Book Report: The Reading List

October 20, 2022

Recently I read The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (2021). I am attracted to books about books, bookstores, booksellers, and libraries –both fiction and nonfiction–and this one is a delightful example of that genre. Another example is The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (2021), which is set in a bookstore and is one of my recent favorites. I also remember reading years ago a memoir by the mystery writer Susan Hill, Howard’s End is on the Landing (2009) about the year she read only books she already owned. I could do that, but then I better hurry up and buy the new Maggie O’Farrell and Barbara Kingsolver and…

Back to The Reading List. I loved each of the characters, especially the two main characters. Mukesh is an elderly man who is grieving the death of his wife and Aleisha is a young woman who has a complicated family. They meet at the library where Aleisha has a summer job. A list of books labeled “In case you need it:” appears to both Mukesh and Aleisha as well as other characters and thus begins a reading adventure, but more than that, support and even transformation.

And what a great list this is! I have read each of these books; some, more than once. I love how the lessons and the insights gleaned from these books are woven into the narrative–once again suggesting the power of books and reading.

Thinking about my own “In case you need it list,” I remember a charming illustrated book, My Ideal Bookshelf, Art by Jane Mount, Edited by Thessaly La Force. (2012). Over 100 cultural figures share the books that matter the most to them and why. Here, for example is librarian Nancy Pearl’s bookshelf as depicted by Jane Mount.

I am not familiar with most of Pearl’s choices, and that, of course, could lead to an even longer TBR list.

Here’s doctor and writer Atul Gawande’s shelf. I’ve read more of these books, but this isn’t a contest. Rather, an insight into a person’s life and development.

Naturally, this makes me think about what would be on my shelf. These are a few of the possibilities–novels I have read more than one time and that have impacted my life.

  • Giants in the Earth by Ole Rolvaag
  • All of Jane Austen’s books
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Persuasion by A.S. Byatt
  • A sampling of Nancy Drew books
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I need to stop or I will need a very long and sturdy book shelf.

An Invitation:

What is on your “ideal bookshelf”? I would love to know.

6 thoughts on “Book Report: The Reading List

  1. I’m waiting for The Reading List from the library and am looking forward to reading it. Rather than listing my “ideal bookshelf,” I want to share the literal “ideal bookshelf” I created after my husband of almost 52 years died 16 months ago today. Steve was cremated and I wondered aloud to a dear friend where to keep the box of his ashes until our family could travel to Minnesota to scatter them. She, always wise, suggested that I keep them on a bookshelf surrounded by his favorite books. It was incredibly comforting to me and the books remain, reminding me always of him.

    The books are:
    One Long River of Song (Brian Doyle)
    Mink River (Brian Doyle)
    House (Tracy Kidder)
    Ordinary Grace (William Kent Krueger)
    A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)
    Being Mortal (Atul Gawande)
    God in Search of Man (Abraham Joshua Heschel), the book he was reading the week before he died

    My list would include many of these books, many from Nancy’s list, and others that hold beloved places in my mind and heart. That list, though, is for another day. Thanks for inviting our responses!


  2. So touching. What a wonderful idea–feels not only healing, but also such a life-affirming way of remembering. Thank you for sharing this and God Bless as you continue to feel the loss of your dear Steve. Such wonderful books –I have never read Brian Doyle or the Heschel book –more for my TBR list.


  3. I love books about books, book stores and libraries, too! (I know you’re probably not surprised.) Have you read Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores? That one I really enjoyed – lovely illustrations, too. Oops, I was just going back through your post and I see it in the photo you posted! 🙂 I have not heard of The Reading List. Will have to look into this, as well as some of the other books you mentioned.

    I recently picked up a book at a library book sale called “A Passion for Books” edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan. Haven’t read it yet though, so can’t tell you if it’s good.

    I just picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s new book at the library, as well as the latest by Silas House (another one of my favorite authors – and they’re both from KY). The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favorites.

    I’ve always loved Jane Mount’s book art. Interesting to look at other people’s bookshelves, even in drawings and paintings, isn’t it? I am not familiar with any of the books from Nancy Pearl’s shelf.

    My ideal bookshelf…wow, that’s a toughy! I think mine would be…

    The Egg and I – Betty MacDonald
    Beach Music – Pat Conroy
    Tender at the Bone – Ruth Reichl
    The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
    The Dogs of Babel – Carolyn Parkhurst
    A Parchment of Leaves – Silas House
    The Obituary Writer – Ann Hood
    Three Floors Up – Eshkol Nevo
    The Beekeeper of Aleppo – Christy Lefteri
    When the Heart Waits – Sue Monk Kidd
    The Kitchen Congregation – Nora Seton
    The Susan Branch series of books (A Fine Romance; The Fairy Tale Girl; Martha’s Vineyard – Isle of Dreams)


  4. You just expanded my TBR list!!!!! I am not familiar with Silas House, so will look into him. You scored getting the new Barbara Kingsolver from the library–I am way down on the hold list! That might go on my Christmas wish list. Oh, and the other day when I was doing some cleaning I got distracted by my Susan Branch books.


  5. Thank you Nancy for the invitation. My books would include most of Nancy’s books EXCEPT Grapes of Wrath that I cannot get through. I appreciate ALL the suggestions and will be adding more to my TBR list also.
    These are others on my special shelf that I have read more than once. They are in no particular order although I think Amor Towles is the most amazing contemporary author and I read everything he publishes. I recommend these books for book club discussions (I belong to two) and total enjoyment.
    84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff
    Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
    A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles * best book
    Illusions by Richard Bach
    Ismael by Daniel Quinn
    The Greater Journey by David McCullough
    Meanwhile There are Letters by Eudora Welty & Ross MacDonald
    Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by t.s. eliot
    Pieces of my Heart by Jim Willis
    The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
    The Pillar of the Sky by Cecelia Holland
    Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
    Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Omar Khayyam
    Sir Dudley Tinklebutton and the Dragon’s Lair by T.J. Lantz
    Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
    The Magus by John Fowles
    The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
    One Hundred Names for Love by Diane Ackerman
    The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav
    The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
    The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell – always a favorite at bookclub
    The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald
    Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L’Engle
    When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
    Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life by Miss Piggy
    My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas
    Malcom by James Purdy
    Sarum by Edward Rutherford
    Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
    An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
    Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Kingsolver – everything


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