Reading List

Books I Recommend (YA and Childrens’ Books)

  • Rosemary Sutcliff: The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers
    These are the gold standard when it comes to historical fiction for young adults. The story follows the Aquila family in Roman Britain from soon after Boudicca’s rebellion to the very end, as the legions are withdrawn and the families are left to fend for themselves amidst chaos and Saxon invasions. Sutcliff evokes the lives of young soldiers so vividly, you almost believe that she herself marched with the legions. She sketches loyalties and betrayals in ways that are moving and heartbreaking and describes the natural world in luminous, glowing colors.
  • Eleanor Cameron: The Court of the Stone Children
    I read this as a teen and it transported me to the San Francisco of Cameron’s Nina, a lonely girl, who misses her home in the high country of the Sierra Madres. Nina’s uncanny sense of the past resonated powerfully with me. When she finds a friend, Dominique, a French girl whose father was assassinated by Napoleon, readers will be both enchanted and saddened by the intersection of the two worlds. Cameron wrote a brilliant article about time-travel fiction in which she analyzes the nature of time and its impact on literature in her collection of essays, The Green and Burning Tree.
  • David Almond: Kit’s Wilderness, The Fire-Eaters, Clay
    Whether he’s exploring abandoned mines, the fears of people living through the Cuban missile crisis or a modern, Catholic, take on the traditional Jewish golem story, David Almond creates haunting, powerful stories.
  • Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials trilogy.
    These are the only books that could possibly induce me to want to read Paradise Lost. I admit that I haven’t yet – but really, no one but Pullman could make me even consider such a thing. His inventions are magical. Lyra and Will’s separate quests lead them to fight a malevolent theocracy in intersecting worlds, which incorporate richly imagined witches, Panzerbjorns, aerialists, angels, specters and even a tottering and decrepit God. I love the coming of age at the end and the idea of the Republic – rather than the Kingdom -- of Heaven. Radical questioning.
  • Karen Cushman: Catherine Called Birdy, The Midwife’s Apprentice.
    Corpus Bones! How much more fun can historical fiction be? Strong, funny, bad-tempered girls in the Middle Ages, trying to make some way out of no way.

Books for Adults

  • Connie Willis: The Doomsday Book
    I loved this take on time-travel, projected from the future. A gaggle of Oxford dons muck up their coordinates and send a plucky graduate student to England in 1349, where pandemic disease awaits her. The warm characterizations offset the tragedy that unfolds.
  • Pat Barker: Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road
    This trilogy of books set in England in World War I intermingle historical and fictional characters. What I love is that the fictional characters, particularly the indelible Billy Prior, are just as convincing as the real-life people, such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owens, who she integrates into her cast. If you are compelled by poetry, by the voice of the independent artist in time of war, by sexuality and attitudes towards homosexuals, free speech, shell shock and the death urge of modern males, this series is for you. It will inspire you and enrage you.
  • Bruce Chatwin: The Songlines
    Brilliant! But don’t look for a conventional narrative. Chatwin was a travel writer who could not possibly be limited by that description. Here he pursues knowledge of the fascinating Australian aboriginal song-lines, describing the quest he undertakes as well as the knowledge he accrues. But it’s also a poetic and amazing meditation on the nature of wandering, of nomads, of the intrinsic value of the traveling life.
  • Christopher Morley: Parnassus on Wheels, The Haunted Bookshop
    I’ve taken my epigraph for The Jewel and the Key from The Haunted Bookshop. Parnassus was published in 1917, and in it, spinster Helen McGill buys a travelling bookshop (a horse and wagon affair with hundreds of books in it) to preach the gospel of good reading to farmers in Upstate New York. Her brother is absolutely aghast and reprimands her, “Upon my soul, you ought to have better sense. And at your age – and weight!” It’s completely charming and makes me wish I could set up a traveling bookstore myself. In The Haunted Bookshop, Helen has married and settled down with the erst-while owner of the traveling Parnassus, and they have opened a bookshop in Brooklyn. It’s after the war, and the haunting isn’t only from the spirits of the authors of their much beloved books, but the spirits of those lost in the war itself.