My recent reading — and yours?

By Caitlin Kelly



Partly to flee the daily insanity of life in the U.S., I’ve begun reading books much more than in recent years.

On a trip to rural Ontario, I made time one afternoon to browse a local bookstore at length and spent more than $200.


Here are some of my recent picks:


A Bright, Shining Lie, Neil Sheehan, 1988

Inspired by the recent PBS series about the Vietnam war, and with its images and names fresh in my mind, I plunged into it — after finding the book in an upstate Connecticut junk store for $2.

The writing is magisterial, truly extraordinary in its depth and breadth. While extremely detailed, it’s not boring or stuffy. If this war holds any interest for you, this is a great book.


The Risk Pool, Richard Russo, 1989

Loved this one! Russo writes about struggling working-class towns and the people, generally men, who live in them. I enjoyed his book “Empire Falls” and had had this one on my shelf for years. A story about a deadbeat father and his son, and the town in which they live, it’s a powerful portrait of how to survive an off-again-on-again parent, and eventually thrive.


Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann, 1901

It turns out I share a birthday, June 6, with Thomas Mann. This is the first book of his I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. The pace is slow, with little action, but a stately progression through the decades of a prosperous small-town German family in the mid 1800s.

All of which sounds really boring, right?

Not at all. Each of the characters is relatable and recognizable from spoiled, twice-divorced Antonie to her ever-questing brother Christian to the reliable head of the family, Thomas.


A Legacy of Spies, John leCarrΓ©, 2017

He’s a master of this genre and has been for decades. If you’ve seen the 2011 film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, you’ll have the characters’ names in your head as you read this, his latest.

A career spy, retired, is brought back to account for — atone for — the very work he was expected to do without question or remorse.


Transit, Rachel Cusk, 2017

This novel, nominated for Canada’s Giller Prize, was a big fat “meh.” I read another of her books and found it equally…not very interesting. It’s received rapturous reviews, too.

I’ve given her work two tries. That’s enough for me.

I recently treated myself to even more books, so cued up are Reckless Daughter, a new biography of fellow Canadian, singer Joni Mitchell and Endurance, about his year in space, by astronaut Scott Kelly.

My tastes, always, skew more toward history, biography, economics and social issues than fiction, which I so often find disappointing. I don’t read sci-fi. horror, romance or much self-help and I recently bought a book written for self-employed creatives like myself, seeking inspiration — but after 33 pages of banal repetition gave up in annoyance.

This week I’m working on an outline for what I hope might become my third book of non-fiction, having found a new agent who’s expressed initial interest.


What have you read lately that you’ve enjoyed and would recommend?

38 thoughts on “My recent reading — and yours?

  1. what an interesting mix. of these, i’m most interested in the richard russo book and ‘a legacy of spies.’ i love small town stories and the twist of a good spy story.

    as for me, i recently loved – ‘a tale for the time being’ by ruth ozeki. – disturbing, thought-provoking, deep, and amazing. (combines ancient zen buddhism, modern day japanese culture, kamakazi culture, quantum mechanics, movement across time and space, and a dual story of sorts. painful at times but wow –

    1. Sorry to cut in, but I gotta say A Tale For The Time Being is one of my favourite books. I’m part of a postal book club, and that’s the one I’ve set out for others to read, and share their ideas about. The book ripped my heart out, but put it back in by the end.

  2. Fatima

    All The Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister via my friendly-neighbourhood Overdrive app. Just finished People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann. Ms. Man is a blogger and lives in suburban Missouri. I don’t have husband or kids but I will recommend the hell out of this book to my friends with both. For the next while, lots and lots of fiction. I just shook myself out of a slump.

  3. The last memorable book I read, which I remember you saying you’ve read, was A Little Life. What a book – that’s fiction at its best. It’s rare that books make me cry, but that one did.

    Unlike you, I read mostly fiction and I’m drawn to authors and stories from around the world. There are too many unheard voices and untold stories, and I enjoy reading about different cultural perspectives.

    Two books I bought recently were Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Looking forward to reading them! I also added Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng to my TBR list after reading an excellent review at the weekend.

    1. I admire your dedication to fiction!

      Part of this is my work — there is so much I need to know (and want to know) about how the world works and I get that from non-fiction.

      When I love a novel (ooooohhhh, A little life, SOB) I do love it dearly, for sure. But am so often let down by contemporary fiction. I read Celeste Ng’s last book (with all its rapturous reviews) and it didn’t do a thing for me so am not rushing to this one.

      I find fiction uneven — will love one of their books then hate the next, like Zadie Smith and Claire Messud.

      1. I agree, fiction is certainly uneven. You never know whether a book’s going to be a great read (and even that’s subjective, by whatever criteria we use to assess whether a book is ‘good’ πŸ™‚ ), even when it’s drawing literary acclaim. Sometimes a gamble – trying a new fiction book – pays off, often it doesn’t.

        The other genre I enjoy is non-fiction travel writing, especially when it’s by female travellers.

      2. Right?

        It’s one reason I’m more interested in trying older works, whether from the 1930s or 1830s…

        I agree about the NF by women travelers. I recommend Jan Morris’ essays as well, which Jose gave me for Xmas years ago.

  4. The fact that you don’t read horror will sadden me for ages to come.

    I’m always reading something. Lately I’ve been reading Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder, about the land between Germany and the USSR and the amount of death that occurred there between the end of Imperial Russia and the end of WWII. It was sent to me by a friend, so I thought I’d read it. Prior to that, I read Origin by Dan Brown, the latest Robert Langdon novel, which blew my mind and is now my favorite in the series. And before that, I read the Colorado Kid by Stephen King, which felt more like a literary mystery novel (you might like it), and The Cronian Incident by my friend Matt Williams, a sci-fi epic about a kidnapping plot on one of Saturn’s moons.

    I’m also big into audio books. Currently I’m in the middle of a Doctor Who audio drama anthology, which definitely has some interesting stories. Prior to that, I was listening to NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son. He can be very hit-and-miss, but I liked this one by him. And before that, I listened to The Tommyknockers by King himself, which was…meh.

    And of course, I’m always reading a constant stream of manga. I even finished up a series recently, a time-travel epic with a heavy Game of Thrones feel taking place in the ancient Hittite empire called Red River, and I immediately ordered the first book in the series from the library so I could reread it. It is definitely my favorite series.

    I’ve also decided what books I will be reading in the near future: the new Anne Rice book is coming out soon, so I’ll probably gobble that up and review it on my blog. I also plan on reading See What I’ve Done, a fictionalized account of the Borden Axe Murders (stayed overnight where those occurred, and encountered some ghosts). I also plan to listen to a horror anthology and Ready Player One on audio book, both of which should be interesting and hopefully inspiring.

    1. Whew!!!!

      What a great, eclectic list you have. So cool.

      One reason I don’t read horror (or consume violent media in any form) is, frankly, some mild PTSD from my reporting in 2002 and 2003 for my book about women and guns, which steeped me in TRUE horror, gore and violence, both physical and emotional. I spoke to 104 men, women and teens, including a woman whose husband was shot and killed point-blank beside her in their driveway, by a frustrated robber.

      I just have no appetite to overload my poor weary brain in that regard now.

      I also have too many real-life horrors (like a friend whose husband just died 30 days from a bad diagnosis at 46) to process. I don’t seek anything more in that realm.

      Manga seem intriguing, as do graphic novels. I def. need to try some new things, including an audiobook.

      1. I understand. My mother has read plenty of Stephen King and even introduce me to him in the first place, but she works in palliative care now oh, so she’s basically dealing with dying elderly patients every day. She’s kind of lost her appetite for horror ( though if any of my stores ever get produced in to audiobooks, she’ll definitely listen to them).

        If you ever want some recommendations for manga or anime, or for audio books, I can make plenty of suggestions. Not everything I’m into is horror related. The manga series I mentioned as being my favorite is pretty far from horror oh, and I highly recommend it. Just let me know.

  5. Buddenbrooks … wow, read that three decades ago along with The Magic Mountain. I really want to go to Lubeck, Mann’s birthplace. Maybe next summer.

    I order my books via Amazon in the UK only because English-language books are expensive in Paris. Just received my new order the other day: Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely; Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

    Yes, all old but classics. I tend to read older books. The last new book I purchased was Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair, only because I love his writing and went to his book promotion-signing event.

    1. I haven’t yet read the Magic Mountain but am now so intrigued.

      Have you read any of Herman Hesse? LOVED his stuff, so popular in the hippie 70s. Time to revisit that.

      Love your list! LOVE Virginia Woolf and didn’t love deLillo’s book (can’t recall which one) I tried. I do love reading across the decades and centuries — one of my absolute faves was Germinal by Zola. I STILL recall the ending so vividly and must have read it 20 years ago.

      Have you read Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty? OMG. OMG. OMG. I recently finally read that. What a gorgeous amazing book; it won the Man Booker Prize in 2004. What a great great book!!

      I do tend to reach for UK writers and some Canadians more than all the Big Name Americans — have never read Anne Rice or Annie Proulx or Louise Erdrich or Franzen, for example.

      1. Funny you should mention Hesse. In August I gave my boss a few books for his birthday, one of them was Hesse’s Steppenwolf. But my favorite Hesse is Narcissus and Goldmund.

        Yes, I’ve read most of Hollinghurst’s books, that’s why I was so excited when he came to Paris last month for a book reading. His “Swimming Pool Library” is very erotic and excellent. Listen to him speak on Youtube, he has a beautiful posh voice.

        I’ve wanted to read a Louise Erdrich novel for years, but haven’t found the time. Same with Proulx’s Shipping News. Those are the kinds of books I’d take on a long voyage, to read uninterrupted.

        Franzen? A total bore.

        If you want to read a HILARIOUS book, buy Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife. Too funny!

      2. LOVED N & Goldmund…Oh, the memories. Time to re-read. If we’re going to go full-on 70s, we’ll have to go Carlos Castaneda.

        I keep meaning to read the long Russians…War & Peace, Anna Karenina, etc. Not yet.

        I love reading books about a place when I’m in that place — like when i got to read Out of Africa when in Kenya. That was amazing. Not so good reading The Kindness of Strangers in Venice.

  6. runner1423

    The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton-recommend
    Rainbow in the Cloud: The Wit and Wisdom of Maya Angelou-do not recommend

    Currently reading:
    The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

    My partner is reading the Shaye Archer series by Jana DeLeon. She loves the series and has blazed through the first four books like they are on fire! There are five books in the series.

  7. I have to bookmark this entry – so many interesting recommendations. I just finished The Kite Runner (yeah, I know – it came out many years ago). I really enjoyed it. It’s a wonderfully written story about the relationship over time between 2 boys but it’s also about the relationship between the narrator and his father. There’s the backdrop of life in Afghanistan, the impact of the culture and the war.

  8. Hi Caitlin-
    I agree reading is a way to escape for awhile from the world around us which I am finding I want to do more often these days. I also enjoy reading as an escape from my job, which I enjoy but usually involves unhappy circumstances. I prefer to read a book as opposed to reading a kindle (call me old school). Currently I am readying Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, the story about a young girl who is in search of her mother who was a researcher studying elephants (my favorite animal) and had gone missing when the girl was a toddler. I also just finished The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer. I loved it. It is very funny but may not be for everyone.

    A few of my favorite books that come to mind:
    -The Red Tent
    -A Thousand White Women
    -Any book by the author Wally Lamb
    -Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
    -The Tea Girl from Hummingbird Lane


    Follow my blog at

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