Friday, June 18, 2010

In Need of Book Recommendations

I've been a reader ever since I found divine inspiration in Ramona Quimby, Age 8. My life is significantly better when I am reading a good book.

And yet I have fallen out of the habit of reading. I'm trying to figure out why.

I think I first put reading on the back-burner when Matt and I moved in together back in 2006. I no longer had long stretches of time by myself. I wanted to fill my evenings chatting or playing Scrabble with Matt.

The other thing that happened was that I started realizing that buying new books wasn't good on my budget or the available storage space in our home. I started using the library instead, but it is much, much harder to find good fiction at the library for some reason.

Then I realized that I could go to the bookstore, find books I wanted to read and use my iPhone to place a hold request on them from the Houston Public Library. I think I've forgotten about this strategy. I think I've also been reading too much non-fiction (mainly about conception and pregnancy).

I really do need to get back into the habit of reading fiction. It relaxes and enriches me. It gives me insight into the world and myself.

I think the last fiction book I read was Day After Night by the author of The Red Tent. I didn't love it as much as I loved The Red Tent, but it was still really good.

Any recommendations for really good contemporary realistic or historical fiction?

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Sarah said...

I know... I've gotten on this kick on reading the huge slew of pop nonfiction books (you know, stuff like Traffic: Why we Drive the Way We do and What it Say about Us, One Perfect Day, The Omnivore's Dilemma, etc.)-- the ones you read knowing you'll agree with them and they don't have citations or anthing but they are fun and sarcastic. I'm reading Bobos in Paradise right now.

My local library system actually has a blog, so I use that often for recommendations. Also, I browse the displays they have because they're seasonal-- for example, this week, they had one on reading at the beach with all sorts of books good for beach reading. I like looking at book reviews online but usually they are reserved solid for several weeks-- I put my name on the list but it takes a while to get to me.

Ceka said...

I just read Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, and it was hilarious. It also offers some really interesting feminist analysis along the way.

Happy reading!

DancingGrapes said...

Fall On Your Knees by AnnYMarie MacDonald and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein are my two most recent, and they're wonderful but I work in sexual violence prevention so for some reason the theme seems to follow me. Be warned they are sad!

I also love Tom Robbins, especially Not Another Roadside Attracion and Jitterbug Perfume or John Irving, especially A Prayer For Owen Meany or The World According to Garp.

I seem to like things a bit irreverant so if you like nice and happy these may be a bit offensive.

I need to read more female authors!

nc said...

Tom Robbins and John Irving are always great.

I read The Time Traveler's Wife this spring and LOVED it.

Mary said...

Really good series that will last you is The outlander series by Diana Gabeldon. A great mix of ethnobotny, romance, historical fiction and sci fi.. trust me they are impossible to put down!

Anonymous said...

Hunger Games and Catching Fire
Poisonwood Bible
Jellicoe Road

BeeHive said...

I read The Help last year and absolutely loved it.

Anonymous said...

"Blessings" by Anna Quindlin -- its beutifully written fiction & has the kind of plot I'm still mulling over in my mind & uncovering new "layers"(and I read the book months ago!) My library has her books... and that's saying a lot, so yours might, too!

GSP said...

Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernieres
March by Geraldine Brooks
Year of Wonders also by Geraldine Brooks

perhaps a good time bank side project might be to set up a paperback exchange among members? all you really need is a cardboard box and some index cards...

Cécy said...

I love to read. Alghout my love didn't start on a book so much as my teacher telling me that if you know how to read you know everything and little 1st grader me thought that if I did then I wouln't need to go to school so I fell into books head first and never stopped since.
I agree that it's hard as a grown up in a marriage to find time for it thought sometimes.

I second The Time Traveler's Wife anbd the Outlander series.

I love historical fictions and my favorite of all times is The Children of the Earth by Jean M. Auel. Several books, well researched facts and a good story built around it. It takes place during prehistoric times in Europe, the hero is a healer and I always loved how the author talks about the use of plants in it.

I've also enjoyed Five Quarters of an Orange and Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris. If my memory doesn't fail me those take place around WW2, with interesting character relationships and personnal struggles.

I also love Ender's Game in a complete different style and the other books of the series.

Still in the historical fiction read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett and its sequal World Without Ends. It talks about the building of a cathedral in Enfland in the first book, and how several centuries later the town is dealing with the Black Plague.I also love all his WW2 books such as The Hornet Flight, The Key to Rebecca, etc.

Have fun reading.

Carla Michelle said...

Peace like a River...Leif Enger--beautiful story
Stranger in strange Land--sci-fi-robert heinlein
Wicked..gregory maguire

Autumn Witt said...

I second The Help and Time Traveler's Wife. I also love anything by Margaret Atwood (old or new). On the lighter side, Jennifer Weiner writes smarter-than-your-average chick lit (Good in Bed, In Her Shoes). Happy reading!

Ms Bear Cub said...

@cécy: I LOVE pillars of the earth and world without end! My husband and I are hoping mr. follett will make another sequel :)

Sara - we just finished reading (aloud, to each other) The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery). we both loved it! It's easy to start reading (the chapters are really really short), but then abotu 1/4 through you realize there's a deeper story.

If you want a thriller (excitement, not horror - I hate horror), I really enjoyed Neverwhere (same author as Stardust).

lene said...

"The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, is an excellent book, set in Afghanistan and describes the friendship between two boys from very different backgrounds. A very moving book, which i highly recommend!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever read 'Small Wonder' by Barbara Kingsolver? It's a collection of essays rather than a novel, but it's fabulous and I really think you'd relate to her topics. I also read 'Prodigal Summer,' also written by her, last summer and loved it. Fiction, but with a lot of thought/reference to the real world. Finally, I just finished reading 'East of Eden' and it's now my all-time favorite book - great, classic read.

Mommy in the Making said...

My all time favorite books are by Laurens Van Der Post (A Far off place, Story like the wind), two parts of the same story. They take place in Africa and are incredibly well written - just beautiful. I cannot recommend these enough.

Next is My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, not happy but sort of a 'you have to follow your dreams at any cost' story.

My two favorite historic fiction writers are Kenneth Roberts (Northwest Passage is my fav) and of course Irving Stone (Lust for Life about Van Gogh, The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo) - all excellent!

If you're looking for quick, fun reads that make you feel good (great before bed) I really recommend The #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Great reads. Whenever a new one comes out I hold onto it forever because I'm afraid it will be the last!


Anonymous said...

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. This is a tightly written novel concerning a normally safe home birth gone terribly wrong, and how it affects the lives of all those involved. It twists and turns and leads the reader to wrong assumptions over and over again. At the same time it manages to bring forth the mystery and wonder of life, and especially the moment of birth. The novel is written from the point of view of the Midwife's daughter, who is, at the time of the writing, a doctor, specifically an OB/GYN. I think you will really like it!

jillybean said...

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society : historical fiction about a small island off the coast of England circa WW2. Its written in the form of letters, so it reads so fast and the personalities are all quirky and entertaining.

Natalie said...

Hi Sara! I am also trying to find time to read good fiction, and use my library hold system to get the books I think look best! I also started a bookclub with a few friends who have the same taste in books, so we keep each other on track by all reading the same book every month, and making recommendations to each other for other good books at our monthly meetings.
I would recommend reading:
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
and (it's not fiction, but it's one of my all time favorites)-- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver.

Happy Reading!

Jodie said...

All of Barbara Kingsolver is great- fiction and non. You can really get lost in the main female character's story in each fiction book. She writes beautifully. And they all are environmental and/or socially conscious.
My latest read is 'Let the Great World Spin' by Colum McCann. If you like to read about gritty New York and if you ever watched the documentary 'Man on a Wire', you'll like this!

Vee said...

I will second @Natalie's recommendations of Water for Elephants (just finished it and - WOW, LOVE!) and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

I recently read Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, and while a super easy read, it was very sad and tugged the old heartstrings.

I am currently reading An Inconvenient Wife, by Megan Chance, which so far has some interesting layers regarding the struggles of women in the late 19th century.

~Milena~ said...

Hi Sara. Just like you, when I started living with my fiance, I stopped reading as much. He's not a reader, while I can only be described as a voracious reader. Our situation was a little complicated, since we did a long distance thing for the majority of three years, so anytime I was with him, I wanted to spend the precious few weeks spending time with him and not getting lost in a book. Now that I've moved back with him for good, I've made the library my best friend. I'm lucky in that the Cincinnati Public Library System is excellent.

I highly recommend that you look at the website
Shelfari is a place where you can keep track of your reads online and connect with other readers who enjoy reading what you enjoy reading. They also have many many different groups on a variety of subjects, in which you can talk about current events, current issues, and yes even a book of the month. This is how I've been choosing what to read lately - I've joined a few book groups and I read the monthly reads. It also makes it fun again because I then have people to discuss what I've read with (since my fiance won't).

I would second votes for "The Kite Runner," "Water for Elephants," and "The Time Traveler's Wife."

Brannie said...

I just finished The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. Its about the class lines in Bombay and follows two women, who are similar but born in different classes. Beautifully written. I just picked up her latest, The Weight of Heaven. I would also second any of Barbara Kingsolvers books.

Aamba said...

My favorite recent stuff:

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Namesake (and, actually, everything by Jhumpa Lahiri)

Breathing Lessons (Anne Tyler has an amazing realistic style)

carly said...

I just finished Little Bee by Chris Cleave (not sure if I spelled his name correctly) and really, really enjoyed it. I think it would be a good "hopping back into reading for pleasure" book for you since that is exactly what it has been for me. I have a chronic problem with reading a few chapters of a new book, then losing interest and putting it down and that definitely did not happen with this book.

Anonymous said...

I second the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. I LOVE historical fiction and this one just took the cake. Some other recent favorites are March, by Geraldine Brooks, which tells the story of The Little Women from the dad's point of view. It takes place during the Civil War and is a damn good read. I just finished Olive Kitteridge, which consists of 13 tales, all circling around a sassy, spirited, retired teacher in a small coastal town in Maine. The book offers an extremely realistic portrayal of life, love and the everyday challenges one faces in a lifetime of marriage. It's great. Enjoy!

spanishteacher83 said...



The Help (best book I've read in years!!!)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (great to read before you come to Seattle this summer!)

The Percy Jackson series and the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series (I'm a teacher too and my entire class loved these).

The 19th Wife

Anything written by Indu Sundaresan

Sarah's Key

Anything by Joshilyn Jackson

Annalisa said...

I agree about The Help! Although, I cheated and downloaded the audio version (phenomenal audio book!!) through They give you a free download and you can cancel within 14 days and keep the book.

I also love David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs for their light but poignant stories.

Wally Lamb -- She's Come Undone and I Know This Much is True were great long reads.

I also love the simplicity of Malcolm Gladwell's books (non-fiction but reads like a story).

Brandy said...

Hi Sara! As a librarian, I feel that it's my duty to tell you about a really cool database that you have access to through your public library: Novelist Plus. You can discover fiction and nonfiction based on release dates, authors, subjects, themes, etc., etc., etc. Sort of like a What should I read Next tool. It's great for readers advisory. Thanks for using your public library:)

Word said...

I second the recommendation for The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It's my favorite read of the last year! Also, I get a lot of books from (you get a credit every time someone receives one of your books). It's a great way to clear my shelf!

Nikky said...

Depending on whether you're looking for "heavy reading" or not, I can't push the Stephanie Plum series enough for a bit of afternoon fluff. It's super funny and easy enough to sit and read through in a few hours if you want to. It's not much for kicking the brain into overdrive, but I read almost constantly and I adore them times a million. One of the few series where I'm honestly invested in the characters and love them almost like real people.

Anna said...

If you like crime novels, Stieg Larsson's Millenium trology is a must - they are impossible to put down and paint a gripping picture of contemporary Swedish society.

Anna said...

Trilogy, not trology, of course - I apologize!

Anonymous said...

The Help - a fantastic look at the relationship in the south between white families and the black women who are "the help"

Middlesex- a story that looks at a hermaphroditic, middlesex, young girl discovering who she is as her gender, or what she thought it was, changes.

Michelle said...

I just read "Astonishing Splashes of Colour" by Clare Morrall and thought the story was told incredibly well, and (while being fiction) was also very thought provoking.

Since a lot of people have recommended "the Time Traveler's Wife", I will jump in and say that I enjoyed this book a lot more than expected. The movie previews made it look cheesy, but I read the book with some friends and was glad that I did in the end.

For a more "historical fiction" perspective, I enjoyed "The Virgin Blue" by Tracy Chevalier. The book tells the story of two women centuries apart, so not all of it was "historical", but a page-turner.

mmmmmonica said...

Once you find books you want to read, go to, and the site will set you up with people to trade your old books with!! You just have to pay for shipping. It's pretty epic:)

Rachel said...

anything by Haruki Murakami will knock your socks off.
Also, my husband just blew through the Dexter books series, if you're into that kind of thing.

AZ said...

I've found this to be a pretty good list for fun fiction:

(A few of my personal favorites that come to mind right away: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood)

Happy reading!

Beth said...

I second the rec for Stieg Larsson's books...I'm reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and it's amazing.

Also, not contemporary, but I just read The Hunger Games and tore through it and the sequel in a few hours--fascinating!

Kirstie said...

I'd second Middlesex and third The Time Traveler's Wife, a couple of good one's I've read recently are A Fool's Alphabet by Sebastian Faulks and Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne. Happy reading!

Sarah said...

OH MY GOD these are amazing-- I'm just gonna print this list out and tote it with me to the library.

Elsa said...

I second Wally Lamb--I'm a huge fan of all of his works. I've also heard that the Outlander series is really great. If you're looking for some fun reads, Katherine Center is a great author and her first book takes place in the Heights. I've added The Help to my list of books to read. I've also read really great things about the Little Bee and Water for Elephants. There's a pretty cool site that allows you to put in something you've recently read and then it will pop up with suggestions on what you should read next:

Cécy said...

@Ms Bear Cub: I've just read the Elegence of the Edgehog, but in the original version though. Was it good in english, there is so many litterature references in it I'm amazed they managed to translate it. It's definitely very deep, sometimes almost hard to read and sometimes fascinating. I think it became a classic in France.

The Pillars of the Earth was recommended to me by my art teacher. I remember missing my bus stop and having to walk home (still reading the book while walking) I was so caught up in it. :)

Anonymous said...

Sarah, thanks so much for posting this!! Such a fabulous thing for you and us :)

I just finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as well and agree with the others who recommended it. It was a quick read, but I enjoyed the writers' style and had that "well read" feeling afterwards... you know, where it just kind of sinks in and makes your mind still for a minute?

Lots of people have recommended Barbara Kingsolver here, but I actually love her earlier works best of all... Bean Trees is the book I've had to buy over and over (used!) because I keep lending it out to friends :) Happy reading, and relaxing! -- Alison

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