Requested Reading List

December 7, 2010 at 10:05 AM (Help, Real Life) (, , , , )

I’m afraid I’m going to fail to fulfill a promise I made a few years ago. When my second son was born, one day the cat came to me and said (I’m paraphrasing), “Why do you keep bringing these men into the house? When will we ever have the chance to be alone together in the sunshine with all these boys around, and their hammering, running, zooming, and eating?” I told her, “Elly, one day you and I will have a girl room, with a chintz-covered chaise longue, late-afternoon sunshine, a mohair-y throw blanket, a pot of tea, and a stack of great books. We’ll spend weekends in there, dozing and reading. I promise.”

Well, the Girl Room hasn’t materialized yet, and unless they’re planning a big Christmas surprise for me, it probably won’t happen. But I can still lie around with a stack of books like it’s my job, and for this Cinderelly is truly grateful.

What I’m having trouble with is: what should I read? When I hit the bookstore, I look for interesting covers or for books I’ve heard mentioned by other people. Sometimes I hit; sometimes I miss. Whenever I go to the library, I wander around aimlessly, looking at covers and pulling out books I haven’t read by authors I already know. But I’m sure there are people (other than librarians and critics) who know exactly what is good, or a classic must-read, or not-just-chick-lit-but-good-chick-lit. Are they you?

If you had a year and wanted to make sure you read all the important stuff, including classics and contemporary literature (although maybe not so much poetry; sorry, Amy), what would you read? Tell me, tell me — there’s still time to put together an Amazon list…

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  1. jenn pierrelouis said,

    ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” – I read it as a middle schooler – it was great. Highly recommend it for all ages…

  2. Alicia said,

    These were some recently recommended to me, good – bad, don’t know……….

    Making Toast, Roger Rosenblatt
    House Rules, Jodi Picoult
    My Name is Mary Sutter, Robin Oliveira
    and finally,
    The Widowers Tale, Julia Glass
    Best of luck with that list.

  3. Gay said,

    Not classic literature by any measure but I think you’d enjoy the Luxe series (4 books). The young adult ladies in my home turned me on to them. Full of turn of the century fashion, sex and drama New York City style. A 1900 Sex in the City story by Anna Godbersen.

    The Luxe

  4. Marianne said,

    The Shipping News Anne Proulx
    Anything by Margaret Atwood (Handmaids Tale, the best)

  5. Liliana said,

    All of Tolstoy, especially War and Peace. Mark Twain. Jane Austen.

    This year I read a wonderful book, Amos Oz’s, A Tale of Love and Darkness. It made me laugh, it made me cry.

    Best to you,

  6. Susan said,

    A Dog’s Purpose
    W. Bruce Cameron

    So enjoyed it. Should be on Amazon since I ordered it recently on my Kindle.

  7. Bill said,

    I heard the recently published Mark Twain Autobiography is very good.


  8. Maggie said,

    Ohhh, I have so many. My spot right now is next to the wood burning stove, under a blanket on my ‘chaise’ lounge. I love all different genres, no poetry either. Here’s a short list:
    The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris
    The whole Stieg Larsson series – The Girl Who…..
    The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins (stirs my Irish heartstrings)
    My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen
    Historical novels? I like Philippa Gregory’s writing style. Just finished Wideacre, but it was not uplifting…
    Katherine by Anya Seton (an oldie but a goodie)
    My Antonia by Willa Cather
    any mystery by Elizabeth George – and there’s quite a few…
    I could go on, but won’t. Happy reading,

  9. Jennie said,

    Here’s my list for you…

    1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
    2. The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen
    3. The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing by ???
    4. I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison ??? (I think)
    5. Any/all of Emily Giffin’s books (good chick lit, in my opinion)

    Let me know if you need more but these are some of my favs, in addition to Light in August by Faulkner, Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea (the story of Jane Eyre from another perspective), and some Shakespeare.

    Oh, and I do interior design on the side so if there is a blank for this Girls Room, I’m happy to help put it together in short order!


  10. Jane Horn said,

    Dearest Sarah, you are indeed a gifted writer. Everyone of our family that read your blog are blown away about your insite, your life and your soul. God gives these gifts, in deed, to special people. Thank you. My favorite book for adult and child alike is I Will Love You Forever. You might have read it. I love it.
    I think that with your skills you could top that book. Just a little inspiration.

  11. Jennifer said,

    I loved Three Cups of Tea and was truly inspired by the good in people to do good for others. I haven’t yet read the follow-up book, but have heard it is equally good. I recommend taking notes of people’s names, as they all started to look the same to me. I also love Asian culture, and Amy Tan books. I think Bonesetter’s Daughter might be my favorite.

  12. WhiteStone said,

    I’m not much of a fiction reader. Most of my reading is, believe it or not, is theological. I’m fascinated with theology.

    However…having said that…I second Jennie’s recommend of Willa Cather’s “My Antonia”. And along with that book, add Rolvaag’s “Giants in the Earth”. Both are full of passion for life and endurance in the midst of the trials and tribulations with which every life must deal. These two books remind me of my roots, my grandparents, great-grandparents.

  13. Lauralli said,

    I just got out of a book club I’ve been in for a couple of years. They were just getting way too serious for me. Apparently, they wanted me to read ALL of the books and DISCUSS them—-really? I was more in it for a girl’s night out and a great dessert! Anyway, I did read some excellent books along the way. My two favorites are Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and The Help—-hey, I’m a southern girl!:) Sorry I don’t know the authors, but they should be easy to find.

    Happy Reading (and Healing)! Blessings to you and yours!

  14. Dan Gennari said,

    Hey there Sarah. I read a lot of biographies, particularly business related biographies. I say that because I don’t know your tastes. Anyway…my list:

    Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper – He writes about the thoughts, feelings and images he could not say or show on CNN from places in Africa, Indonesia during the tsunami, and from New Orleans during hurricane Katrina.

    Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer – An examination of Mormon history and how the sect of Mormom Fundamentalists came to be separate from the mainstream Mormons and how violence has played a role in their history. This book is good for making your jaw drop and saying, “WHAT!!!”

    Following the Equator by Mark Twain – Since others mentioned old Mr. Twain, I wanted to follow that up. This book is his travel journal from a speaking tour in which he travels by boat around the world leaving from California and visiting what is now Hawaii, India, Madagascar (I think), and many other exotic ports of call.

    It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong – You may have seen this one already. Regardless of what you think about Lance’s current corporate image and allegations of doping, this book was written around 2002 or 2003 and covers the beginning of his career in his teens, to his cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery and then his first two Tour wins. He writes a lot about the formation of the L.A. Foundation. I read it years ago before I was diagnosed and then again this year during treatment and enjoyed it both times.

    I’ll email you if I think of more books.

  15. tori said,

    You have some good recommendations here.

    If you’re looking to laugh out loud – I just finished a HYSTERICAL and brilliant book called “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” by Christopher Moore. Highly recommend.

    Also, anything by David Sedaris is good for a laugh. Me Talk Pretty One Day is awesome.

    There are a few books I’ve read multiple times because I love them so much:

    “The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy. (make yourself forget the movie if you saw it)
    “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving
    “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett
    And I’m also a fan of Kurt Vonnegut.

    I just read a good series that totally hooked me in. It’s actually Juvenile Fiction, but the last time I had the house to myself and a place on the couch to chill, this was the series I was reading and I really enjoyed them. There are three books starting with “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

    Be forwarned that Jodi Picoult (I saw her recommended above) is always a good one, but her books almost always make you cry in the end.

    • Catherine said,

      I LOVE that you recommended The Hunger Games trilogy. It’s YA fiction, but I loved it. I read the whole thing in about 6 hours and read it again!

  16. Connie Reeves said,

    I posted this list on Facebook a few years ago in response to “What 10 Books have Most Impacted Your Life?” The idea was to think spontaneously and not search anything out. This was my list. You can get an idea of each book.

    1. Success Without College–because it enabled me to free my son from pressure from me to do what he didn’t want to do
    2. The Ice Master–because it started me on a years-long interest in the Arctic and Antarctic exploring expeditions
    3. Playing for the Ashes, by Elizabeth George–because it introduced me to what became my favorite author of psychological mystery/thrillers and a role model for writing
    4. The World is My Home, by James Michener–because he led the kind of writing life that I intuitively knew I wanted
    5. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier–because it was so chilling
    6. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez–because it was a beautiful story and took me into another world
    7. Time Enough for Love, by Robert Heinlein–because it was the most fabulous science-fiction book I ever read, and made me think how fantastic it could be to live 3,000 years and all the occupations one could have and all the things one could do
    8. Middlemarch, by George Eliot–because it showed in intricate detail that human beings of the 19th century had the same feelings and worries as those of today–she was a master at portraying human drama, boredom, social etiquette, marriage, relationships
    9. It’s Not About the Bike, by Lance Armstrong–because it showed me that a person with Stage 4 cancer could go on to become a multiple Tour de France winner and one should never give up, and that his major emphasis after cancer became cancer awareness and fundraising–so inspiring
    10. Yashka, by Maria Botchkareva–because it propelled me into studying women’s military history, concentrating on women in World War I, to my master’s thesis on French women, and to other areas

    I definitell second the posting about Elizabeth George. I write novels, have written a military thriller (The Elimination Game, if you’re interested), and she is my favorite author of the mystery genre.
    I have kept a journal of book reviews for about ten years now, I think, and have posted about 400 reviews on Even if you can’t find mine (I’m, you can call up any book and see what readers think of it. You can also search among various categories, such as bestsellers, or the best of 2010, or vampires, etc.
    Your library, most likely, has some sort of template to help you find books by one author if you like a similar one (ie, if you like Maeve Binchy, you will like these books:….). They can also recommend books in different genres.
    Tell us what you like to read the most, and we can recommend more specifically for you.
    If you want something heartwarming, but full of family drama, then try Francine Rivers’ books. I just discovered her a month ago. Not what one might think of of a Christian writer. The characters are full human beings, with some being deeply flawed.
    If you like nonfiction, I have some amazing recommendations. Empire of the Summer Moon, about the Comanches and Quanah Parker. Definitely Three Cups of Tea, one of the best books I’ve ever lived. Eleanor and Roosevelt, a fab look at this couple. 1776, about that tumultuous time in our history. The Mayflower, which is really about the Massachusetts Colony.
    Here are some of the most riveting I’ve read lately:
    Overboard! about a family on a sailboat in blue water
    While They Slept: Inquiry into the Murder of a Family
    Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America
    The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea
    In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson, his wandering travel memoir of Australia
    Woman from Shanghai: Tales of Survival from a Chinese Labor Camp
    Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil

    Okay, now for some fiction:
    The Russian Concubine, tale of poverty-stricken mother and daughter in China
    The Red Scarf, by the same author, labor camp prisoners in Russia

    Sarah, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to create a list for you of 50 books, one book a week, with 2 weeks off. I’ll either post it here, or I’ll email it to you. I can imagine that you want to whisk yourself away to another world, to learn something, to be inspired, to feel love coming through the words.

    Give me a couple of hours.

    Thrillers, true crime?

    • Sarah said,

      Connie, you’re fabulous! I love nearly everything: historical novels, satire, non-fiction (loved 1776 and John Adams), chick lit (the aforementioned Jen Lancaster is my soul sister). I like Kingsolver (and have yet to read most of her stuff, v. excited about Animal, Vegetable, Mineral), but mostly I’m terribly uninformed about modern stuff. I’ve read Dickens, the Brontes, and some Shakespeare, but am wary of big stuff like Tolstoy and Michener (don’t know why). I like thrillers/mysteries but don’t get them for myself (borrow from Mom).

      What a generous offer. Thanks for your help!

    • Melissa said,

      I’ve been thinking how I can honor Sarah and remembered that she requested our best recommendations for her reading list both here and on her facebook page. Did you end up sending her your book list? I was thinking I’d like to finish reading those books for her.
      Many thanks,

      • Connie said,

        I think this is such a beautiful and poignant gesture. I tried to send you a message a week ago, but I need your email address in order to attach the file.
        If you send it to me at, I’ll get my list out to you. And I’d like to hear how you do on it. Perhaps you could post from time to time.


    • Melissa said,

      Here’s my first blog post about the Sarah’s Reading List. Thank you so very much for sharing it with me! I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

  17. Divaduchess said,

    For a laugh out loud funny book, try Sh*t My Dad Says. The TV show is terrible but the book is hilarious. I read it on a long flight and was laughing so hard I was crying. To ease my fellow passengers’ unease with my behaviour, I ended up putting away and finishing it at the hotel where I could laugh out loud to my heart’s content.

  18. Leslie Sorensen-Jolink said,

    Dear Sarah,

    I’m a lifelong ardent reader and an old friend of Ted and Mardi Feather and their boys. Here, in no particular order, are a wide range of books I particularly recommend (without knowing much about what you like to read):

    “My Antonia,” by Willa Cather
    “Giants in the Earth,” by O.E. Rolvaag (WhiteStone is right!)
    “The Solace of Open Spaces,” by Gretel Ehrlich
    “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” by Peter Hoeg
    “The Master and Margarita,” by Mikhail Bulgakov (satire; magical realism)
    “The Moon and Sixpence,” by Somerset Maugham
    “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones for Schools,” by Greg Mortensen
    “Tender is the Night,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    “The Year of Magical Thinking,” by Joan Didion
    Anything by John Irving, Pat Conroy, Barbara Kingsolver and Ivan Doig (all are
    great storytellers)

    “Cutting for Stone,” by Abraham Verghese – an amazing story magnificently written

    These are books, and authors, I’ve read during each period of my 63 years (including the latter most recently).

    If you read any Russian classics, read the translattions by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky–far superior to any other translations I have seen.

    Thanks for asking. I enjoyed reading the other posters’ ideas. Let me know what you think if you read (or have read) any of the above.

    Thinking of you, with a smile! Leslie

  19. Adrienne St.Clair said,

    Hi, Deary!
    Ed and I got rid of our television about 39 years ago so reading has been an incrediably important part of our lives. I usually have two or three books going at the same time.
    I personally love books about women, the issues that they struggle with in other cultures. I love books about personal growth and overcoming obstacles. I only read books that give me the courage to face the challenges I have to deal with…no downers!
    A few of my favorites…Still Life with Rice – Korea, Geisha -Japan, Three Cups of Tea- Pakistan, The Kabul Beauty School-Afganistan, The Mammy-Ireland, The #1 Ladies Detective Agency-Botswana, Shogun-Japan.
    My two favoite science fiction are The Sparrow which is spiritual also, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.
    The Mitford Years and The Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society are gentle stories of love.
    I also enjoy sweet stories, which I reread like old friends…Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm is at the top of that list.
    For humor, there is no one better than Christopher Moore, start with Lamb-The Gospel Accoring to Biff, Christ’s Childhood friend,this is irreverent but wonderful.(I’m a Congregationalist so I am willing to consider all possibilities!
    You are such a gifted writer, I would love to hear what some of your favorities are.
    By the way you are in my prayers every night.

  20. Danielle said,

    Around Christmas I always want to read Little Women….and then watch it….but I haven’t gotten to read the whole book yet! I even bought it in hard cover.

    My favorite book – The Giving Tree

    And this year for the first time I will read the birth of Jesus in the bible- cuz I’m really into that lately.

    It’s a great post- some interesting books!

  21. donnatrussell said,

    I just bought “On This Earth, a Shadow Falls” by Nick Brandt. I’d been waiting a year for this book to come out. It’s photographs of wild animals in Africa. The book is not cheap, but it’s signed by the artist and made to his specifications. The book is only available from galleries. I got mine from Photo-Eye Bookstore. The previous copies of his book are inferior quality, and that’s why he put together this (again, NOT cheap!) book. You can see Brandt’s work by googling: nick brandt young gallery.

    Another book I loved is “Frank Lloyd Wright” by Ada Louise Huxtable. More than a portrait of a man. It’s the story of an era.

  22. Lani said,

    Anything by Nathanail Philbrick-Mayflower, Heart of the Sea, The Last Stand.

    The River of Doubt, Teddy Roosevelt’s doomed foray to the Amazon after his last presidential defeat.

    The Secret Life of Bees-Sue Monk Kidd

    Charms for the Easy Life

  23. Catherine said,

    I love book lists! If I had unlimited reading time…this is what I’d read:
    I just started rereading the Harry Potter books – they are still awesome.
    I love all of John Irving’s early stuff – Cider House Rules, Prayer for Owen Meany ** (one of my top 5 of all time)
    Time Travelers Wife – Audrey Niffenger
    The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (movie bad, book amazing)
    Life of Pi – Yann Martel
    Devil in White City – Erik Larson
    Nine Lives – Death & Life in New Orleans – Dan Baum
    The Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
    All of David Sedaris
    Total guilty girl pleasure – The Outlander Series (not fine writing, but a fun story)
    Wicked – Gregory Maguire
    All Souls – Michael Patrick MacDonald

    Geez, I could do this all day!

  24. Kathryn said,


    I’ve only recently signed up to receive your blog. It was a wonderful find! I’m currently in a protracted first recurrence of ovarian cancer that was diagnosed last year as Stage II. Anyway, your request for reading material compelled me to respond with some suggestions – there’s a real mix here: fiction, non-fiction, current books, classics. Take what you want and leave the rest. Even if just one of the books is of interest, I’ll feel like I’ve given back a little to you. your blog is terrific. Here goes (in no particular order):

    Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson
    The Rural Life – Verlyn Klinkenborg
    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
    Bastard out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison
    The American Woman in the Chinese Hat – Carol Maso
    Hamlet – Shakespeare
    The Hours – Michael Cunningham
    The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Dideon
    The Fox – D.H. Lawrence
    Close Range (short stories) – Annie Proulx
    To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

  25. Kathleen said,

    I love this “high brow” posting. And unfortunately I’m going to bring it down a notch. Post cancer I’ve had the concentration skills of a hyper active 2nd grade boy, so my reading selections have not been that heavy but I have enjoyed them. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve read the following books.

    *Kathy Griffin’s memoir – I totally related to her Irish Catholic background

    *Are You There Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea by Chelsea Handler. The first book I read on my ipad. It made me laugh!

    *Story Telling by Tori Spelling and I read her Mommywood book too. I even read her Mom’s book called Candyland. It was like reading an extended US Weekly magazine.

    *Yes and of course I read Lance’s book for a second time.

    *I read Mitch Albom’s, Have a Little Faith.

    *And on a final note, I read Twilight and New Moon. I loved these books. It made me feel young and lusty. God damn I miss my estrogen!!

  26. ghostwriter said,

    Such a lot of great suggestions!

    Wouldn’t you like to read Follow the River again? Every now and then something makes me think of that woman and her incredible journey….

  27. Erin said,

    If you like historical novels, go with Jeff Shaara (and Michael, but he only wrote one) or Alison Weir.
    Otherwise I read weird stuff so I’m not much help. Jane Austen gives me warm fuzzies.

  28. Jan Santos said,

    I love book lists! If I had unlimited reading time…this is what I’d read: I just started rereading the Harry Potter books – they are still awesome. I love all of John Irving’s early stuff – Cider House Rules, Prayer for Owen Meany ** (one of my top 5 of all time) Time Travelers Wife – Audrey Niffenger The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (movie bad, book amazing) Life of Pi – Yann Martel Devil in White City – Erik Larson Nine Lives – Death & Life in New Orleans – Dan Baum The Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole All of David Sedaris Total guilty girl pleasure – The Outlander Series (not fine writing, but a fun story) Wicked – Gregory Maguire All Souls – Michael Patrick MacDonald Geez, I could do this all day!

  29. Elizabeth said,

    Hi! Was just alerted to your blog by another friend. You are an amazing woman and a gifted writer.

    My favorite book of all time is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I read it at least once a year. I just had lunch with him last year. It is a kid’s book but as an adult you get a lot out of it.

    If you haven’t read it please do. Hope you get your girl’s room soon and the boots rock.

  30. Dorit said,

    Cloud Atlas is a fantastic book.

  31. Carlene Mullins said,

    Hi, Sarah…..It’s “Hissy Fitz” from the Aspire website. Just wanted to say that your blog admirers have great taste in literature! I would have made many of the same suggestions myself. I’d like to add:
    Watership Down by Richard Adams
    Accidentally On Purpose by Mary Pols
    All of Jen Lancaster’s hysterical collection
    Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett
    (There is also a sequel to POTE….Fall Of Giants)
    The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
    And I second The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks. Because you are a survivor of gyn Cancer, you will definitely enjoy Henrietta’s story.


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