You Know What? I Read Last Summer

When people find out you were an English major they always ask the same question: what’s your favorite book?

I hate this question. It’s like asking a Math major his favorite equation or a Chemistry major her favorite element on the periodic table. First of all, the answer will most likely mean nothing to the asker, and second, too many books, too many genres, too many separate and unrelated times in my life that a book has made an impact on me. Don’t make me choose among the ones I’ve read and for the love of Shakespeare PLEASE don’t assume I’ve read them all.

There’s another reason I don’t like this question, though: I am not a very avid reader. I am a lover of words and writers, of literature and its place in history and society. I was born a word nerd, educated as a reader and writer, and I play with words for a living. But – shhhhhhh – I don’t really read that many books.

And it’s not just since having kids – I’ve gone in and out of bookish phases throughout my adult life but I’ve never really been that person with a paperback in her purse at all times and a stack on my nightstand (well, a stack there may be but it doesn’t really count if I don’t crack a one of them).

So I have this little complex about being a disgrace to English majors everywhere. I’m not in a book club (I was in a bunko group but after a while we stopped playing bunko and now we just go out for wine), I don’t have a favorite author, and – wait for it – I somehow made it through advanced high school English classes AND a degree in English Literature, including a full academic year at Oxford, and I have never read a Charles Dickens novel. Not a one.

Now, I never said that I don’t READ. I read a ton, but these days it is almost all online. My Google Reader is filled with bloggers who make me think and laugh, and my Facebook and Twitter streams lead me on internet wanderings of every flavor: parenting, politics, entertainment, you name it. I probably read thousands of words every day, and it’s (mostly) stuff of value, stuff that educates me and challenges me and inspires me. It’s not for nothing – AT ALL – but it isn’t the same as a novel or a work of non-fiction waiting for you at the end of each day. It’s not the same.

And then something happened this summer, a collection of circumstances that turned me into a real reader for several months straight. I got pregnant, was separated by a series of trips from my DVR, and couldn’t stare at a computer or phone screen any longer than necessary due to the nausea (oh, the nausea). I was so exhausted I crashed into bed soon after the kids, and somehow I had just enough left in me to open a book. Night after night. Naptime after naptime. Until I was in the habit of reading.

I loved it. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. I created a Goodreads account and for once felt like I had books to list and rate and recommend. I read fiction and non-fiction, high-brow stuff and lighter fluff. I read eBooks and paperbacks and heavy hardbacks. Most importantly, I finished the books I started, and then started new ones right away. I built a habit.

If the happy ending you were expecting here was that I’m now fully reformed and working my way through Dickens chronologically, you might want to stop reading here. Nope, I’ve moved on to my second trimester self and back to my old habits – working and writing during naptime and watching TV (glorious TV) in the evenings. But my summer of books did leave me with the desire to read more, and a little less ashamed of my English degree. It was worth it.

Here’s what I read this summer. The books with an asterisk come highly recommended by yours truly.


*The Space Between Us (Thrity Umrigar)
*The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach)
The Widow’s War (Sally Gunning)
An Offer You Can’t Refuse (Jill Mansell)
Then Came You (Jennifer Weiner)
Sing You Home (Jodi Picoult)


*At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Bill Bryson)
*Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess)
You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) (Jeff Goins)

What are you reading these days? Any recommendations? Are you on Goodreads too?


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7 Responses to You Know What? I Read Last Summer

  1. Nicole September 10, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Hi friend!
    Funny you should mention this… So I have this pseudo-book club with my parents, which developed out of my mother and I sharing a Kindle account, and dad needing more novels in his life, and which also just means that I recommend books to them (sometimes it goes the other direction, but not usually) and then occasionally we email about them (and we are all friends on Goodreads!). But it’s not often more than a paragraph emailed or a sentence or two in a text or on the phone. It’s kinda fun, though, and keeps me reading novels along with all the theory. Let me know if you feel like virtually joining us (there’s precedent for this from Bolero, I recall!)

    Some we loved this spring and summer (and some loved more than others)
    Secret History
    Lie Down In Darkness
    The Winter Vault
    The Sense of an Ending
    The Honeymoon
    Although of course you end up becoming yourself
    Skippy Dies

    I binged on Annie Proulx and Barry Unsworth too- Sacred Hunger and Stone Virgin are both pretty crazy-engaging.

    Also, if you want more books on writing, try Metaphors We Live By, Writing Down the Bones, and Writing True.


    • Sarah September 10, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      I was so hoping you’d give me book recommendations – thought of you when I wrote this (because I think of you as the ULTIMATE reader). I love that you are connected to your mom and dad that way. Love it. What do you mean there’s a precedent? Did our parents have a book club on Bolero??

      For me sometimes it’s the silliest logistics that keep me from starting a new book – picking what to read, figuring out whether to buy/borrow/download it, etc. I realize those sound like pitiful excuses, but there you go. :)


  2. Tanya September 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    I’ve been really intrigued by The Art of Fielding after the Vanity Fair article on the journey it took to get published, so now I’ll have to add it to my Amazon list (along with the parenting book recs).

    I enjoyed The Space Between Us. I am on a big modern Indian novels kick right now for whatever reason. Some others that I really enjoyed were Animal’s People, The Inheritance of Loss, The Hungry Tide and A Fine Balance. A Fine Balance in particular will break your heart into a million pieces – I had to put it down a couple of times for that reason (my husband: “why do you read books that make you cry?!”) Oh, and the Ibis trilogy by Amitav Ghosh is pretty engrossing, though he’s only written the first two thus far.

    I also really like Mary S. Lovell’s nonfiction. Her best known is her biography of the Mitford sisters, and I just read her biography of Jane Digby, which was somewhat fitting as we were visiting my husband’s family in Tanger at the time. Now I am on to her bio of Richard and Isabel Burton, which has a nice overlap with the Jane Digby story.

  3. Sarah September 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    See Tanya, now I feel inferior again. First of all, I never knew about the Vanity Fair article or anything about The Art of Fielding (it was just among a pile loaned to me by a friend). I loved The Space Between Us! But that’s the only one I have heard of among those you mention. Thanks for all the recommendations – clearly you read wayyyyyy more than I do (but I know you watch TV too, right????). :)

    • Tanya September 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

      Mind you, those book recs are from over the past couple of years…I was just thinking how impressive your reading list from a single summer was! This past week I am lucky if I can get a couple of pages read each night before my eyes droop shut.

      And definitely yes to the TV watching, in most cases, the cheaper the better. Which is why I have a date with the Bachelor Pad finale tonight. :)

  4. Joanell September 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    Sarah, you remind me of me. I dodged Senior English in high school for classes in Creative Writing & Journalism. I missed all the classics. But, I too been reading a lot lately… I finish one book and move on to the next. The dangers of easy access to ebooks! I really enjoyed A Thousand White Women, Killing Lincoln, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, to name a few. I just finished Gone Girl, but didn’t love it. Right now, I’m enjoying Cape Cod in a big hard cover format. It jumps back and forth between the first comers on the Mayflower through the history of the pilgrims & Indians and current day Cape Cod.

    I’m glad to have all the book suggestions!

    • Sarah September 11, 2012 at 7:34 am #

      Oooh, thanks for more suggestions, Joanell! I’m still coming around to ebooks – the best part is to be able to download them spontaneously when you’re ready to start a new book, but I skill kind of prefer real pages in my hand. I think it depends on the book, too – easy reads are fine for me on the iPad, but headier stuff I find it harder in that format for some reason.

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