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. gogothrift@etsy.com says:

    Just finished The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love,which I did not read)
    LOVED IT!!
    Now reading Goldfinch by Diana Tartt…..LOVING IT!!

    will try The Book Thief when I’m done, thanks for the suggestion

  2. I just finished ” a Year in Provence” by David Mayle and it was great. It’s about a British family relocating to France and all of the situations they get into while settling in. You feel like you are there with them! He has about 5 books.

  3. Tracy Wasser says:

    One book I recommend to everyone is Insane City by Dave Barry – it is hilarious!!!

  4. korrine says:

    I, too, am a bedtime reader. Even if I go out and get piss drunk I will literally read with one eye for as long as I can before I pass out. I will then re-read that portion the next night.

  5. Jodi T. says:

    I have about a gazillion books listed (somewhere) that I want to read. I’ll be adding the last three you mentioned…. Isn’t it you who recommended Water for Elephants? I think it was, and THAT is one of my most favorite books ever. Love it. I had my Mom and my Great-Grandmother read it and they loved it as much as I did.

    Thanks for the recs! I know where I’m going during lunch. 😉

  6. Robin says:

    I’m in to two series – one by Louise Penny – it’s about a chief of police in Canada and a little fictional town “Three Pines”. Wonderful – funny, suspenseful! The second series – Chet and Bernie mysteries. Very funny – narrated by Chet the dog.

    Also, loved A Thousand Splendid Suns and the Book Thief – they are both in my top five. The others in my top five are by Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer.
    Oh, and also, Cutting for Stone was great!

  7. Patti says:

    I started The Book Thief but it wasn’t really doing it for me, so it’s one of those books I just walked away from. Should I go back and pick it up?

    • Karen says:

      Yup. I did the very same thing. I picked it up at … well … let’s call it a dark time in my life, lol and I just didn’t care about it. Plus the first few pages made it seem like it was going to be … I don’t know … odd. But it isn’t odd, it’s a fantastic book. Definitely try it again. ~ karen!

  8. Marilyn says:

    Lonesome Dove is my all time favorite book.
    Also enjoyed The Goldfinch. The Mountains Echoed was my least favorite of Hosseini’s books. Loved A Thousand Splendid Suns.
    So many books so little time!

  9. Cathy says:

    Hi Karen, I’m curious if you ever read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I loved it and from your list I think you would too!

  10. Mindy says:

    The Kite Runner was hands down one of my favorite books. I have the second one sitting in my room, ready for me to pounce. And then I can read the third. You know, when my three kids are in college. I’m gonna pin your other faves to my “Books I Wanna Read” Pinterest board.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I wholeheartedly endorse the philosophy of quitting a book if you’re not enjoying it. I think it’s interesting how many of us haven’t allowed ourselves to do that until well into adulthood. I’m a librarian and when I tell kids that it’s perfectly okay to stop and put a book down if you don’t like it (as long as it’s not for a school assignment) they look at me like I’m trying to set them up for something.

    Anyway, my biggest recommendation from 2013 was Tell The Wolves I’m Home. It’s pretty much perfect.
    I also second all the love for Goodreads. Sadly, my “to read” list is going to take me years to get through at this point, and I add to it almost daily. One of the perils of working surrounded by books all day. If only I could read at work…

  12. Jennifer S says:

    I read The Book Thief years and years ago and loved it so much! That author has another book that I’ve read and was really good too. I also am a fan of David Sedaris, so maybe I’ll pick up that Rakoff book, or at least add it to my list. All of my reader friends who aren’t in a writing program (like me, currently) are in love with all of Wally Lamb’s books. Will definitely be sitting down with them once I graduate!

  13. Deb Booth says:

    If you are looking for recommendations for books to put on your ‘to read’ list, I have a doozy for ya – “Wonder” by R. L. Palacio – just finished it yesterday. Classified as YA, it’s really for everyone who has a beating heart, I think. I laughed, I cried, and I loved the characters, the storyline and the different perspectives used to tell the story. if I had six thumbs, A) I would be awesome, B) I’d be categorized as deformed and C) they would ALL be up for this book. “Wonder” *is* a wonder. Wonder-filled, and wonderful. Highly, highly recommend.

  14. Laura says:

    Have you read anything by Alan Bradley? I LOVE his books, and the fact that he’s Canadian! They’re mysteries. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is his first in the Flavia series and is great. She’s an 11-year-old heroine who mixes poison on her room. LOVE her!

  15. Karen Dyck says:

    I just thought I’d weigh in with a few added suggestions, not already mentioned. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Both are full of quirky characters and very interesting and unusual situations. The first is very humorous, the second very touching. Enjoy. Thanks for this. very interesting book discussion. I’m always trolling for ideas. I’m not happy unless I have books piling up in drifts in the corner, waiting to be read. Now the piles are digital ones, usually.

  16. Diana says:

    The Book Thief is so great, I cried a 100times. Was not able to finish the book. Hold it in my hands, turned it around…
    I know, what a lot of people think about us germans, but I`m the 2nd generation after all and both of my grandfathers and my father in law lost everything as refugees. Home, beloved ones and identity.

    I would add The Hunger Angel by Herta Mueller.

  17. SarahP says:

    Okay – my next book is The Rosie Project – too many recommendations to deny. Thanks everyone

  18. Trish says:

    I love a good murder mystery and Louise Penny is currently the author of choice. Once I start reading her b00ks set in Three Pines I’m gone….laundry, tv, dinner, sleep – everything is put on hold. I’m just waiting for the last book in the series…impatiently I might add.

  19. Mary Jane says:

    Wow, lots of good recommendations! My favourite book ever, is Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskill. I love mid 19th Century literature and read all of the Bronte , Jane Austin and Elizabeth Gaskill books every few years. Villette is a book that takes a long time to get into but by the end of it you come to appreciate the depth of it.

  20. Tanis says:

    It seems like I’m part of a small minority- I didn’t mind A Casual Vacancy. Yes, it was hard to get into, but it was like one of those movies where everyone’s life is connected and you don’t know how until the end (like Love Actually).

    Right now I’m enjoying the Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I’ve liked all of Kate Morton’s books so far.

  21. Laura Bee says:

    Thanks for the list. Wish you’d warned me about Franzen earlier. I mostly read during my 1/2 hr lunch break & it has tken me months to get through 2/3 of The Corrections. (I took a month off to crochet for Christmas)
    Sigh…Maybe I’ll bring it home & just get it over with in a night or two.

  22. Charlotte W says:

    I have been enjoying your blog for awhile now and never felt compelled to comment, but when I read your thoughts on Casual Vacancy I had to reach out to give you a cyber high five or something of equal awesomeness because I too could not finish that book. I think I made it about as far and decided I would enjoying lying in bed staring at my ceiling more than I would enjoy reading another page of that book.

  23. stephanie says:

    Oh Canada! The Hosseni is good, but not as good as the first two….felt like he rushed to finish the ending. I’m currently 89% of the way through The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt….excellent, long but excellent!

  24. Gina S. says:

    Great list of books. Many of my favorites were on here….Let me add a few that haven’t been mentioned…among my top reads from last years’ pile…
    Dirty Love: Andre Dubus III;
    Men we Reaped:A Memoir: Jesmyn Ward;
    Eleanor and Park: Rainbow Rowell;
    Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Karen Russell;
    The Emperer of All Maladies: Siddharta Mukherjee;
    Deep in the Shade of Paradise: John Dufresne….

    and some twisted detective series: Sara Gran’s Claire Dewitt series, and John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep series.
    Happy reading!

  25. Adel says:

    I say you have to give A Casual Vacancy another try. I lost a whole weekend to reading, and consequently being depressed after reading this book, but a good book should make you feel like you want to kill yourself, shouldn’t it?

  26. Annie says:

    Yet another reason to love a kindle – get a sample to see if you like it before you spend the money! I like to use the library too, but I’ve recently moved to BFE, and they don’t have that many books here…

  27. Janet says:

    Oh boy, I’m a bed time reader, too….if I don’t read, however tired I am, I don’t sleep….it’s the only thing that will turn my brain off long enough to relax and get into sleep mode. Ok, so I tried reading the new J.K.Rowlings book too. I struggled for at least 58 pages….kept thinking something MUST be wrong with me…..Nope, you didn’t like it either…I am SO GLAD I’M OK!!!! Thanks, Karen, whew… I live another day, knowing not every book should be on my “must read”. Just knowing how many books there are out there and so little time I have to read them all….and the amount grows by probably thousands a day….going to the library makes my headache trying to figure out which books I should choose….I listen to books on my mp3 player while I work, I listen to them in the car…. well, now you can see why I need to turn my brain off by reading, before I can sleep. So, thanks again.

  28. Kristin says:

    I read The Casual Vacancy and found it hard to get into at first, but soldiered on because it was a Christmas gift from my Harry Potter-loving daughter. I wanted to like it, and I was determined to read it. Once I got past the first several chapters, the story started to grip me. I ended up in tears, blubbering like a baby, and I definitely liked it. Not the way I loved Harry Potter, but I still found it very moving. It is nothing at all like her children’s books.

    The late David Rakoff is funny, but I wouldn’t say he was as funny as David Sedaris. He brought more poignancy and less hyperbole to his prose. I read Don’t Get Too Comfortable and liked it, but it didn’t have me embarrassing myself in public by laughing out loud on a train like Me Talk Pretty One Day.

    Oh, another book I recommend for sheer tears-running-down-your-cheeks humor is, well, most anything by Bill Bryson. Neither Here Nor There is about his travels in Europe, and is wonderful. I’m a Stranger Here Myself is about his return, after 25 years or so in England, to the U.S., and all the differences between the two cultures, which he comments on with his particular breed of wit.

    I plan to buy The Rosie Project immediately on my new Kindle.

    • TucsonPatty says:

      I’m in the minority, also, about “The Casual Vacancy” I liked it very much. It reminded me of my first Maeve Binchy book “The Lavender Bus” where each viewpoint depends upon the character speaking…you wouldn’t be amiss in trying it again. That being said, it was not my favorite of her books.
      I have been on a spurt lately, and just finished “In the Woods” by Tana French, and am looking forward to reading the next two of her books.
      I read “The Book Thief” and am now unsure if I want to see the movie – I never want to spoil my impressions of the characters as I have imagined them. I also have another recommendation – a biography. “A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor” by Caroline Stoessinger. This amazing pianist is now 110 years old and lives by herself in London, still playing piano every day. She has the most uplifting attitude toward life and gratefulness and music.
      I have read many of your recommended books over the years, and now have another unending list of books to read. Thanks. I love your recommendations.

      • Karen says:

        No problem! (but I definitely won’t be rereading “the book” tho, lol. I never read harry potter so it’s not like I’m comparing … i just really didn’t like it. And I really wanted to.) And it turns out my sister who reads everything, all the time, non stop liked The Casual Vacancy. ~ karen!

  29. Stephbo says:

    Congratulations on getting to page 58 of Casual Vacancy. I don’t think I got past page 10. It was awful. I hated every second of time I spent trudging through it. My only concern about it bursting into flame is that I don’t want the fire spreading to my other beloved books.

  30. Kelly says:

    I have SO much to learn from you, Karen. I love to read and, coincidentally, just published the list of my next 10 books on my blog. Clearly, I should have edited the reviews down a considerable amount. As to previous all time favourites, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is up there for sure, along with My Side of The Mountain (a kids’ book but excellent), The Hunger Games and Suzanne Collins other series, which are technically kids’ books in the same way Harry Potter was, The Last Confederate Widow Tells All, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. These all stick in my mind, while others just fade away.

  31. Cred says:

    I love these posts- I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like but have been making it a priority lately. I was in need of some good suggestions= thank you.
    Let us know how you liked the Woefield Poultry Collective- I wanted to love this book but it was one that I had to put down only a few chapters in. Recently, like you, I stopped reading books right to the bitter end if I’m not enjoying them. So, I didn’t stop on a whim- I can’t recall why I didn’t like but just didn’t.

  32. Sheila says:

    Couldn’t get past the obligatory page 58 on EITHER The Book Thief OR The Casual Vacancy. Guess with JK Rowling, I was too used to her Harry Potter books. She just seemed that she wanted to get too much crotch talk in her newest book just to prove that she could write something else. The other one (Book Thief) just didn’t do anything for me. Oh well………..

  33. Gina S. says:

    Speaking of books, just nabbed 8 audiobooks for 6 bucks on http://www.humblebundle.com compatible with Mp3 players and audio capable kindles…..now if I can just figure out how to download etc…..I’m not very technical….but there are some good books in this “bundle” (Dave Eggers, Salman Rushdie, Piers Anthony…)

  34. Deb says:

    I’m halfway through “The Rosie Project” (bought it yesterday afternoon) and have laughed so hard! With the exception of a few specifics, it’s identical to my courtship and life with my Aspie! Sometimes I want to throw in the towel, as it’s exhausting to deal with him on a daily basis, but what can I say…I love him. He is who he is and can be no other way. Thanks for recommending this book, Karen! When I’m frustrated to the max with him, I’ll remember some of the scenes in this jewel of a book, and perhaps be a bit more tolerant of his very special traits. 😉

  35. Rachel says:

    I read Casual Vacancy a few weeks ago. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was very different than what the book actually is. That said, it’s still a good book. When I was describing it to my husband he said it sounded like a Coen brother’s movie, which I’d agree with. If you can push through to about 100 pages in it gets better.

  36. leslie says:

    BEST book I ever read (EVER, NO EXCEPTION!!) is written by Sandra Cisneros and called “Caramelo”. If I could write like her, I don’t think I would ever need to do anything else.

    Please read it!!!

  37. Janet says:

    I, too, love to read at night. My husband says I read way too much and don’t exercise enough, however, one of my favorite reads is…….The Art of Doing Stuff! Thanks Karen for all you do for so many, funny quips, entertainment, drama, wildlife, history, cooking, learning…you write about them all, what a great author.

  38. Karen, I read every night too. I am an avid reader and sometimes read 2-3 books a week. I am in 2 book clubs and I must tell you that one of my favorite books last year was a “young adult” book called The Fault in our Stars but John Greene. I never re-read a book but the writing was so witty and tight that I want to re-read this one. I also loved The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Me before you, and the Girl you Left Behind. Well, I could go on and on but I’ll stop there.

    Thanks for the suggestions….as you can imagine, I run out of things to read. That is why your lil holiday blog break ticked me off. I need to read. Ha!

  39. Pam'a says:

    Thanks for these book chats, Karen.

    I took you up on Lonesome Dove– It took a little while to get the movie out of my head, but LOVED IT (Fun fact– I grew up fairly near Ogallala, NE). Now the husband has it queued up.

    I also read The Book of Negroes, and was amazed that I’d never even *heard* of it… Fascinating (especially since it was written in a woman’s voice by a man), and another winner.

    How does anybody go to sleep without reading? 😉

  40. Dawn says:

    I skipped reading The Casual Vacancy on the principle that the subject sounded depressing and a bit naff. JK’s latest book on the other hand (Cuckoo’s Calling ‘by Robert Galbraith’), was great. So I recommend reading that one instead!

    Oh, and if you haven’t read it yet, everybody should read ‘The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson. It’s utterly random, and very good.

  41. Trish Gannon says:

    Bedtime reading, eating breakfast reading, taking a bath reading, walking out to feed the chickens reading… all are great!

    The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (last time you talked books you hadn’t read it yet)
    An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
    The Eight by Katherine Neville
    The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber
    The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

  42. Jackie MacRae says:

    I just barely reached my goal of 52 books last year, and have a huge (200+) list saved on the library site waiting for me, but if you’re looking for inspiration, you should all check out this website-

  43. Karen says:

    Franzen’s books are really horrible no matter who trumpets their glories. The one book that took me years to read was The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, by Benjamin Franklin. I wanted to read that thing so BAD. I would get it every few years and start reading and soon become almost catatonic. I did that for about 15 years and then found it on cassette tape in our library. Bingo! It really was good, and I started listening to more books. I loved Gerald Durrell reading with his great accent and his hilarious style. I would always try and get a book the author read him/herself. Thanks for all the suggestions. I have a new list, now.

  44. andrea meyers says:

    A Thousand Splendid Suns was one of my all time faves. You’re going to love the new one too. I just met the author at a signing, good times!

  45. Gail says:

    Book Thief is the best- AND- the movie portrays the novel beautifully. We read it for our Lakewood Library Knit and Lit Club! Wonderful!!!!! 5 *******’s.

  46. Marilyn says:

    I just finished Sue Monk Kidd’s new book, The Invention of Wings. It is wonderful!

  47. Regina says:

    My taste in books is very simple: mystery and laugh. I finish Janet Evanovich’s Take Down Twenty and I must say it was one of her better ones yet! Lula is obsessed with a giraffe she names Kevin. I laughed out loud many many times! I just started a series The Body Movers by Stephanie Bond. Not Janet, but I got sucked in and am on book three now. I will try to expand my horizons and try some of the suggestions here. Happy Reading!

  48. Jebber Jay says:

    I’m reading “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh. It’s a super easy read (i.e. mix of illustrations and text) that will keep you entertained from cover to cover. She shares her crazy life with us through annedotes, written with a perfectly captivating mix of self-ridicule and honesty about how her mind churns its way through life. I think of it as a self-help comedy book. :o)

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