Books to talk about – a personal view

March 8, 2010 at 1:22 pm (Book clubs, books)

Recently a friend asked me for some suggestions for her book club. I get this question often enough that I decided to put a list together.

I keep a log of  the books I read; what follows has its genesis in that list. Where I’ve reviewed a title in depth, written about it as a  discussion choice, or done a feature piece on the author, I’ve provided a link to the relevant post.

These are all books that I have liked – in some cases, loved – in recent years. I recommend all of them, either for group discussion or for  solitary enjoyment. This is a very subjective compilation; I welcome comments and suggestions.

The late John McGahern, whose luminous novel I especially cherish


The Ghost at the Table – Suzanne Berne
The House on Fortune Street – Margot Livesey
The Promise of Happiness and To Heaven By Water – Justin Cartwright
Intuition – Allegra Goodman
The Photograph – Penelope Lively
Second Honeymoon and Other People’s Children – Joanna Trollope
Prospero’s Daughter – Elizabeth Nunez
Digging To America – Anne Tyler
The Emperor’s Children – Claire Messud
The Whole World Over – Julia Glass
The Other Side of the Bridge – Mary Lawson
The Other Side of YouSalley Vickers
Elephanta Suite – Paul Theroux
On Chesil Beach, Saturday, Enduring Love – Ian McEwan
Trauma – Patrick McGrath
Cleaver – Tim Parks
Senator’s Wife – Sue Miller
The Northern Clemency – Philip Hensher
The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa
The Human Stain, Everyman – Philip Roth
Hotel Du Lac – Anita Brookner
By the Lake – John McGahern
The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
Love and Summer – William Trevor
Unfinished Desires – Gail Godwin
Heart of a Shepherd – Rosanne Parry (JF)

Historical fiction

Land of Marvels – Barry Unsworth
The Shooting Party – Isabel Colegate
The Fall of Troy and The Lambs of London – Peter Ackroyd
Arthur & George – Julian Barnes
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
An Imperfect Lens – Anne Roiphe
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – Jacqueline Kelly (YA)

Short story collections

It’s Beginning To Hurt – James Lasdun
Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It – Maile Meloy
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders – Daniyal Mueenuddin
Too Much Happiness – Alice Munro
Museum of Dr. Moses – Joyce Carol Oates
Cheating at Canasta – William Trevor
Unaccustomed Earth and Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories – Joan Silber
Little Black Book of Stories – A.S. Byatt
My Father’s Tears – John Updike
Walk the Blue Fields – Claire Keegan


The Professor’s House – Willa Cather
Lady Audley’s Secret – Elizabeth Braddon
The House in Paris – Elizabeth Bowen
Washington Square – Henry James
The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald

Mystery and Suspense

The Coffin Trail – Martin Edwards
The Indian BrideBlack Seconds, and Water’s Edge – Karin Fossum
Half Broken Things and Puccini’s Ghosts – Morag Joss
Monsieur Monde Vanishes – Georges Simenon
The Ghost – Robert Harris
Blue Heaven – C.J. Box
Suffer the Little Children, A Sea of Troubles, Girl of His Dreams – Donna Leon
Careful Use of Compliments and novels in The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series – Alexander McCall Smith
Price of Malice – Archer Mayor
Second Burial of a Black Prince – Andrew Nugent
The Clare Fergusson / Russ Van Alstyne series– Julia Spencer-Fleming
The Armand Gamache series – Louise Penny
Minotaur and  The Birthday Present – Barbara Vine
Seven Lies – James Lasdun
Once a Biker – Peter Turnbull
Water Like a Stone – Deborah Crombie
Christine Falls – Benjamin Black
The Tinderbox – Jo Bannister
Raven Black and White NightsAnn Cleeves
What the Dead KnowLaura Lippman
On Beulah Height, and other Dalziel & Pascoe novels – Reginald Hill
The Pure in Heart – Susan Hill
The Godwulf Manuscript and The ProfessionalRobert B. Parker
The Remains of an Altar – Phil Rickman
The Chameleon’s Shadow – Minette Walters
The Way Some People Die and The Zebra-Striped Hearse – Ross MacDonald
Cold in Hand – John Harvey
Monster in the Box, Simisola, and Judgement in Stone– Ruth Rendell
The Accomplice – Elizabeth Ironside
The Suspect – L.R. Wright
Finding Nouf – Zoe Ferraris
Bleeding Heart Square – Andrew Taylor
Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg  Larsson
The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
The Cold Dish – Craig Johnson
The Laughing Policeman – Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Hit Parade and Hit and Run – Lawrence Block
Thunder Bay – William Kent Krueger
The Demon of Dakar – Kjell Eriksson
Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair – Josephine Tey
The Maltese FalconDashiell Hammett


The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft – Ulirch Boser
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography – Graham Robb
American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau:   their lives, their loves, their work – Susan Cheever
City of Falling Angels – John Berendt
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War – Nathaniel Philbrick
Archie & Amelie: love and madness in the Gilded Age – Donna Lucey
Monsters: Mary Shelley & the Curse of Frankenstein – Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan
The Girls Who Went Away: the hidden history of women who surrendered children for adoption in the decades before Roe v. Wade – Ann           Fessler
Uncommon Arrangements: seven portraits of married life in London literary circles, 1910-1939 – Katie Roiphe
Indian Summer: the secret history of the end of an empire – Alex von Tunzelmann
Bloody Falls of the Coppermine: madness, murder, and the collision of cultures in the Arctic, 1913 – McKay Jenkins
A Venetian Affair and Lucia: a Venetian life in the age of Napoleon – Andrea Di Robilant
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: a shocking murder and the undoing of a great Victorian detectiveKate Summerscale
A Passion for Nature:  the life of John Muir – Donald Worster
Zeitoun – Dave Eggers
The Age of Wonder:  how the romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science – Richard Holmes
Parallel Lives: five Victorian marriages – Phyllis Rose
The Art of Time in Fiction: as long as it takes – Joan Silber
May and Amy: a true story of family, forbidden love, and the secret lives of May Gaskell, her daughter Amy, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones – Josceline Dimbleby
The Last Duel: a true story of crime, scandal, and trial by combat in medieval France – Eric Jager
Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face—and What to Do About It – Richard S. Tedlow
Nothing To Be Frightened Of – Julian Barnes



Anne Tyler, whose new novel I am greatly looking forward to reading


I wrote   Looking for reading group guides and book reviews in 2007 . The information contained in this post is still useful, but one item needs updating. The local library no longer subscribes to the database Masterfile.  Instead, you can use GeneralOneFile, which pretty much covers the same ground in a somewhat more coherent fashion.

Here’s a piece of good news – finally – for book lovers: Kirkus has been given a new lease on life due to the good offices and generosity of book lover (and basketball team owner!) Herbert Simon. The price of a subscription is rather steep, but you can access specific Kirkus reviews gratis on GeneralOneFile.

In the interest of full disclosure, there are three books on the above list that I have not yet finished reading. I only recently got my hands on The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen, and I am loath to rush through it -it is so deliciously Henry Jamesian, and so gorgeously written. I feel the same way about My Father’s Tears, the final story collection from the late, greatly missed John Updike.

Finally, Denial arrived here at the house just a few days ago (the book, I mean!), a gift from the author who also happens to be my brother. I’m about half way through it and enjoying it immensely. Richard, only you could fascinate me with tales of the tire industry!


  1. Kay said,

    Roberta, thanks for sharing the lists. We haven’t used any of your regular fiction or non-fiction in my group that reads those. However, we’ve discussed several of your mystery selections in my mystery group. Everything has proven talk-worthy. I’ll keep this list for some possibilities. Again, thanks!

    • Roberta Rood said,

      You’re certainly welcome, Kay. I feel I’m helping out in a good cause!

  2. Meredith said,

    Roberta, talk about a gift that keeps on giving! Did you have any idea when you started this blog, it would be so valuable to so many? In any case, I hope your many faithful readers all write to congratulate you on another year of delicious (your word) book talk (not to mention art and music, and oh yes, snow removal). Surely I am not alone in looking forward to year four!


    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thanks so much, Meredith. This particular post was incredibly time-consuming because of all the links – but expressions of appreciation like yours make me feel that it was time well spent!

  3. Kathy D. said,

    Yes, this is a great list. Thanks so much. I will print it out when I
    have a working printer and put it in my recommended books folder and
    will consult it.

    One book that I’d recommend which I am nearly finished with, is
    Kelli Stanley’s “City of Dragons.” It’s 1940 San Francisco Chinatown,
    with a unique private detective, a woman with a past and a lot of
    problems and moxie. It is fascinating.

    Have a great year of reading and blogging.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Kathy, I’m so glad you like the list. And thanks for the recommendation of “City of Dragons.” I’ve been intrigued by the great reviews it’s been getting.

  4. Nan said,

    Thank you for taking all the time to put this together!

    • Roberta Rood said,

      You are so welcome, Nan. It was a alabor of love – emphasis on the labor!

      BTW – I love Letters from a Hill Farm.

  5. Kathy D. said,

    Please put up your reaction to “City of Dragons”; I’d like to see what
    you think.

    I am revising my thinking on historical fiction and may break out into that genre as one can learn so much and authors do so much research.

    Kathy D.

  6. On the high cost of “protective stupidity” – Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face – and What to Do About it « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] of radial tires, a clearly superior product made by the French company Michelin. I mentioned in a previous post that I was quite frankly amazed to be fascinated by the history of the tire industry. Well, it is […]

  7. said,

    hey really good little website you got here 🙂 I work with the identical theme on my own blog yet for whatever silly reason it seems to reload more rapid on this web site despite the fact that the one you have contains way more content material. Have you been employing some plug ins or widgets that will speed it up? Do you think you could share the plug ins so I might use them in my own website so twilight breaking dawn fans could watch twilight new moon online trailers and videos faster I’d personally be thankful – thank you in advance 🙂 Articles 16:41

    • Roberta Rood said,


      In answer to your question: I’m not using any plug-ins, add-ons, widgets, etc. to power “Books to the Ceiling.” I just use the software generously provided by WordPress!

      thanks for the compliment re the blog –

      Roberta Rood

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