Summer Book Club!

posted in: Day In The Life 45
Summer reading swag! I would LOVE wearing a summer reading pin! Photo: Rachel Larue via Wikipedia.



A few weeks back, I put on my librarian hat — a fetching chapeau! — and did some organization and pruning of my living room library. (I have a library full of quilt history books, but that is in the office.)

As I worked through the shelves, I found lots of titles I was ready to give away, and it felt good to watch that pile grow. Most of the books I didn’t want I put up in my building’s laundry room on the cute “take a book, leave a book” shelves by the elevator. Right now, someone is enjoying a gluten-free baking cookbook and my extra copy of the Lapham’s Quarterly on “Time.” (Interesting how I bought that particular issue twice!)

While it felt good to shed extra stuff and hopefully make someone happy, it felt bad to see all the books I own but haven’t read. There aren’t that many, but it cannot be denied that I have a good deal of fabulous reading material that I’ve never cracked. I think this is true for most people who love to buy books. You can’t wait to read the books you just bought, but then you get busy or you get interested in something else and then it’s five years later and you never read that biography of Eleanor Roosevelt or the complete history of polka dots or The Brothers Karamazov. 

For me, it’s always the novels I don’t get around to reading. I go for the essay, the article, the interview, the criticism. Non-fiction, in other words. But I do want to read a novel or two this summer for heaven’s sake, so I thought I’d ask for your help.

Here are five novels I own but have not yet read, and I want YOU to tell me what to read first.

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
1984 by George Orwell
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
Tender is the Night by Ernest Hemingway

I thought about giving you descriptions, but, since so many of you are book-nerdy like me, I thought you might enjoy looking into the books on your own. Of course, most folks won’t need to look up Orwell’s 1984; that canonical work is pretty well known and I am horrified to admit that I’ve never read it! Me! An Orwell fangirl! But this is what I mean about books you own: Sometimes, you just never get around to them, even if they’re classic works of literature that most people read their sophomore year of high school.

I can’t wait to see what you think, gang. Some of the books are (much) longer than others, but I’m ready for what you all decide. Oh, and if anyone wants to read along with me, please do: I’ll write up a book report when I get done with each title.

Let us examine the unread shelf!

45 Responses

  1. Mary Collins
    | Reply

    I’ve read them all (in a former life, I was an English major). I love the classics you have listed, but I’m really going to go with The Goldfinch. I loved that book. Actually, I loved The Pale King a little more, but David Foster Wallace is an acquired taste, I think. It’s not as….dense….as Infinite Jest, but is challenging in its own way, since it was unfinished at the time of his death. If you’ve read IJ, then certainly The Pale King, but if not, then The Goldfinch.

  2. Cheryl Thompson
    | Reply

    I really enjoyed The Goldfinch. It has some sad parts but I was glad I read it.

  3. Jennie Goodman
    | Reply

    Portrait of a Lady. I know I read it and my friend loved it for the strong female character, but honestly I forgot the plot line…but I know I loved it! I will read it again with you:)

  4. Anne
    | Reply

    I recommend 1984 and Tender is the night. I love the other books as well (although I secretly liked A secret history by Donna Tartt better than The Goldfinch…stttt!) but these two are such classics that I recommend you reading these first :). I am going to lead your example and try to read two books from my shelves. I now think about How to Kill a Mockingbird and one by Ernest Hemingway.

  5. Judy Forkner
    | Reply

    I have not read the Pale King or Tender is the Night. I read 1984 in high school & The Portrait of a Lady in College. The Goldfinch a couple of years ago. Of those 3, I would say that 1984 is the one I would read 1st. It’s a great book & you’ll get through it fairly quickly! The Portrait f a Lady, & The Goldfinch will take awhile!

  6. Sam Faeth
    | Reply

    I am also a writer. These are all wonderful choices but, in solidarity with some of your recent posts about stress and anxiety, I would recommend setting the exquisite The Goldfinch aside for a later reading. I am NOT prone to anxiety but the protagonist’s ongoing failure to right a wrong made me almost too edgy to appreciate the masterful narrative, the evocative prose, the interesting characters. It is a must-read…to be savored in a life space that can accomodate a bit of literarily-imposed angst.

  7. Jennifer R.
    | Reply

    I would start with “Tender is the Night” by Hemingway and then move on to “The Portrait of a Lady” by James. Those would be my two. Look forward to hearing your take in your book report(s).

  8. Janice
    | Reply

    Maybe you can consider books to be like fabric stash. You buy them without knowing exactly how you are going to get to them.

    • Jennifer
      | Reply

      I love this! My shelf of unread books has grown to a full bookcase. My stash has outgrown the glass front cabinets and spilled over into project cases on the floor…of my library. Two addictions, coming together. Only 25 years until I retire! 🙂

  9. Susan
    | Reply

    Portrait of a Lady – the scene of tea on the lawn will captivate you

  10. Cindy
    | Reply

    1984 first, Goldfinch next!

  11. Lynn
    | Reply

    The Goldfinch!!! It’s fabulous!

  12. Marj&Jim
    | Reply

    Look at you, having the option to read a book just for pleasure – this graduation stuff is starting to be real! Congratulations again! We vote for reading George Orwell first. Amazing prescience.

  13. Helen Marie
    | Reply

    Anything but 1984. In the current political climate, it’s frightening.

    • Bob Collis
      | Reply

      I agree. I was about to say the same thing!

  14. Barbara
    | Reply

    I also have quite a few unread books that I couldn’t wait to get started on . . . I’m talking years on the shelf, and I’m still buying them (if I can’t get them at the library). I am determined to read them (hopefully, all of them) but I have given some away or donated to the library. BTW my grown children buy me books, the latest, “Rescue Road” by Peter Zheutlin, saving rescue dogs; one waiting at the library for me to pick up, “Barn Quilts;” and presently reading Anna Quindlen’s “Alternate Side.”

  15. Joye Cox
    | Reply

    The only book on your list that I’ve read is The Goldfinch. And it was a good, but long, read. It’s heresy to say this probably, but it could have used some editing down, in my opinion, and still have been a good story. One of those rarieties when the movie would be better than the book, I think.

  16. Caroline
    | Reply

    The only two I have read are The Goldfinch and 1984, highly recommend both!

  17. Melanie
    | Reply

    I always have such massive aspirations when I’m at a bookstore or when hearing about others’ reading experiences. I have many unread books too. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been a voracious reader but for some reason I haven’t read anything lately. I don’t know why. If I take a beach vacation, I read but not so much otherwise. Oh, quilt magazines/books* and lots of blogs are my main reading fodder at the moment.

    *I’m awaiting the arrival of your book Quilt + Love.

  18. Sara Hochhauser
    | Reply

    To Kill. A Mockingbird
    I first read this when I was about 10 or 11. I was 13 when the movie came out. Maybe because of my age or the times, this book is one I go back and reread on a regular basis.
    Or any book be Steinbeck. Growing up I lived a block and a half from a Chicago public library. As long as I was reading my Mother left me alone.

  19. sue
    | Reply

    Well, I have read none of these but my daughter loved The Goldfinch. You have a great idea and I have put it on my to do-list for today. Scan the shelves here at home and find five books I have not read and read them. Thanks for the goal idea, now I need to actually make one quilt from every quilting book I own!

  20. Paula Eads
    | Reply

    I’m a retired school librarian and the last few years I worked I did a 40 book reading challenge with my students. I posted what I read on the wall, there were genre headings with quotas to fill. I blazed through the mysteries, historical fiction and other fiction, but kept procrastinating on the nonfiction side. Everyone has their preferences, but it’s good to step outside the box and find new things to enjoy!
    (The reading challenge is the fantastic idea of Donlyn Miller, reading specialist and author)

  21. Carol Woodworth
    | Reply

    Goldfinch by Donna Tarte

  22. Elizabeth
    | Reply

    I did not finish The Goldfinch. Got annoyed with the actions of the main character. Maybe I’ll give it another try this year. I re-read Tender is the Night a few years ago and enjoyed it. Enjoy your summer reading!

  23. Kathleen Callahan
    | Reply

    OMG I’ve only read 1984 (in high school-long ago) of those you have mentioned. Will have to try some others. I love historical fiction and have read lots of Sharon Kay Penman and Ken Follet. My quick reads are by Debbie Macomber – think Hallmark channel. Good for traveling.

  24. Char
    | Reply

    1984 – must read BECAUSE it’s frightening in our current political climate
    Tender is the Night
    Portrait of a Lady
    Goldfinch – meh. I might be the only person alive who could not get through this book. Why say something in 50 words when you can say them in 5000?

  25. Ivy
    | Reply

    You really need to read 1984. Art imitates life, they say. You’ll see. Plus it’s a shorty.

  26. Vince Vawter
    | Reply

    “Tender Is the Night” is by F. Scott Fitzgerald, not Hemingway. David Foster Wallace is a slog. Donna Tart, only slightly less so. You know the ending to “1984.” Henry James’ time has come and gone. I would read “Paperboy” by Vince Vawter, self-serving as that might seem. I say if you write a book, be proud of it.

  27. Catherine
    | Reply

    I have read Portrait of a Lady and I highly recommend it. I may be mistaken but I did look up Tender is the Night and it was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I didn’t see this title listed under Hemmingway’s works. I haven’t read this book but I would like to. Thanks for the list.

  28. Janice in California
    | Reply

    Tender is the Night. You cannot go wrong beginning with Hemingway.

  29. Jan
    | Reply

    My daughter just taught 1984 and I sat in on the class, as I had never read it. I am 70, so just by vertue of a well-read life, I knew the reference of many of the themes, such as “Big Brother”. I didn’t know the story. As Helen Marie wrote, it’s frightening, but . . it is also a lesson learned as he evoked the fear and social discomfort of pre-WW2. It’s a quick read, I recommend this for the start of your “Unread Journey”. Hugs from Sacramento.

  30. Diana L Kiley
    | Reply

    I stopped and started The Goldfinch 3 times. I got bogged down a few times but finally finished and glad I did. The ending is surprising – at least to me. Or maybe because I was ready to get this book finished!

  31. Virginia Davis
    | Reply

    Tender is the night and portrait of a lady, you cant go wrong with Hemingway or James. The other 3 are alright.

  32. Kerry
    | Reply

    I liked 1984. Very advanced thinking that man!

    I bought The Iliad and The Odyssey recently because we studied them at school – but then found a set of Mark Twain books so currently half way through Tom Sawyer (a childhood favourite, so revisiting the past!) – and I suppose it is like quilting because I’m also halfway through Great Expectations and got very frustrated with the man missing the perfect girl right under his nose!!! So that got put down for a while – just like flitting from one patchwork project to another!

  33. Vince Vawter
    | Reply

    “Tender Is the Night” is by F. Scott Fitzgerald, not Hemingway. David Foster Wallace is a slog. Donna Tart, slightly less so. You know the ending to “1984” and Henry James’ time has come and gone. I will be self-serving and recommend “Paperboy.”

  34. Ann
    | Reply

    Of those, and because it’s what I have recommend for years to anyone who asks (partly because it has a name I can remember): The Goldfinch.

    However, dear Mary, do yourself a favor and get The Weight of Ink. It’s right down your alley. I submerged into that one and loved every minute of its well-turned phrases and lovely words. Not to mention that it’s a great story.

    Love seeing what’s on your shelves, give us more…

  35. Li
    | Reply

    Speaking of books never read. It is not on your list, but have you read “Jane Eyre”? I had not and chose last year to read “Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, and “Jane Eyre. Very much worth the time.

  36. Ginger Berkhouse
    | Reply

    1984 – a definite favorite of mine. Second choice would be Tender is the Night – you can’t go wrong with Papa Hemingway!

  37. pat roth
    | Reply

    1984…I read it in high school, many, many years ago. Post 9/11, and now with the current political crisis, I think I need to read it again

  38. Glenda
    | Reply

    1984, and it is so valid now.

  39. Michele McIntosh
    | Reply

    Goldfinch. It won the Pulitzer. Great read.

  40. Gail
    | Reply

    I would give anything to have a Dona Tartt novel just sitting there….waiting for me to read it. Goldfinch!!!!

  41. […] breastfeeding or the matter of having an emotional support animal or what book to start with on my summer reading list, the advice and counsel I get from PaperGirl readers is way more interesting and helpful than what […]

  42. Brenda King
    | Reply

    Mary- “Tender is the Night” by Hemingway is a fabulous book. I read it many years ago, and enjoyed it. LOVE anything by him. Didn’t appreciate the ending of his own life, tho’. : ) Brenda King, Bend, Oregon

  43. Charlotte
    | Reply

    I thought I was the only person in the world who couldn’t make it through “The Goldfinch”! So comforting to know that I’m not. Read them all, actually, in any order. They strike me as very serious in tone, so when you’re done you’ll want something wonderful, funny, uplifting and very well written. I recommend “Less”, the most recent Pulitzer fiction prize winner. (From a retired librarian who can’t resist making reading recommendations.)

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