I’m a reader. Always have been. I grew up in a family that prized education and books and I had my first library card (a pasteboard affair with a little metal plate embedded in it) before I could actually read. Reading is, and always has been, an activity that gives me tremendous joy.
That’s not to say that all books are equally great. I’ve read (and started, but not finished) some books that just weren’t that good. They may have been someone else’s cup of tea, but for whatever reason, didn’t catch my fancy. It took me YEARS to figure out that was okay (and yes, some of those “this just doesn’t do it for me” books were Very Important Classics of Literature. Looking at you, Scarlet Letter. And you, Wuthering Heights).
I belong to a book club (and it’s a book club that actually reads and discusses the books) and I’ve discovered any number of authors I wouldn’t have read otherwise. For at least the last decade, I’ve kept a “books read” list and it’s interesting to go back to that from time to time – I see patterns there. One year, there were a number of female-written memoirs (Beryl Markham’s West with the Night was a favorite), another year I discovered the “French lifestyle” genre that led to, among other things, the launch of this website. The year before the pandemic struck, I picked up my first Nancy Drew. I read nonfiction, biographies/memoirs, mysteries, fantasy – just about everything in its season. (Including some truly dark fiction – Andrew Vachss is amazing – and graphic novels – pick up Johh Lewis’s March when you can). And I was fortunate to marry a man who spends more time in a bookstore than I do. Then again, he was raised by readers in a house that had Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking placed reverently on a Bible stand. Truly, the twig is bent early.
When I visit someone’s house, you can just about bet I’m scanning the bookshelves. Nowadays, plenty of people read electronically (and I do a bit of that, too), but I still love seeing what a person cares enough about to keep around the house. And, of course, you can find all sorts of gems by browsing your local library.
A “baker’s dozen” of favorites, in no particular order:
- For the title alone, The Official Guide to Christmas in the South, or If You Can’t Fry It, Spraypaint It Gold.
- Just about any Discworld novel by the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett. Best satirist since Jonathan Swift.
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I love nearly everything he’s written, but this one is special.
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Frightening from the first sentence.
- Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore. Another author I love, but this one is, again, something special.
- Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk by Ben Fountain. Prepare to get gut-punched by this one.
- Anything by Mary Roach. She’s an amazingly talented, funny science writer.
- The Most They Ever Had by Rick Bragg. Mill stories written by a man who gets it.
- Skink: No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen if only for the line “Son, if you have any redeeming qualities, now would be the time to inform me of them.”
- The Curse of Beauty by James Bone. You’ve probably never heard of Audrey Munson, but you’ve seen her face – and the rest of her.
- Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. If you’re stumbling forward, you’re headed in the right direction.
- Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey. Just drop everything and read this.
- Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Hubris kills.
Seek joy, Divas!