Teach Me How to Read (again)

I used to be the kid who went to the library every week and left with a stack of 10, 12, 15 books teetering in my arms. I’d go home, find a corner and read. And read. And read.

When my friend Michele and I were tweens, we’d go to each other’s house . . .and read. Yes, just hang out and read.

I pretty much knew I’d be an English Major in college by the time I was 14. Once in college, I took only one (required) Math class and not a single Business class in order to take more literature and philosophy classes.

I still go to the library every week, but now I now leave with a giant bag of books for the kids. If a book makes it in the bag for me, it often goes unopened and unread. And, on the rare occasion that I make it to a book store for some “alone time”, I wander the racks aimlessly until I find myself in the children’s section picking out books for the kids.

It makes me sad that I no longer know what to read, nor do I make time to do it.

I know that I have replaced my “reading habit” with the internet, the short articles in The New Yorker (ok, the cartoons) and with silly reality television. Just typing this has made another 1% of my brain turn to a cottage cheese-like mush, like on those Hulu commercials.

But, when I venture into the library or bookstore now, I have no idea what to pick out. I want to read for fun, not reference. But, I cannot read those Twilight books and hate anything with the word “Shopaholic”, “Lust” or “Alien” in the title. And, I don’t want horror, goth or anything with a “quest”.

If you ask me who I like to read, I struggle a bit to remember and then recall devouring the short stories of Sandra Cisneros and Pam Houston, reading Barbara Kingsolver and Richard Russo, crying over Carol Shields. I just grabbed three of my favorite novels from my bookshelf and they are Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, The Bone People and The Shipping News. Published in 1974, 1984 and 1993, respectfully. Not exactly the latest and greatest, you know?

So, Book People, please come forth and lay your favorites on the table for me. This mama needs to unplug and sit up late, curled up on the couch, with nothing but the ticking of the clock and the sound of pages turning to keep her company.


  1. Major Bedhead says

    I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett and really enjoyed it. I reviewed it on my blog recently, if you want to go have a look.

    I’m also reading Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison. It’s an autobiography about living with Aspberger’s Syndrome and is very well-done.

    Do you like non-fiction? Bill Bryson is great. He’s got a couple of books about the English language that are fascinating. A Walk In The Woods had me gurgling with laughter, too.

    The Professor And The Madman by Simon Winchester is about the compilation of the OED and also fascinating for a word nerd like me.

    One of my favourite historical fiction books is The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George. I have a thing for the Tudors, so this might not be for you, but it’s a really great read. Henry VIII certainly was an interesting guy.

    I’ve had a tough time getting back into reading, too. By the time I get any swath of time to myself, I don’t really feel like reading all that much. I’ve been trying to go to bed a bit earlier (ha!) so I can get a chapter or two in and that seems to be helping. I was like you, gulping down stacks of books every week and getting back into the habit now has been a struggle.

  2. Sorry have no real recommendations because I’m in the same boat (although I do love me a good horror/zombie book…LOL)

    My current reading time is while DD is in the tub. I manage about 4 pages between the “can I have this?” requests and yells to “stop splashing!”

    And surprise, surprise, I’m reading a horror book. The Terror by Dan Simmons. Historical fiction about 2 British expedition ships “Erebus” and “Terror” which were looking for the Northwest Passage and were never seen again.

  3. an author I have thoroughly enjoyed is Lisa Carey.

  4. Some of my favourites have not been necessarily recent so I don’t know if this is helpful but here they are:

    -The Clan of the Cave Bear series by Jean Auel (set in prehistoric times, Auel is apparently well known for her fantastic anthropological and archeological research – the characters are fantastic and I really find myself completely engrossed in these stories)

    – The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (covers the biblical story of Jacob and his wives but told from a slightly less than biblical perspective – wonderful story of women and their lives in that time period)

    – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (this was pretty popular for a while but rightly so. it’s hilarious – narrated by a teenage boy with autism. such an interesting perspective. i know i will read it again)

    -Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (sci fi for people who don’t like sci fi. i thought i would hate it and i loved it. lots of kids read it in school so it’s an easy read but the concepts are challenging to adults and kids alike.)

    -The Princess Bride by William Goldman (forget anything you know or remember about the movie. the book is 100 times better and funnier!)

    -I recently read The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent which is a new book about the Salem Witch Trials. Very interesting to me since I’m living right in this area right now. It was quite well written.

    -Also, The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant is an interesting historical fiction.

    Hope this helps! Happy reading! I know how hard it is to get back into it after kids. I have felt the same way. It kind of comes and goes in spurts for me so I take it when it comes. 🙂 (shannon@livinginthegray.com)

  5. Moments Of Mom says

    While I wasn’t an avid reader like you, I used to read for pleasure. And saddly I haven’t read any worth while books (and I am not sure Harry Potter counts) in a decade or so… I used to read on the train, at home, in the morning, on lunch breaks when ever I could sneak a few minutes. But since becoming a momma my priorities have changed and I choose sleep. So instead of reading before bed, if I have down time before bed I tend to hit the hay half an hour earlier.

    I wish I could say, “Oh, this author is so great” but I just draw a blank.

  6. Two of my favorite books are The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Life of Pi. I also really enjoyed The Red Tent, which someone already mentioned.

    I have been going to the library every week, too and stocking up. I don’t really look for anything specific, but I just grab whatever catches my eye. The best from last week’s stack was The Art of Racing in the Rain.

  7. Ditto on Clan of the Cave Bear. Oldie but a goodie.

    I think that because I’ve really taken to listening to podcasts that I may prefer hearing a book as opposed to reading them.

  8. T with Honey says

    Why do I get the feeling that you would get a huge kick out of anything in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett? The witty sarcasm is wonderful.

  9. I read a lot of mindless crap when I get a chance to read. I’ve read everything by Anne Rice but if you don’t like vampires and all she has one called Feast of All Saints that’s really good.
    But what I was really gonna say is that my dog’s name is Kerewin, from The Bone People.

  10. I just finished The Other Boleyn Girl and it was very good. Are you on Goodreads? I find a lot of great recommendations there.

  11. Sharon Parsons says

    Found you by doing a search on The Shred and painful knees. Good to hear I’m not the only one in pain (not that I’m glad you’re suffering…)

    So my absolute favorite book is “Promise the Moon,” by Elizabeth Arnold. So heartbreaking and beautifully written. If you like Carol Shields and Barbara Kingsolver (two of my favorites), I guarantee you’ll love her too. I also truly enjoyed her first novel, which was filled with twists and turns, and had me crying within the first hundred pages, then laughing and then crying again.

    I also loved “She’s Come Undone,” by Wally Lamb, although his next books were kind of meh. (I actually liked his most recent book until I got about a hundred pages in, and then felt like I had to slog through the next 600!)

  12. CoffeeJitters (Judy Haley) says

    the time traveler’s wife by audrey niffenegger was amazing

    I also love anything by Sarah Vowell – and since her books are a collection of essays, it’s easier for me to read than a novel – I have the same problem with forgetting how to enjoy reading a book

  13. Oh, wow, stop at some point…

    For laugh-out-loud funny, good stories, Try Janet Evanovich. You have probably heard of her – her main character is a female bounty hunter.

    For good romance stories with happy endings, try Jayne Ann Krentz. She is my all-time favorite author. I read everything she writes and even buy her books in hardcover the minute they come out. She also writes under the name Amanda Quick. Her books aren’t typical romances – no cheesey bosom-heaving and her female characters are strong women.

    I also really love Dana Stabenow. She writes for three different characters, I think. My favorites are the Kate Shugach and Liam Campbell. Kate is a Native American living in Alaska. She is a very descriptive writer and everytime I read her, I want to go live there and hibernate in a cabin.

    Another excellent writer who really makes you feel you are there is Nevada Barr. Her character is a National Park Ranger. Her writing is truly incredible, and the plotlines are very good.

    Someone whose books are like potato chips – easy and quick to read, decent stories, try Robert B. Parker.

    I also like Philip R. Craig. His books take place on Martha’s Vineyard. It is a good idea to read them in order, since the main character progresses in life in a sensible way – dating, marriage, kids, etc.

    I used to enjoy Dick Francis quite a bit – his books take place on British race courses.

    I like reading to escape and like romances and mysteries. I don’t read a lot of heavy biographies or dramatic heart-rending stuff. I know a lot of people like Jodi Picoult, but I have never read her. Nora Roberts can’t be beat and Elizabeth Lowell has a couple really good series. (series’? series’s?)

    let us know what you choose – especially if you find someone you love. All of the authors I listed have written many books, so if you find one you like, you should be able to enjoy them for a long time. What is worse than finding an author you love and they have only written two books?

    Now I want to go to the bookstore…

    another tip – my local library has a website where I can go and browse thru the books online, pick what I want, and they will email me when they are ready. All I have to do is run in, got thru the self checkout, and I have a big pile of books in no time. It is a fantastic service. Plus, if that branch doesn’t have the book I want, they get it from another branch and I don’t even have to do anything.

  14. Issas Crazy World says

    Blogging has replaced reading for me too and I am sad about it. But I tell myself, the only way I even manage to read anything is because I can read a post and then an hour later read a few. I can just leave it open when I get interrupted. I will get back to reading. I will. Really. (says me, who read 23 pages of a book club book…one that I had six weeks to read.)

    I used to go to my friends house and read too. Her sisters were older and never home and it was WAY quieter than my house.

    So basically I have no clue on books, but I'll be coming back to see what everyone else suggests.

    Oh I do have one: Rise & Shine by Anna Quinlan. It's the last book I read all the way through and I loved it.

  15. Fairly Odd Mother says

    OMG, guys, all this before NOON?!?! You are amazing!!! Keep ’em coming, I really want to get back to devouring a book a week if possible.

    A couple of you mentioned others I have read and loved: Bill Bryson, The Red Tent (oh, that book haunted me for days but was so worth reading), Wally Lamb, Sarah Vowell. But, thanks for reminding me b/c maybe there are newer books by these guys I haven’t yet checked out.

    I’m inspired! My library card is burning in my hand and ready to go to work.

  16. I made a list on Amazon with my recommendations. I thought it might be easier to link the books there.


    If the link doesn't work for some reason, I tagged it 'Fairly Odd Mother' for you to search for it with that method.

    Note, however, that I primarily read fantasy books in a low fantasy setting (where magic items are NOT dropping from the sky!). So that's pretty much what I recommended, in addition to also suggesting Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester.

    There are so many wonderful books out there and so many more that I could recommend. I have two small children (also homeschooled) running through the house all through the day so I don't get much time to read these days. However – and I know this will sound bizarre – I always keep the book I'm reading in the bathroom. That's the one place that I'm not usually disturbed for a short amount of time and the one place that I can actually lock the door. So my reading is usually a chapter at a time (or sometimes a few pages), but at least I'm able to read!

  17. I know just what you mean – I almost never read anymore unless I’m forced to, which is why I stay in my book club ;-). It just seems so hard these days to really sink into a book if I only have a few minutes available, when I could just jump hither and there reading snippets on the internet. I was the same type of voracious reader you were, and still am on the increasingly rare occasions that I let myself.

    This list is a bit outdated by now but here are 13 books my book club has read. Since then off the top of my head I’ve always really enjoyed Shadow of the Wind and The Book Thief.

  18. Subspace Beacon says

    If you liked The Shipping News, I recommend The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston which is — shockingly enough — a book about Newfoundland written by a Newfoundlander.

    My favourite author is Marian Keyes. She’s funny and her books delve into really deep subject matter. Whenever someone makes disparaging comments about chick-lit, I defend the category by citing Marian. She’s brilliant.

  19. Kristen M. says

    I started my books blog just to get back into reading and now it’s out of control (but in a good way!).

    Go back and read 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff and then read the new favorite, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. You won’t be disappointed by either one!

  20. Margie S. says

    I just finished The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart by M. Glenn Taylor and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a quick read and hard to put down – my favorite kind for just book reading candy – but it’s got some substance there too : )

    I noticed someone mentioned Jodi Picoult, and I tend to have a hard time putting hers down too. I’m loving reading everyone’s suggestions! So glad you asked!

  21. Right now I am reading “The Year of Fog”. By: Michelle Richmond. I read as much as I can!

  22. Lindsay Jean says

    I’d like to echo the mention of Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Unbelievable author!

    But for the Patron Saint of What Should I Read – try Nancy Pearl. Her two Book Lust books are a series of lists for every taste and whim. She’s my hero.

  23. Currently, I am reading The Time Traveler’s Wife and it is excellent! I particularly love Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler books. Also, love Jodi Picoult books. And Anna Quindlen. Honestly, I could go on all day. Overall, the comments have given you have a lot of great suggestions.

  24. Blog Antagonist says

    OOOH. My favorite topic. Most popular fiction just annoys me. I confess, I’m a book snob. But I’m a little affronted by writers like James Patterson, Nora whose her face, and the like. And I’d rather tweeze my nose hairs one by one than read the Shopaholic series or anything by Janet Evanovich.

    Please read “Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger. So…whimsical, lyrical, spiritual….a real journey.

    The Crazy ladies of Pearl Street, by Trevanian.

    The Prince Of Tides by Pat Conroy (all his books are great, really)

    Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Anne Burns.

    Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner

    Recently I’ve really been into John Steinbeck. I’ve read all his books, but I forgotten how much I loved them. Especially of Mice and Men and East of Eden.

    For easy, feet up, sipping a cold drink beach chair reading, try Dana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. It’s brain candy..easy reading, a little cheesy, but…like really good brie instead of Kraft slices. Thoroughly engaging characters and lots of historical interest.

    I have tons, you know that, but I’ll restrain myself with those for now.

  25. I feel the exact same way you do. It pains me how little I read. Maybe a book or two a year. I use to read a book every two to three days.

    I’m sorry, I didn’t read through all these wonderful comments so I hope I don’t repete a suggestion.

    I loved:

    Katherine Dunn’s “Geek Love” as well as “Truck”

    Banana Yashimoto’s “Kitchen”

    Arandhati Roy’s “God of Small things”

    and John Irving’s “Widow for One Year.”

  26. I love to read and don’t do it as much as I used to either. It doesn’t sound like we have the same tastes in books though. When I read, I like books that are easy and enjoyable and I don’t have to think! Basically trashy novels. I like Nora Roberts, Diane Chamberlain and Jodi Picoult.

    Oh and I just finished the Maureen McCormick (Marcia Brady) story. Now theres some scandal!

  27. Mrs. Chicken says

    I just finished a bracing, tender memoir called “The Mercy Papers.” It is about a mother, a daughter and a death.

    It is a writer’s book, one for a reader who loves language. Brisk. Lyrical. Perfect.

    Read it!

  28. WOW! So many comments on reading! I am like you, I used to read all the time, and now with 4 kids, who has time? or rather, who makes the time? I am currently reading a book, (when my daughter is in speech therapy, which is once a week, for 30 minutes) It Takes a Village, I think that is the name. I generally love books by Stephen King or the Anne Rice books.

  29. obimomkenobi says

    Might I suggest you go back to the classics? Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austin or Tess of the Durbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I've got a reading list going at my blog under the heading The Holocron, if you need more ideas.

  30. I read five to seven books a week, but I am very lazy. And I don’t homeschool.

    Recently, I’ve liked:
    Giving Up The Ghost – HIlary Mantel
    Home – Marilynne Robinson
    Can You Forgive Her? – Anthony Trollope
    Raising Demons – Shirley Jackson
    The Reserve – Russell Banks

  31. Mom, M.Ed. says

    I devour anything by Alice Hoffman. Love her novels!

    I also love to re-read the stuff I hated reading in high school. For example, I re-read Walden over the summer and it meant more to me now than it ever did when I was fifteen.

    I’m currently reading a book published a couple years ago, See You in a Hundred Years. It’s about a NYC couple who uprooted themselves and their 2 year old son…moved to a rural area of VA and lived as if it were the year 1900. It is amazing!

  32. Zip n Tizzy says

    The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls is my absolute favorite memoir at the moment. She has an amazing ability to tell the story of her very wacky and often sad childhood, without sounding the victim and being refreshingly unjudgemental.

    If you like Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich has some great books. Not sure where they’d fall on my list today but about 15 years ago they were among my favorite.

    I just finished reading Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, the biography by Thomas McNamee. It’s well written and a fun read, while really giving the history behind “the Best Restaurant in America.”
    Since she’s local to me, I found it fascinating, but I think it would be interesting regardless of where you live. (Especially if you like good food!)

  33. The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb – fantastic book!

    The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

    Breakable You – Stephanie Kallos

  34. I love anything written by Jodi Picoult.

    Also, I just finished Peony In Love by Lisa See, and enjoyed her Snowflower and the Secret Fan last summer, too.

    Right now I’m reading Girls Will Be Girls by JoAnn Deak for my book club, and having a daughter I’m finding it fascinating.

    Reading more for my own pleasure (as opposed to that of my children) was on my list of New Year’s Resolutions, and I’ve really enjoyed getting back into it. I missed reading.

  35. Trenches of Mommyhood says

    How about The Kite Runner?

    Or anything by Chris Bohjalian – he’s a superb writer!

  36. mothergoosemouse says

    I second Ender’s Game. Really. I don’t read sci-fi or much fiction, and it was excellent.

    Anything by Douglas Coupland.

    If you are interested in some readable non-fiction, let me know. I’ve got a post brewing.

  37. Have to agreed with the Barbara Kingsolver recommends–
    also have to recommend Frank McCourt for “Angela’s Ashes”, “Tis”, and “Teacher Man”, along with the Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyaneko–so fun, so very, very Russian!

    Read any Bradbury, lately?

  38. Have to agreed with the Barbara Kingsolver recommends–
    also have to recommend Frank McCourt for “Angela’s Ashes”, “Tis”, and “Teacher Man”, along with the Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyaneko–so fun, so very, very Russian!

    Read any Bradbury, lately?

  39. Have to agreed with the Barbara Kingsolver recommends–
    also have to recommend Frank McCourt for “Angela’s Ashes”, “Tis”, and “Teacher Man”, along with the Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyaneko–so fun, so very, very Russian!

    Read any Bradbury, lately?

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