Other Reader’s Corner
This is both a bibliography for the novels and my own personal favorites, fiction and nonfiction, children to adult, along with some remarks on research in general. For more recent recommendations, please visit my GoodReads page.
- General Reading
- Bibliography/From the Books
General Reading comprises novels and otherwise that I’ve particularly enjoyed, or been affected by, or just can’t get out of my mind—the sorts of things you push into the hands of friends even if they’re not usually interested in the subject. There aren’t a lot of best-sellers here, not because I don’t read them—I’m always first in line for the latest Connelly or Hillerman—but because I’d like to use this page to suggest books you may not have encountered before. Even if a lot of the titles are out of print (sorry—although they’re worth the effort of hunting them down, really they are.)
And because a web site is supposed to reflect the mind of its creator, however quirky, this list reflects the way I read: autobiographies next to mysteries, children’s picture books next to adult science fiction, “coffee table” art books scattered tastefully here and there, with the odd cookbook for seasoning—they’re not even ordered alphabetically, but with the new titles (as I read them or as I think of them) added in at the top, so you don’t have to search. It’s not supposed to be a bibliography, nor is it anywhere near complete—you really don’t want to know everything I read in the course of a month, trust me.
A few books that may not have come your way, that I’ve enjoyed:
C. J, Box, pretty much any title.
David Brin, The Kiln People. Does exactly what sci fi was designed to do, present us with a distorting mirror that shows us a true face.
Tony Broadbent, The Smoke and Spectres in the Smoke. My only regret is that these are set too late to introduce Mary Russell to Tony’s cat burglar, Jethro.
Michael Chabon, The Final Solution. Brilliant, intense, poetic exploration of a mind beset by great age. Oh yes–the mind is that of Sherlock Holmes.
Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer. Michael has been steadily producing one intelligent and exciting book after another for years now, but this is something very special.
Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys. Sci fi, and loads better than his earlier American Gods.
Ian McEwan, Saturday. Some of McEwan’s books bog down under me, but this is brilliant.
Batya Gur. Sadly died this past year, but everything of hers is superb.
Daniel Hecht, most of his titles, especially Skull Session and Land of Echoes.
Michael Robotham, Lost. A deft twist on the hoary old theme of amnesia, very nicely done.
Colm Toibin, The Master. If you’re going to write a fictionalized biography, why not make the subject Henry James rather than that Frey fellow?
Boy books: The following are great examples of what Elaine Viets calls the “male romance”–tough guy comes into town, rescues those in need, wins the girl, slips away like a ship cleansed of barnacles. Fantasies even us girls can get into.
Here are a few of the books I’ve enjoyed, or remembered, recently:
Michelle de Kretser, The Hamilton Case. Quizzical mystery set in Ceylon.
Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Queen of the South. A master of prose, and the translator should win a prize as well.
Penelope Lively, The Photograph. Another gorgeously crafted novel.
Anna Quindlen, Loud and Clear. Intelligent, wise essays that made me nod my head vigorously—Yes!—and feel like marching, for something.
Alan Gordon, An Antic Disposition. We could use a Fool’s Guild in the 21st century.
Pat Barker, Double Vision. Thought provoking tale of the effects of war on those who have not carried the guns.
Barbara Hodgson, Hippolyte’s Island. For fans of the Griffin and Sabine books who have a longer attention span.
Sean Doolittle, Burn. One of the new generation of hard-boiled mystery writers, this guy can really move a story.
C. J. Box, Open Season, etc. A clear and interesting voice for crime.
Dana Stabenow, Break Up. Hilarious thriller—yes, that is possible.
Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar; To Love and Be Wise; The Franchise Affair. Tey does things with her apparently simple plots that no one, but no one else can manage. A deliciously sly woman.
Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors; Murder Must Advertise; Gaudy Night. Beautiful language, gloriously ridiculous plots, and the first to bring the emotional life of her characters into the fore of the mystery. (Even though she did insist on apologizing for it.)
Frank Herbert, Dune. What science fiction is all about (the rest of the series, however, should have been left in the drawer.)
William Gibson, pretty much anything. And yes, I liked Pattern Recognition a lot, even if it isn’t cyberpunk.
David Brin, Kiln People; The Postman. (If you just saw the movie, please read the book.) Classic sci-fi, combining clever ideas and people you care about.
Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz. Extraordinary to see that this sci-fi was published in 1959—reading it, you begin to see where the Sixties came from.
John Gardner, The Art of Fiction; On Being a Novelist. Sensible yet subtle, one could only wish his novels were as readable. (You have to wonder what his first drafts looked like, before the writing teacher’s heavy editorial hand descended.)
Reginald Hill, Underworld; Pictures of Perfection. Actually, start with Ruling Passion and work your way up through Pictures of Perfection, for a view of how characters take hold of an author, and grow into fully formed people.
Khaled Husseini, The Kite Runner. Beautiful first novel exploring the complexities of Afghanistan from within.
Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (The title’s Holmes reference is almost peripheral.) Gem of a book written as if by an autistic boy, which I’d have thought couldn’t be done, certainly not when dealing with emotions.
Penelope Lively, City of the Mind; The Road to Lichfield; Heat Wave; Spiderweb (the Harper hardback has one of my favorite book covers of all time). Perfect novels, all of them. Just perfect. And as an intriguing way to write both history and autobiography, look at her A House Unlocked.
HRF Keating, Jack the Lady-Killer. All Keating’s books are grand, and his work as a critic fills me with awe, but this small volume, set in 1930s Punjab, is written in verse.
Similarly in verse is:
Dorothy Porter, The Monkey’s Mask. A thriller, but tantalizing as only poetry can be.
Walter Satterthwaite, Wilde West. A hoot of a book, offering an alternative version of Oscar Wilde’s travels in the United States. A very alternative version.
Michael C. White, A Brother’s Blood. Compelling mystery, with an unlikely narrator, set (as are the best) in the human heart.
Chaim Potok, The Beginning; The Chosen; My Name is Asher Lev; etc. Every young adult should read a couple of these; every adult should re-read them.
Marion Cunningham, Lost Recipes. I like this new book not just for the recipes, or for the clever format, but for the sprinkling of quotes that assert cooking is an art, and one essential for the growth of the human spirit. A book to give anyone beginning a marriage, or a family or… well, anyone.
Jane Langton, The Diamond in the Window. A young adult novel, probably the first I read that hit me as a novel, one I read to my own kids when they were young. But be sure you get the version with Langton’s own drawings in them—before the Homer Kelly series.
Other read-aloud books both kids and parents loved enough to read more than once were: Charlotte’s Web; The Lord of the Rings (yes, really—we got to the end of Three and started One again); all the Asterix books, and all the Tintin books. And when my kids were younger, we all enjoyed Graham Oakley’s Church Mice series, and of course American classics such as Ferdinand; Good Night Moon (I can still recite most of it); and Green Eggs and Ham (although the ending must be read with the heaviest of sarcasm: Oh yes I DO SO love green eggs and ham [now for God’s sake leave me alone…])
Andy Goldsworthy, Arch; Time. The sort of art books you read and think about, and read again.
Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country. Even if you have absolutely no intention of going anywhere near Australia (and you may not, once you’ve read it) this is hilarious.
Mary Doria Russell (no relation), The Sparrow; Children of God. Troubling futuristic novels, addressing the theological Big Issues eye to eye.
Connie Willis, Doomsday Book; Bellwhether. Another sci fi writer whose work is occasionally disturbing. Except To Say Nothing of the Dog, a summer’s-day of a romp.
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Club Dumas; The Fencing Master. Not light reads, but for those rainy nights when you want something to chew over….
Peter Straub, Mystery. The best Holmes pastiche I’ve read—and yes, I know the character’s name isn’t Holmes, and he’s not English, and it’s half a century too late for a pastiche…but still.
This is not a series of bibliographies, exactly. It looks that way, because it lists titles I used during the writing of each novel, but to call it a “bibliography” is misleading, since I will use dozens, even hundreds of books in researching a novel, and here I give five or six at most. Instead, the books here are those I recommend as basic in one aspect of another of the book: a soldier’s experiences in Vietnam, for example (Keeping Watch), or the life of an English woman during the Great War (the Russell series.) Most of them are readable for the non-expert, and most are available to people with only an ordinary library at hand.
The books given do not include topics where any number of titles would do as well—alchemy, for example, or fashion of the Twenties. Nor do I include titles mentioned already in the books, such as Maeterlinck’s treatise on Beekeeping (used in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) or the Wodehouse biography of Saint Francis (To Play the Fool.)
And especially for writers, notes on research are included at the end of the page.
Feminine Aspects of God: (a topic used in many of the novels.) This list is inadequate and out of date, reflecting the woeful state of Laurie R. King as a scholar of Old Testament studies, but they were what I used in writing my MA thesis on the topic, and found them illuminating at the time:
Michael David Coogan, Stories from Ancient Canaan
Peter C. Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament
Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic
Joan Chamberlain, The Feminine Dimension of the Divine
John Gray, The Canaanites; The Legacy of Canaan
Arvid S. Kapelrud, The Violent Goddess; The Ras Shamra Discoveries and the Old Testament
Judith Ochshorn, The Female Experience and the Nature of the Divine
Rafael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess
Marvin Pope, Song of Songs
Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk
Leonard Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Women
Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality
On Sherlock Holmes and his creator:
W. S. Baring-Gould, Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street
Daniel Stashower, Teller of Tales (on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
On England during and after the Great War:
Pat Barker, Regeneration; The Eye in the Door; The Ghost Road (novels)
Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth; Testament of Experience
Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory
Robert Graves, Good-bye to All That; (with Alan Hodge) The Long Week-End
Pamela Horn, Women in the 1920s
Lyn Macdonald—any of her myriad Great War titles
Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man; Memoirs of an Infantry Officer
Dirk Bogarde, Great Meadow (a memoir of Sussex life in the late twenties)
William Longwood, The Queen Must Die (on the art of beekeeping)
(see the above list “Feminine Aspects of God”)
Sabine Baring-Gould, Dartmoor
William Crossing, Dartmoor
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (a novel)
Linda Osband, ed; Jan Morris, introduction, Famous Travellers to the Holy Land
Bertha Spafford Vester, Our Jerusalem (turn of the century life in Jerusalem)
Janet Wallach, Desert Queen, on the life of Gertrude Bell.
Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House
Jervase Jackson-Stops and James Pipkin, The English Country House
Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes, Shot at Dawn (on wartime executions)
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (a novel)
Charles Allen, Plain Tales from the Raj
Malcolm Darling, The Hill of Devi; Wisdom and Work in the Punjabi Village; Rusticus Loquitur or, the Old Light and the New in the Punjab Village
E.M. Forster, The Hill of Devi
Peter Hopkirk, Quest for Kim; Setting the East Ablaze
Rudyard Kipling, Kim (a novel)
William H. and Charlotte V. Wiser, Behind Mud Walls
Jo Hammett, Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers
Gladys Hansen, Earthquake! A Day That Changed America
Bernice Scharlach, Big Alma. The story of Alma Spreckles tells much about her San Francisco.
Lisa Benton, The Presidio
Rose Collins, Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment
Jerry Flamm, Good Life in Hard Times
“The Salt Pond” (short story): Tim Flannery, Throwim Way Leg, on life in New Guinea.
Enid Welsford, The Fool: His Social and Literary History
William Willeford, The Fool and his Scepter
See the “Feminine Aspects” list, particularly Coogan and Pope.
A Darker Place (in England, Birth of a New Moon):
James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher, Why Waco? (“cults” and the government)
Tim Smit, The Lost Gardens of Heligen (exotic English gardens)
Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind
Jay Neugeboren, Transforming Madness
William Styron, Darkness Visible
On the “brutalization process” of abuse:
Elliot Aronson, Nobody Left to Hate
James Garbarino, Lost Boys
Richard Rhodes, Why they Kill
Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War
Michael Herr, Dispatches
Ward Just (intro), Reporting Vietnam
John Laurence, The Cat from Hue
Nathaniel Tripp, Father Soldier Son
Particularly for the historical novels, I depend on books rather than online research. Detailed suggestions are found in my chapter “The Past is Another Country” in the MWA handbook Writing Mysteries, but I will say that, for researching places in the teens and twenties, antiquarian booksellers are a treasure trove, especially those in London. My volume of Murray’s Handbook for India, Burma, and Ceylon, for example, was originally owned in 1919 by a soldier stationed in Ambala, and his margin notes tell me a lot about his life.
When writing about a place, I usually depend on Baedeker’s Guides published near the time I am writing, or in some cases a Murray’s, a Cook’s, or even an AA Handbook (research libraries or Interlibrary loans will have them.) Guides produced in the early decades of the century were far from the sterile Checklist of Unmissable Sights that were ushered in with the advent of mass tourism. When the beds of a place had fleas or the guides were villains, there was no hesitation in saying so.
The individual book pages of this site give links to a variety of interesting web sites, although my links are by no means extensive, and sites tend to drop out of existence with depressing regularity. Also, whatever you really want to know probably isn’t going to be there. But for anything Victorian or Edwardian, do not neglect Sarah Smith’s excellent home page with her thoughts on researching the historical novel, “Virtual Victoria”, and the library of mystery and suspense. Sarah’s work is enough to cure even this technophobe.
The internet can also be of great help in planning a research trip, ensuring that you don’t overlook the antique cars at Beaulieu, the childhood museum in London, or that great collection of historical undergarments in Exeter…