Other Recommended books

Recommendations from a non-blogger #2

You may remember the wonderful guest post in which Heidi recommended her favourite books. I loved it so much, that I would like to make this a regular (monthly?) feature on my blog.

This month I’m featuring Susan, another regular reader of my blog. Susan has lived in Texas all her life. She is a retired teacher sharing an apartment with 2500 books.  She spends much of her time reading — about 80 to 100 books year.

Here are her favourite books: 


Regeneration by Pat Barker  

Dr. W. H. R. Rivers is one of my favorite fictional/historical characters.   I love the other two books in the trilogy as well, but my interest in the poetry of that period always brings me back to this one.


Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry   

The contrasts are startling . . . light and dark, young and old, the ancient ways and the hints of modern times, the deformed old hag of a woman and Sebastian Barry’s graceful, lyrical prose.   My favorite thing about the book is that the mysteries involving the children are never solved — there is no sentimentality here, no false happy ending.   Who but Barry could tell this story?   The older I get, the more the story means to me, the closer I feel to Annie, the more grateful I am to Sebastian Barry for giving us this beautiful story.


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Didion’s writing — her distinctive literary voice — has been part of my world since I read Play It As It Lays in 1971.   I was just out of college and that book, together with Didion’s essays, had a profound influence on my literary taste and outlook.   Now, all these years later — as I face the death of my parents and my own problems with aging — there is Didion again with this gift of a book to light my way.


The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Levi the chemist and Levi the master storyteller and Levi the Holocaust survivor combine to give us twenty-one tales — each named for a chemical element — that weave memoir and imagination and humor and terror and science and remembrances of friends long departed.  These stories aren’t easy — you have to work at them sometimes — but the rewards are beyond measure.


So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

This is a book about the hold that the past has over us, the way the fragments of childhood memories and dreams haunt us long after we are grown and life has taken us — or so we thought anyway — far from home and the child we used to be.


The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

The main character is Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant to the United States.  He has come to that place where all immigrants must come — that threshold where he is neither Ethiopian nor American.   The neighborhood he lives in, like the young man, is caught between cultures  — an old, rather poor part of Washington, D. C., that has been discovered by the developers who are evicting the poor and creating lofts and houses for a wealthier clientele.   Sepha’s relationships — with the customers in his small grocery store, with a wealthy woman who has moved into one of the new houses, with the woman’s biracial daughter, and perhaps best of all, with other young immigrants from Africa — reveal so much about him, and about all the people who struggle to find a home, to make a place for themselves.   The young author has taken on so much in this first novel and the result is a brave book, a work of incredible beauty.  


The Habit of Being by Flannery O’Connor

I owned this book for many years before I found the nerve to begin.  I feared that the collected letters of a writer whose work I barely knew would be tedious and full of references I wouldn’t understand.   Eventually I set myself the task of reading a few of the letters each day.   Rather quickly it came to be my favorite part of the day and though there were times I wanted to go ahead and read them all in one weekend, I realized how lost I’d be without her letters to inspire and delight and illuminate, so I continued to ration them, five or six a day.   In a way, I think Flannery became my best friend for awhile and I missed her terribly when the letters came to an end.   She died in 1964 at age 39.  


The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

This is a story about memory and family and numbers and — please don’t let this put you off — baseball.   The numbers and baseball are important but not in the way you might think.    What matters here are the characters and the bond they develop despite an enormous challenge they must overcome every 80 minutes. A beautiful book. 


Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

It’s just what it sounds like: the local Red Lobster is closing and the manager and his staff are dealing with their regular duties, customers, a snowstorm, the Christmas holidays and their feelings about being unemployed or demoted or having to change jobs.   Not much of a story really and yet I admire this book so much.  I think Stewart O’Nan captures the reality of such a place and of the people who work there.   There’s no condescension in this book, just quiet empathy.  


One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty

This is a lovely remembrance of the early influences on the career of a great American storyteller, her own account of how she developed as a writer.   The three parts of the book are:  Listening, Learning to See, Finding a Voice.   The passage in part one about Eudora as a little girl, sitting on the stairs buttoning her shoes, listening to her parents — one upstairs, one down — whistling to one another, is amazing,  something I go back to again and again.

This is a fantastic list, but although many are buried in my TBR pile, I haven’t read any of them yet. I will make the effort to seek out as many as I can and make reading them a priority.

Thank you so much Susan!

Have you read any of the books on this list?

Are any in your top ten list?

43 replies on “Recommendations from a non-blogger #2”

Stephanie, I love the title of that book! I am very intrigued by it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

Lezlie, I have the Periodic Table in my TBR pile. I do love challenging reads, but have been put off by the subject matter in the past. This post has persuaded me to dig it out of the pile and give it a try!

I’ve read The Ghost Road by Pat Barker– I can see how another of her novels could be a favorite!

Also, I really want to read more Flannery O’Connor. Maybe her letters are what should be next!

What an awesome spotlight! May I perhaps steal it from you in the future? ;p

She, I haven’t read anything by Pat Barker yet, but I think I have a few of her books (I end up accumulating Booker authors!) I look forward to trying her soon.

Flannery O’Connor is a name which keeps being mentioned, but I haven’t read any. I’m not sure whether to start with the letters (I don’t think I’ve read a book of letters before) or something else. I guess it will be whatever I manage to find first!

You are welcome to steal my idea – there are a lot of non-bloggers in the world!

Such a unique list! I haven’t read any of these novels and would like to. Especially The Periodic Table. I’ve never read anything about Primo Levi but know a lot about him because of a class I took last semester on exile literature. We talked about Primo Levi but never read anything by him (because it was a class on Spanish Civil War exile). The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears sounds really interesting! And the title is so beautiful!

Lu, I know! It is a fantastic list! She makes it all sound so good! I don’t know where to start and am tempted to go and buy them all now!

diane, I love the fact that non-bloggers seem to come up with a list of books that we haven’t heard of. It is great to add new titles to the blogging world!

I had an insane amount of fun doing my weekly “Best Of” posts of all my non-blogging friends and family. And I learned alot about them that I didn’t know! I love this list of books. I’ve not read one of them, but know enough to know that this is a reader with great taste!

Sandy, It is amazing how you just know that you will enjoy this selection of books without having read any of them – they all sound like things I’d enjoy. I look forward to finding out how much I enjoy them.

I love a good annotated list, and this one was marvelous! The only one I’ve read is The Habit if Being, which I think I would have enjoyed a lot more if it wasn’t a library book I was rushing through. 😉 But I love Welty, and a few of the other titles are already on various challenge lists of mine!

Eva, Yes, The Habit of Being does sound like something you should read slowly. I hate it when I have to rush a book for a deadline. I’m pleased that you like the list!

I love One Writer’s Beginnings! I’ve never seen anyone else mention it. It is one of those special finds deep in a dusty bookstore and how I found it just adds to its beauty.

Kim, I love books with a story! I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this one. I hope I can find a copy!

Really a great idea. I loved Susan’s recommendations, although I have neither of them on my TBR list. I read one Eudora Welty novel this summer, and have another Flannery O’Connnor novel than is mentioned here on my TBR.

Louise, It is a great list! I’ll go and seek out your Welty review now (assuming there is one!) I look forward to finding out if you enjoyed it.

What an excellent idea for a feature! Annie Dunne sounds particularly good. I’ve read some of Sebastian Barry’s plays and really loved his writing. Thank you, Susan and Jackie!

Nymeth, I have The Secret Scripture on the shelves, but his other books sound great too. I hadn’t heard of this one before.

I’m ashamed that I hadn’t heard any of those books apart from The Housekeeper and the Professor. Maybe book bloggers do read the from a certain pool of books. Like you I want to read The Secret Scripture by Barry, but I hadn’t heard of this one before. From the short descriptions, I’m interested to read the book by Dinaw Mengestu.

mee, I do think that the same books go round the blogging world. I think if I asked everyone who has commented on this post to name their top ten books there would be a lot of overlap. It is so refreshing to get lists from non-bloggers – hopefully I’ll be able to add to the blogging pool at bit!

Jackie, thank you for posting my list. And thanks to all the readers who posted comments — you’ve really ‘made my day’. I hope my list is helpful to you.

A few comments:

Annie Dunne is part of the family you meet in another of Sebastian Barry’s books, A Long, Long Way — she’s a young girl in that novel, which is set during WWI. Another beautiful Barry book. He really is a treasure, isn’t he?

“The beautiful things that heaven bears” is a line from Dante’s Inferno, spoken as he emerges from hell.

Flannery O’Connor ended one of her letters (to another writer) with the words: “Send me a story of yours.” I think that’s what book blogging is about — sending each other stories, which, to my mind, is one of the most loving things we can do.

In Barry Lopez’s book, Crow and Weasel, one of the characters, Badger, tells her guests:

“The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves. One day you will be good storytellers. Never forget these obligations.”

Thank you all. As Flannery says at the end of another letter:

I am most grateful to you and steadied by you.


Thank you so much for creating this list – it is so refreshing to see a new list of books.

I think most people have heard of A Secret Scripture, but I don’t think I’ve seen any of his other books mentioned before. Should we read A Long, Long Way first?

I love the quotes you’ve chosen! Thanks again!

I don’t think it’s necessary to read A Long, Long Way before you read Annie Dunne. Just as I don’t think you have to read The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty before you read The Secret Scripture. The books stand on thei own. If you like Annie Dunne, you may want to explore her family history a bit more and you can read A Long, Long Way.
Each book adds depth to the other, no matter in what order you read them.

This is a great list and I have noted down a few of them for the next time I trot to the book store. Some of the titles are delightful “The Habit of Being” how thought provoking is that!
So, thank you Susan for taking time to share your favourites list and thank you Jackie for going with the idea for this post, I really enjoyed it.

Kim, I agree – the titles are wonderful! It is great when you want to read the book based on the title alone – especially when the contents turns out to be wonderful too! I hope you enjoy the books!

A Bookshelf Monstrosity, It is great to hear that you enjoyed it. I am very drawn towards that book. I really hope I find a copy soon.

I’ve only read Annie Dunne and The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears. I liked Annie, but Beautiful Things? Not so much. I have another one of Barry’s books on my shelf…The Secret Scripture.

softdrink, I think you’ve read more than most people. I’m sad to hear that you didn’t enjoy Beautiful Things – it sounds so good. I have Secret Scripture on my shelf too. I hope to get to it soon.

Dot, I have had the Regeneration books on my shelves for ages – I have no idea why I haven’t got round to them yet – I really should!

How lovely to give non-bloggers a voice on your blog!! I love it. I would look forward to reading more of these posts. The only I read was Joan Didion’s “The Year Of Magical Thinking.” I’ve actually been thinking of rereading it as I lost my dad in August and thought of this book quite often. I’m sure it would resonate a lot more with me now than it did when I first read it.

Jenners, I’m pleased that you enjoyed this post and I really hope that rereading Magical Thinking is a good experience for you.

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