5 Books I read, Plus 5 Books I’m gonna read.

I read every night before I go to bed.  If I don’t, I feel weird.   Bed and reading go together.  Like peanut butter and jam.  Salt and pepper.  Wigs and kittens.

I used to read every book I picked up from beginning to end regardless of whether I thought it was great or not.  I don’t do that anymore.  If I get 1/4 of  the way through a book and the only reason I want to open it is on the off chance the pages burst into flame like in a magic trick , I know it’s time to take that magic course I always wanted to.  Plus it’s time to get rid of the book.

There are too many good books out there to read, to suffer through something boring, stupid, pretentious, bland or difficult.  The odd time you get these things ALL ROLLED INTO ONE BOOK!  For me that book is often written by  Jonathan Franzen.

The  stack of 5 books below are ones that I’ve read.  It’s  a list that includes both the books I loved and one I gave up on by page 58.

Books I- Read


The Rosie Project is a really fun little book about a professor who may or may not have Aspergers Syndrome.  It’s funny, thoughtful and an easy enjoyable read.

The Book Thief is one of the many books I’ve read that focus on the time during the holocaust.   You need to read this book.  Now.

Secret Daughter is also an easy read and engaging.  The story revolves around a baby who is given up for adoption in India and the lives of her birth parents and adoptive parents.

The Casual Vacancy, by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was about something.  I have no idea what.   I couldn’t force myself past page 58.   J.K. Rowling is an incredibly talented writer whose  book I was hoping  would burst into flames.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy sat on my desk for a year before I read it.  I was a huge Maeve Binchy fan years ago because she is a true storyteller.  But her more recent books seemed to be missing something.  When she died I vowed to read her last story.  And I did. It was a cute, story about a multitude of flawed but likeable characters.  In true Maeve Binchy style.

Gonna Read



These, on the other hand, are the books I’m going to read.  And I’m looking forward to each and every one of them.  Except one.

Don’t Get too Comfortable by David Rakoff is a book I tried to read a year and a half ago but just couldn’t get into.   I didn’t wish flames upon it, I just wasn’t in the right state of mind to read it I think.  Apparently if you like David Sedaris you’ll like David Rakoff.  I happen to love David Sedaris.

N-W by Zadie Smith will be the second novel I’ve read by this British author.  The first was On Beauty which I really liked, but sadly can’t remember a single thing about.  I’m gonna be honest with you.  Of the list of 5 books this one kind of worries me.  Poof!

The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby is another bit of a risk.  When a novel only has 6 reviews on Amazon despite being published 3 years ago … you’ve gotta worry a bit. But an Art of Doing Stuff reader recommended it so I’m givin’ it a shot!

We are Water by  Wally Lamb will be the 3rd novel I’ve read by this American author.  The other two,   I Know this Much is True  and   She’s Come Undone were both pretty darn good. Besides  as a general rule any book with the word “water” in the title can’t burst into flames.  It’s just common sense.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini is the book I’m most looking forward to.  Hosseini has authored  two of the most remarkable novels I’ve read over the past several years;  The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns .  Like his previous two works, this  story takes place in Afghanistan.

Books like any other form of artistic endeavour is very subjective.  You may love it, I may hate it.  But the odd time there are books that are almost universally loved.  If I had to recommend 3 books from these lists they would be A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Book Thief and The Rosie Project.

I really can’t imagine anyone not liking them.

Feel free to leave your comments now telling me all about how you got 1/4 of the way through one of them before it burst into flames.

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  1. marilyn says:

    reading is like breathing..i must do it every day!! the rosie project was fun! the kite runner and a thousand splendid suns were awesome..there are just way too many books out there!

  2. Janet Thomson says:

    Hi Karen
    The Woefield Poultry collective is funny, quick to read, and definately worth your time. Not The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,,,,, just funny and light…. made me want to homestead!! I also loved The Age of Miracles. Stay warm, drink tea and READ!!

  3. ~JackieVB says:

    I’m listening to ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ now, I don’t always go for audio books but I also listened to The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns and they are beautifully done. I’ve been reading the Outlander series and enjoy those as well – they are going to be a (miniseries or regular series don’t know which) on the Starz channel sometime in early spring. Oh and the book that burst into flames was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Except that it didn’t burst into flames like it should have. The first three, maybe four chapters were great but it was like they had a different editor for the rest of the book. It was during a stage where I too was determined to finish a book no matter what. Those days are gone – life is too short.

  4. Donna says:

    I tried to read The Casual Vacancy also–so boring, going no where, skipped to the last few pages and still did not get it!! Will not read her books again. Just read The Orenda by Joseph Boynton and Brain on Fire, both good.

  5. lisa says:

    I think my copy of Casual Vacancy might have actually burst into flames! So disappointed in that book.

    I’ve recently started reading Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian crime fiction author. Very good!

  6. Blaire says:

    Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is my most favorite book of all time. At my suggestion (ok, insistence) my husband read it…….my mom read it……..my dad read it…….they all loved it. My dad even tried to convince a person on a plane to read it when they asked what he was reading. We are all hooked.

  7. Jodi says:

    This means you, Barbie. Listen to Karen. READ READ READ!

  8. Dannie says:

    I love to read. Just like you ladies, I read in bed almost every night. Fave book of all time for me To Kill A Mockingbird. Least fave Catcher in the Rye. But most of my fave books are easy reads ie. Nicholas Sparks, Jude Devereax, Laurell K Hamilton, Kim Harrison. I don’t usually go for thought provoking books. I have to think to much in real life. In a book I just want to run away :)

  9. Jodi says:

    My best friend Sarah and I were lucky enough to briefly meet Markus Zusak during a special screening of the movie adaptation of his wonderful book, “The Book Thief” . It was a moving film but an absolute heartbreaking epic of a book, please go read it now! Karen is right. Markus chatted with one of our local movie reviewers (who was a bit of a douche to be honest – I was sitting there wishing it was someone else asking the questions) and he also answered audience questions, and then patiently signed books for about 1000 people – I’m exaggerating but we were in the back of the very slow line – and he remained focused and gracious the whole time. You have to read this book. And buy it if you can afford to.

  10. Reg says:

    I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner. Looks like I’ll be off to the Library for his newest book.
    Reading in bed is such a guilty pleasure for me. Until I retired from work I couldn’t get past a paragraph or two before falling asleep and then I wouldn’t remember what I read the next time I picked up the same book.
    Reading in bed is right up there with ice-cream and dark chocolate.

  11. Maria says:

    I love Khaled Hosseini! Have read his previous two books and now getting ready to read “And the Mountains Echoed” and next “The Book Thief”!

  12. Do you ever read Philipa Gregory books or Sandra Gulland? Very sexy, sultry romantic … Kings/ Queens / Knights sorta stuff. LOVE. PS. Sandra Gulland lives near Toronto ! Very cool !

    • Karen says:

      LOL. No. Sexy, sultry romantic novels with Kings and Queens aren’t my thing for some reason. I’d rather eat a sandwich and stare at my toes. ~ karen!

  13. Beth says:

    Just finished The Rosie Project…very good and very hard to put down!

  14. Ann says:

    I am so glad to see that someone else thinks the same thing I did about “The Casual Vacancy” I read it a bit more than 58 pages because there was one character I did find I wanted to know more about. The teenage girl. But I still couldn’t finish the book.

    My recommendation is read anything by Barbara Kingsolver. My fav would be “Prodigal Summer” or her only work of non-fiction, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”.

    I guess I need to read/listen to “The Book Thief” I can’t see to read well at night and prefer audio books. But I did just break the rule and read “Hollow City”, the sequel to “Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children”. I could not wait for it to be on audio book, besides there are pictures one must see to totally appreciate the story.

    • Pam W says:

      Oh, I LOVE Barbara Kingsolver! I go back and reread Animal Dreams and The Bean Trees every few years. I adore the tone of her writing. Highly recommended!

      I also have no patience for books that I can’t get into within the first few chapters. I just don’t think reading should be a chore and that’s how some books feel. I am one block away from a library so its easy for me to check out and return books almost daily. (And some books do get returned the next day!) I recently really enjoyed We Are All Completely Ourselves by Karen Fowler. I actually hadn’t heard about the big spoiler in the story so it was a surprise to me.

  15. Jane Snider says:

    I’m reading the Rosie Project right now. Can’t stop laughing out loud. That’s my basic criteria for books these days. Got Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy for Christmas. Also laugh out loud silly.

  16. Beckie says:

    The Red Queen (The Cousins’ War #2) Philippa Gregory

    I forced myself through about 2/3’rds and one day when I sat down to my daily torture, I realized I truly didn’t CARE how it ended.

    I pulled out my book marker and filed the book on the shelf

    I’ve enjoyed other books she wrote, just not this one

    I’ve chosen to read the Harry Potter series this year. I think I’ve only read 4 of the 7 books (might be 4-1/2, I don’t remember now where I stopped reading them)

    Wally Lamb is awesome…love his stuff

  17. Jen says:

    Have you ever read Women who Run with the Wolves? That is a book I keep going back to. It’s got short stories/fables, then explains the lesson that we can draw from the story. It’s a really good read.

  18. Suzanne @ Le Farm says:

    If you’re ever in Knoxville, TN, you have to stop at McKay Used books…a literal mini-mall of books, cd’s, dvd’s, you name it. You’ll want to put up a tent and stay, seriously. Take a peek: http://www.mckaybooks.com/

  19. Tigersmom says:

    I actually got to meet David Sedaris at a book signing he did. He was so incredibly gracious. He arrived early and stayed late and made sure he spoke for a few moments with everyone who wanted a book signed. And he signed multiple books, too.

    If you ever go to a book signing of his, he will ask you to tell him your favorite joke, so be prepared.

    • Adrienne in Atlanta says:

      A friend of mine waited hours in line to meet him and apparently that night he was asking what their favorite book was (of his, apparently). She replied The Santaland Diaries, and he told her that was his least favorite. She was mortified, but I suspect he was just looking for reactions from people. :)

      I heard on NPR that he got the newest book title from a book signing due to an odd request from a lady in line to have a specific message inscribed. Hence “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls”.

  20. Bonnie says:

    I totally agree about letting go of the books that just aren’t “doing it” for you. Thnaks for the recommendations and warnings!

  21. Jody says:

    Perfect timing. I’ll be finishing The Thornbirds soon and having been looking for a new book to read. It’s interesting re reading The Thornbirds after 30 years of living/maturing.

  22. BurbHappy says:

    I agree that The Casual Vacancy was not a favorite. However, Cuckoo’s Calling, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, was soo much better.

  23. LaineyDid says:

    I second the “the Goldfinch” recommendation. Also, “The Signature of all Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Both books are very engrossing and hard to put down.

  24. Adrienne in Atlanta says:

    David Sedaris and David Rakoff are both great choices, but when you can get their audiobooks, it’s always a better experience. I highly recommend googling Rakoff’s This American Life reading of The Scorpion and the Tortoise. It’s excellent and moving. A year or so before his death, he also performed a segment in the TAL movie which you can find on YouTube. He was wonderfully, subtly expressive.

    If you can catch Sedaris on a book tour, his readings are so fun to attend.

    My favorite recommendation of yours ever was The Night Circus — excellent — even though I am not usually one for anything so magical.

    Love the book posts and the conversation that ensues. ;) Good move in this weather!

    • Annie says:

      I second David Sedaris. The only author on the planet that makes me laugh out loud while reading. I also recommend seeing him live – there’s nothing like it. My favorite is Me Talk Pretty One Day.

  25. Tris says:

    Huge Binchy fan here. I haven’t read the last one yet because I’m still angry about her dying. I do agree that the modern setting books aren’t quite as good as the ones set in the past. Maeve had a way of making you fall in love with her characters. Copper Beech and Light a Penny Candle were my favorites. Heck, I even named a cat after her! Another author that gets me is Christopher Moore. Lamb makes me laugh through almost every paragraph.

  26. Ileana says:

    Hi Karen,
    If you like David Sedaris, you might like Sarah Vowell. She’s one of my favorites, blending witty with facts. (Also, I believe they are friends in real life)
    Love your blog!

    • Adrienne in Atlanta says:

      She’s another great one to listen to. Her tiny voice belies her brilliant brain. Saw her on the Daily Show once and people started laughing the minute she opened her mouth, even though she was just answering a simple question. The girl is deadpan.

  27. Call Me Patty says:

    I just finished And The Mountains Echoed, LOVED, LOVED LOVED it. As I did Kite Runner. Thanks for the list Karen.

  28. Judith says:

    I love your book posts! Thanks to you my BIGRL (Books I’ve Gotta Read List) just keeps growing. Just like you, I’m looking the most forward to Hosseini’s ‘And the Mountains Echoed’. His first two books were so moving and were unlike anything I’d read.

  29. Pat green says:

    Great recommendations, thanks. I’d like to add a brilliant book by William Boyd called Any Human Heart.

  30. Abby says:

    I got the Kindle edition of The Rosie Project on special after Christmas and it’s next on my list. I also got The Casual Vacancy in audiobook form a while back and gave up on it because I hated the narrator’s voice and the story wasn’t interesting enough to me to finish the book.

  31. Lindsay H. says:

    I loved We Are Water. I can’t quite explain why, but it stuck with me. It had just enough intrigue, plus Wally Lamb does what he does best: narrating the intricacies of families.

  32. Janet says:

    On your recommendation I read Night Circus. Absolutely loved it and passed it on to someone who also absolutely loved it. Now in New Zealand we have the winner of the Man Booker prize 2013, so to you and everyone else reading this, I recommend you read Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries”. [Warning it is long – 828 pages of clever clever writing]

    • Julie says:

      I second The Luminaries, it took me a little while to get going but once I was in, I couldn’t put it down! Great timing on this post; I’ve been trying to decide what to read next & seeing as we have a few favourite books in common, I trust your recommendations. Now to choose one…

  33. Auntiepatch says:

    I read 4-5 books a week. I get samples on my Kindle before I buy a book and that helps weed out the “dogs”. The one time I got burned was when a new book came out by J.K. Rollins called “The Cuckoo’s Calling”. I LOVED the Harry Potter books so I figured what the heck, how could it be bad? I slogged my way through this murder/mystery and at the end I didn’t care WHO killed the Cuckoo; I just wanted the book to end. Unless she does another HP, I’m done with JK.

    If you want to get HOOKED on a series try Archer Mayor. His books all take place in Bellows Falls, Vermont and the Northeast. Mayor’s hero is an every day cop with no budget, old equipment, and a love for law enforcement. I’ve read at least a dozen of his books and they keep me turning pages until the very end (usually at about 3 am). DON’T start one if you don’t have the time to finish it! You won’t be sorry.

  34. Lauren from Winnipeg says:

    How funny that The Rosie Project is on your list. I just finished it today. I also enjoyed Secret Daughter and I have to agree with you about Casual Vacancy. I finished it, but it was a struggle. Disappointing considering how much I love Harry Potter.

    A couple of recent interesting reads were The Dinner by Herman Koch (very different and a little weird) and The Witch Doctor’s Wife.

    I have also been reading everything by Jhumpa Lahiri.

    I read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese a while ago, but it is excellent! Probably one of my favourites.

    I also don’t understand not reading before going to sleep.

  35. Melissa L. says:

    I echo just about everything you said… What was that Franzen horror eons ago? The Corrections? I absolutely forced myself to finish it. But, like you, The Casual Vacancy, alas, lies unfinished in my kindle library. Perhaps it’s maturing, and stamping our little feet and saying, “Why should I waste my precious time on this drivel?” Read every Binchy starting when I was pretty young. Hosseini makes me weep. Love, love, love a good book. (Have you read The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye?)

  36. Jasmine says:

    If I don’t read in bed before I go to sleep, I can’t sleep. I have been married 26 years and two or three times a week my husband will say to me “Are you reading again tonight?”. Sometimes when I have a really heavy book I will let it fall on him. I just finished a mother of heavy books ‘Pillars of the Earth’. Very heavy. Great book though.

  37. Noelle says:

    I’m a sucker for Maeve Binchy, I’m not sure I have that one. Hmm

  38. Stephanie says:

    Dont know if this is your cup of tea, but try: The Good Good Pig, by Sy Montgomery

  39. Sue says:

    I haven’t had as much time to read this past year as usual, but I did read “We Are Water”, and I really liked it. “The Book Thief” has been on my list for a while. I hope I’ll finally get to it this year. I’m also a Goodreads member, but I use it mostly to keep track of books that I want to read, or have read, even so, I’m behind. It’s great, there’s a phone app that can scan isbn codes so you can look up reviews wherever you are, and then it’s an easy step to save the book to your “shelf”, and you can set up all sorts of different lists.

  40. Marti says:

    I had to google Franzen and what comes up? “Oprah’s Book Club” and “Chinese Author Guo says American Lit is ‘MASSIVELY OVERRATED.’ ” Hahaha! I learn so much from your blog, Karen. Always such great insight!

  41. Susan R says:

    Karen, no Robertson Davies? My all time favorite author. Amazon just delivered The Accidental Anarchist, Night and I Am Malala. I’ll let you know.

    • Karen says:

      LOL. Well no, but these aren’t the only 10 books I’ve ever read! I do love Robertson Davies. Always have. Ask my mom. She’ll tell you. ~ karen

  42. Tracie says:

    Well, I found hard covers of The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns at a book sale my bank was having, for two bucks each! Great right? I lent them both to my mother, who was visiting a friend about an hours drive from me, as she really needed reading material. She found them boring! And then the friend picked up and moved away! I’ve been looking for Lonesome Dove in the used book stores, but no luck yet. Just finished Minding Frankie, by Maeve Binchy. Just starting Voyager of the Outlander series, third in. Need to write down some of these titles, Lord knows I can’t rely on my memory these days….Thanks!

  43. Julie says:

    You must, I mean absolutely must read Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It is dangerous because you will not be to turn out your light and go to bed!

  44. Valerie says:

    I am also a voracious reader. If I happen to get a book that I am having trouble getting into I go to a site called Goodreads.com. It is so very tempting to go there before I start a book but I resist. That site reviews countless books and gives an overall synopses. What follows is a one to five star rating from their various “readers” and if there are “spoilers” that give too much away by the reviewer then that fact precedes their review. To be a good bed reader one MUST have a perfect light source – a little from the left if you are right handed and a little from the right if you are left handed.
    Besides Scandinavian mystery writers whom I adore, one of my favourite authors is Ian McEwan. He wrote Atonement and his latest is Sweet Tooth with which I was intrigued. He always plants a tiny bomb early on in his novels and although he has prepared you it is always a surprise when it finally explodes.

  45. Sara says:

    The Book Thief is in my top 5 books of all time! I am a very picky reader, probably because I have read sooo much. The other 4 of those 5 are: City of Thieves (David Benioff), The Secret History (Donna Tartt), A Reliable Wife (Robert Goolrick) and The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay).

    Very nearly making the top 5 are: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith), Perfume (Patrick Süskind), Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy), The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy) and Rules of the Wild (Francesca Marciano).

    Looks like maybe I have a top ten. My top twenty really are all stellar books. I am very picky, so you should really consider all of these as potential time-eaters. I can’t wait to get my hands on a few of your rect..it’s so deliciously escapist!

    • Karen says:

      I’ve read many on your list and especially loved The Secret History and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. My time devoted to Russian authors began and ended with Crime and Punishment I’m afraid. Never, ever, again. Ever. Again. ever ~ karen!

      • Sara says:

        Well, that’s why the joke, right? To recommend is the crime, to read is the punishment. That’s a rough one. For sure read the City of Thieves and A Reliable Wife if you haven’t yet!

      • Becky says:

        City of Thieves was very good!

      • Bols says:

        I have to admit that Crime and Punishment is not an easy read but it IS an excellent book. You will miss out on a lot if you exclude all Russians based on innocent Myshkin (well, Dostojevskij – whatevere the English transcription of his name is).
        You may find it hard to believe but War and Peace (all thousand pages of it) is a stellar book.

        • Karen says:

          My judge of whether something is an excellent book for me is whether I think at the end, “I’m glad I read that”. I was not glad I read Crime & Punishment. I was glad it was over. ~ karen

    • Monica says:

      Just wanted to say I am shopping on kobo right now for your recommendations, since I loved ‘Perfume’, ‘The Secret History’, and ‘The God of Small Things’.
      I’ll also add my voice to all the fans of ‘The Goldfinch’. That’s my audiobook right now, and I’ll admit to lingering over washing the dishes and sitting in my parked car just to hear more.

  46. Pat says:

    I just finished reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee which I read way back in high school. I think it is an important, thought provoking book to read because of it’s social commentary which still applies today.

  47. Maggie V says:

    I belong to a book club and The Book Thief, Secret Daughter, The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns as well as And The Mountains Echoed were read by us and I loved each and every book. Good Picks Karen.

  48. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I read at bedtime too which is about to happen now..nite nite and thanks for the book suggestions..

  49. Barbie says:

    YOur such a crack up! Isn’t “The Book Thief” out in theaters / theatre soon? I thought I heard that from my daughter the other day. I want to SEE it so bad. Now if I read the book the movie just won’t be good to me at all though.

  50. Dana says:

    I loved The Book Thief, and The Rosie Project is up next for my book club. We’ll be discussing The Curiosity this week– should make for some heated discussion about science and morality.

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