" by Tom Perrotta

    My taste runs to literature that doesn't forget to be entertaining along with enlightening.

  9. I don't comment much, but I'm so enthusiastic about this book that I can't help myself: Christiane Ritter, A Woman in the Polar Night. Ritter is Austrian, and the book was published in 1941 (?) in German, and it's still in print and wildly popular there. It's a memoir, but so so beautifully crafted that you won't be sorry even if you tend to stick to fiction (do you?). Ritter follows her husband to the Arctic North and the book follows them through the year she stays there. The book includes charming original sketches (my edition did, anyway) and the most outlandish, wild, totally enchanting descriptions of that world. Somehow, from what little I know of you via this blog, I think it would be right up your street. (End missive.)

    1. Thank you, just read this and loved it!

  10. Holy smokes you guys are out of this world- these are all OUTSTANDING recs!

    I've been *waiting* to get my paws on The Art of Fielding, and I forgot to add The God of Smalls Things to my 2011 list (one of my all-time favorite books).

    Keep 'em coming- this is such a rich resource! I'm adding many of these to my Amazon wish list.

    Deja- I'm looking for it online this very moment. Sounds RIGHT up my alley. THANK YOU, lady.

  11. "St.Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves"-Karen Russel
    from way back in 2006, but if you haven't read it yet, you SHOULD. Or if you've wanted to read Swamplandia and can't find the time, sink your teeth into these magical little stories.

  12. This is such a wonderful idea - I look forward to all the new book suggestions and already see a few recent reads (or to reads) on the list.

    I just finished my first book by Laurie Colwin, Happy All the Time. I can't quite figure out what I've enjoyed so much about it - there's not much plot; the language isn't very fancy (I also keep lists of vocabulary learned through reading) - but something about her observations are on. that I find myself completely blown away. It won't be for everyone but I've real enjoyed it.

    Two long-time favorites that I've been thinking about recently and would give my right pinky finger to be able to read again for the first time: John Berger's To the Wedding and Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. The latter is a wonderful epic story about New York and modernity and time and real cold winter (sadly missing from NYC this year). The former is also epic in scope, though much briefer in words, and Berger's very poetic prose manages to tell several different stories at once and is just wonderfully lovely. For my money, Helprin is the most magical writer I've ever encountered (Rohinton Mistry is one of the top runners up).

    1. Oh my goodness, I love To The Wedding. It is transcendent, and amazing, and every superlative I could imagine. It doesn't seem to be a well known book, but it ought to be.

  13. I looved "Blood, Bones, and Butter" in the same way I loved "Just Kids" -- you can say what you want about her life choices, but the style of her personal narrative is just out of this world.

    Word of caution on "The Art of Fielding" -- such a major let-down in the same way that "Freedom" let me down after "The Corrections". Amazing prose can only mask completely preposterous and unrealistic plotlines/dialogue for so long.

  14. I love book recommendations AND lists-so the two together are fantastic. Love White Teeth-want to read the Steve Martin book-heard it was quite beautiful.

  15. Just finished "C" by Tom McCarthy and I very, very highly recommend it. I was hooked after ONE sentence.

    Its plot is beautiful, dark, troubling, brilliant. The novel starts at the end of the 19th century in a giant house in the English countryside with mulberry orchards and a maze garden. An older sister with a dangerous knack for chemistry, a younger brother obsessed with early radio experiments, a brilliant but oblivious father who runs a school for deaf children, a distracted and artistic mother with a taste for sedatives... This novel takes us through the exciting and tortured birth of the 20th century: through scientific discoveries and inventions, first cars, first radios, the horrors of World War One, the lost London of the 1920s, European Egyptology, and the consuming madness that tore Europe apart. Incredible.

    Tom McCarthy has become my new favorite author. "Remainder" was brilliant, "C" made my head spin.

  16. Thanks for the "Object of Beauty" rec, I probably wouldn't have picked it up otherwise and REALLY enjoyed it!

  17. I just finished devouring Arcadia by Lauren Groff. That lady could describe my own backyard to me and make it sound like a magical wondrous place to adventure. The plot is well layered, the prose are magnificent, and the entire experience is something that I found myself tipping my whole self into.

    It is only out of sheer love for this book that I'm admitting that roughly an hour after finishing it, in a state of abject disappointment at being done, I picked it up and started all over again!

    1. Oooo! I remember reading the NYTimes review...something about subway riders are doomed to miss their stops because the novel swallows you whole. Consider it added to the list! Thx M!

  18. I agree on many of the above accounts. As I read your inspiring list (and glad to see you've recently swallowed whole "West with the Night"!!), I wanted to chip in ~
    Cry, the Beloved Country - many tears and beauty
    The Jungle - heart-wrenching, breath-taking
    Three Alexander Calders - talent doesn't begin to describe them
    The Boxcar Children - gorgeous silhouette drawings; a favorite when I was a child
    Trespassing: Dirt Stories and Field Notes - rich, destitute stories

    Hope this stirs you further...

  19. You certainly have a few of my favorites on there. I absolutely concur about West with the Night. I friend bought it for me a few years ago, and my heart soared over and over as I read it.

  20. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks--wonderful book!

    1. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your blog. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Superb work!

  21. Everything by Alexandra Fuller, starting with "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" which I read after having lived for 12 years in Kenya. One year my mother stuffed it in my carry on as I was about to make the long 24 hour journey back to Africa and by the time I landed I had fnished it and wept a few tears along the way.. Pindie

  22. I loved The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

  23. You Don't Know How to change by Dr. Robert Hardy is amazing book on how to change your life for the better.

  24. Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Awesome book about a solo hike and, yes, Strayed can make a hiking trip be way more exciting than you'd ever imagine.

    I have Arcadia on my bed side table..can't wait to read it! Loved Swamplanida and just bought St.Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves b/c Karen Russel is an amazing writer. Also loved The Cookbook Collector...I loved how the author made me want to cheat and read ahead, I got so into the characters.

    great list--!

  25. Lovely list! Here are some off the beaten path selections:
    Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman--gorgeous short stories
    Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr--our group's monthly selection. Powerful, ex-slave following the Civil War.
    Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura--a cryptic "The Road" saga of the deterioration of a family and colonized country. Powerful punch.

  26. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
    Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
    Birds of America, Lorrie Moore

  27. Some Barbara Kingsolver? Animal Dreams is amazing for desert living (I've been loving looking at your Joshua Tree posts) and it strikes me you would enjoy some british nature writing- Roger Deakin- Waterlog, is a non fiction account of his adventures swimming in lakes, pools and seas around the uk- I live on the west coast of Scotland and do a lot of wild swimming so I love it, but his writing is fantastic, and he died sadly far too young- his tree book Wildwood- goes on worldwide adventures to amazing forests- the central asian bits about the walnut forests of kazakstan are my favourite.
    Some excellent scottish tales from George Mackay Brown I've just discovered- Orkney fairystories of the spare and haunting type.
    Oh so many good books- I've spent the year reading technical organic gardening books, this has given me a push to get back to the fiction- Ullapool has a good library- I'll make a trip.
    Thanks for yourblog, just discovered through a link to your iceland trip- makes me even keener to go- shame there's no longer a ferry from here..

  28. 'Life, A User's Manual' written by Georges Perec is a masterpiece!

  29. I just finished reading "Mumbai New York Scranton: A Memoir" by Tamara Shopsin and was blown away by it. I didn't "know" anything about the story before I started reading.

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    barry lopez- arctic dreams
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