Some of the Books that are Stuck in my Brain, Part I

 Apparently people like book recommendations, so welcome to the ones (some of the ones) stuck in my brain. Note: Not every book will work for every reader. But these are books that grabbed a spot in my brain and have never moved out.

A little bit of everything. In no particular order. Those of you who have hung around this weblog for the ten plus years it has been drifting in and out of existence will have heard me mention some of these. But probably not all.

Dorothy Dunnett.  1991. Niccolo Rising. Volume 1 of The House Of Niccolo – 8 Volumes. New York: Vintage Books.

This is, simply put, my favorite historical novel of all time. It’s not a quick read, but it is tremendously rewarding. And funny. And moving. And you’ll learn a ton about 15th century Europe.

Niccolo Rising series


Irene Hunt. 1966. Up a Road Slowly. New York: Follett.

Reading this book as a twelve year old, I remember how the imagery struck me. It was the first time that the language lifted itself off the page, and I never forgot what that felt like. It’s a quiet but very moving story. I re-read it a couple years ago, and I was glad to find out that I hadn’t outgrown it.

Hunt: Up a Road Slowly


Howard Zinn. xxxx. A People’s History of the United States.

Zinn - A People's History




William Styron. 1979. Sophie’s Choice. New York: Random House.

This novel is set in Brooklyn and NYC post WWII. I thought about it for months after first reading it, and still think about it quite often. It’s the juxtaposition of innocence (Stingo) and despair (Sophie), and the way that tragedy blossoms on the page where they meet. 

Styron: Sophie's Choice

 E. Annie Proulx. 1993. The Shipping News. New York: Scribner.

This is a quirky beautifully constructed love story about man who is rescued, against all expectations, from his loneliness. Proulx is one of the few truly original stylists writing today. 

Proulx - The Shipping News

Jacquelyn Mitchard. 2011. Second Nature. New York: Random House.

Jacquelyn Mitchard is about my age; she’s from Chicago, and she has an extended Italian family (the Cappadoras) of recurring characters (they show up in at least three of her novels). For all kinds of personal reasons I love these novels, but this one I liked especially because of the main character: Sicily Coyne. At thirteen she is terribly disfigured in a fire that also kills her firefighter-father. It’s not hard to imagine what it would be like for a girl in her teens to suddenly have no face, but the story isn’t really about that. It’s about a reversal of fate and how she rebuilds a life around that reversal. I’ve re-read this novel a couple times and I’ve listened to it on unabridged audio, and every time I’m taken aback by Sicily.  The highest compliment I can pay is the strong sense that if I could, I’d love to live in a neighborhood with all these characters. 

Mitchard: Second Nature

Helen Wells. 1943. Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. New York:  Grossett & Dunlap.

I saved my money until I could afford the next volume in the Cherry Ames series and eventually I had all of them. It’s amazing where Cherry Ames could find work as a nurse. And I loved her to distraction. I had every intention of becoming a nurse (and apparently, many nurses my age and older credit Cherry Ames with their decision to go to nursing go) until life intervened. 

Wells - Cherry Ames Student Nurse

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. 1991. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. New York: Vintage Books. 

This is not fiction, but I have never come across a better exploration of the life of a woman who led a quiet life in the early years of the country. 

A Midwife's Tale

A Midwife’s Tale