A Bookish Answer to Life

Ocean city New Jersey, photographyPerhaps it’s big magic, perhaps it’s many small great things, but for the good of the commonwealth, I choose to think it’s the origin of us all.

Before the fall, when the summer sun seems like the light of Paris, and cerulean and lavender seem like every day true colors, circumstances of childhood don’t matter. If we have bags, we travel. Our nemesis – winter – is conquered, and we believe that today will be different.

The sandcastle girls enjoy the beach at painter’s cove. Britt-Marie is here and there, as well as a certain gentleman in Moscow until the return of the courtesan. Caitlin’s bane is forgotten, because who can resist romance when breathing in the bay at midnight and listening to the birds of paradise? Who can resist a second chance romance with the boys in the trees or after a kiss with Carlo?

When the women are in the castle, separate beds make no sense, and lovers claim to be sleepwalkers.  Perhaps the Hamilton affair, discovered and revealed by the whistler, begins the rash of stolen marriages. Perhaps that’s the reason that sisters in law suddenly no longer speak to each other as the season heats up.

But this identical story is found throughout the world, in everyone’s not so perfect life. All of us look for a bright hour, a time when we feel encased in a nest of love and acceptance, hoping for a fix to our everyday troubles.

But no matter how many midnights are spent at the bright ideas bookstore, the answers lie within, not without. A house among the trees is shelter, not acceptance. Glass houses can be shattered as easily as a soul.

The rules of magic explain it all in a lilting hillbilly elegy: MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY.

That’s it. Nothing complicated. We don’t need to be another Einstein to figure it out. Whether sunning on a beach or shivering in a winter garden, don’t let go of this true meaning of life:

Kauai, sunrise photographyIf you don’t do it for yourself, do it for love of humankind. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Some of my favorite books read in 2017:

  •  The Whistler, John Grisham
  • The Hamilton Affair, Elizabeth Cobbs
  • True Colors, Kristin Hannah
  • Second Chance Romance, Jill Weatherholt
  • My (Not So) Perfect Life, Sophie Kinsella
  • Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple
  • Before the Fall, Noah Hawley
  • Reckoning Tide, Anneli Purchase
  • Have Bags, Will Travel, D.G. Kay
  • The Awakening, Kate Chopin
  • Fatal, John Lescroart
  • Separate Beds, Elizabeth Buchan
  • The Light of Paris, Eleanor Brown
  • Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult
  • Commonwealth, Ann Patchett
  • Britt-Marie Was Here, Fredrik Backman
  • The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
  • Winter Garden, Kristin Hannah
  • Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
  • The Sandcastle Girls, Chris Bohjalian
  • The Beach at Painter’s Cover,  Shelley Noble
  • The Other Einstein, Marie Benedict 
  • Kiss Carlo, Adriana Trigiani
  • The Women in the Castle, Jessica Shattuck
  • The Fix, David Baldacci
  • The Letter, Kathryn Hughes
  • Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, Matthew Sullivan
  • The Identicals, Elin Hilderbrand
  • Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance
  • The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Nina Riggs
  • For Love, Sue Miller
  • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
  • The Return of the Courtesan, Victoria Blake
  • Sisters in Law, Linda Hirshman
  • The Bay at Midnight, Diane Chamberlain
  • Boys in the Trees, Carly Simon
  • The Sleepwalker, Chris Bohjalian
  • The Stolen Marriage, Diane Chamberlaine
  • Catling’s Bane, D. Wallace Peach
  • Circumstances of Childhood,  John W. Howell
  • Don’t Let Go, Harlan Coben
  • Glass Houses, Louise Penny
  • Nemesis, Philip Roth
  • Make Someone Happy, Elizabeth Berg
  • Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman
  • House Among the Trees, Julia Glass
  • Origin, Dan Brown
  • Birds of Paradise, Pamela S. Wight

128 thoughts on “A Bookish Answer to Life

    • Happy New Year to you, Ben. Considering the types of things you write about on your blog, I’d suggest the book Origin, by Dan Brown, if you read just one book on my list. Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code,’ which was good but a bit too complex and detailed for me. Origin is easier to read, with a fast-moving plot and characters who ask a lot of questions about faith, religion, technology, and the human race.

  1. What a lovely long list of titles. I see one of my favourites, at least, there; and another I’d add should the list be mine: The Right Wrong Man. Have an amazing 2018. Thanks for sharing the secret to a happy life, in a bookish kind of way.

    • Thank YOU for the smile, Norah. I’m thrilled that you’d add The Right Wrong Man to your list. I’m sending you a load of good wishes for the new year. You certainly have made someone (me) happy this past year with your support and wonderful blog.

    • What a compliment, Bernadette. I’m not quite sure what kind of books you most enjoy reading, but I’ll whisper a few I think you’d definitely enjoy. Ready? (The Hamilton Affair – fascinating historical fiction set in the northeast, not too far from where you live; Small Great Things – Picoult does a terrific fictional job of raising questions about racism and how we fit in; The Women in the Castle – fiction set in and after WWII about strong women surviving the brutality of war). Happy reading to you in the New Year.

  2. Oh yes, I was looking for some books to pad my already toppling to-be-read list. Thanks a lot! 😉 I have Big Magic on my bedside table as we speak. Excited to dive into the others on your list to see what strikes my fancy. You seem to read books that I would like, too, so I appreciate your suggestions! Happy New Year!

    • Big Magic – sigh. I’ve read it through once already, and now re-reading for the second time. I use parts of it to inspire my writing classes, too, Kate. I’d love to hear what book/s you end up reading that really tickle your fancy. My list is quite eclectic, but the writing is good in all of them. To wonderful reading…and writing.. in 2018!

  3. Wonderful long list of recommendations! Some of them I’ve also read and loved this year like Jodi Piccoult’s Small Great Things. And I fully and wholeheartedly agree with “Make someone happy” – it’s not complicated 😄
    Wishing you a wonderful and creative New Year, Pamela! 😄❤

    • We humans like to forego simplicity, when “Keeping things simple” is the best way to enjoy life, don’t you think? Give me a good book, a warm chair, and a cup of hot tea, and I’m happy. See? Simple! 🙂 May we both find our creative spirits enlarge and expand this new year. xo

  4. My ‘to read’ list grows longer. I have been making more time for reading since blogging and reading others’ blogs eats into my reading time. And my drought of reading fiction has ended thank God! I was in a rut of reading nonfiction for years and it is so good to be back into fiction for the past year. Happy New Year, Pam and happy reading!

    • The good thing about reading blogs is that — it’s another type of reading that keeps us informed and magically transported to whatever side of the world the blogger is on. PLUS, I’ve read books I never would have stumbled upon if not for reading about the Indie works of other bloggers. My goal is to read more books by my blogging friends. They inspire me to keep on writing my own tomes. 🙂 Best to you in the new year, Molly.

  5. ‘Some’ of your favourite books read in 2017! And you do so much with ‘your’ words too! Of your list I’ve not read a single one … so a challenge for you Pam, knowing me as you do, if just one, what would you have me read of these? Happy New year to you and yours … Eric.

    • Whoa, that’s a tough one, Eric. Only one?! Hmmm, tapping fingernails on table… You’re a romanticist, and you like dialogue. Many people here have commented that I should have included my book The Right Wrong Man here, and I must admit (modestly of course) that the book is full of action AND some romance and lots of interesting dialogue. Viola!
      But as far as the list that I wrote here, I’d probably recommend The Sleepwalker for you, by Chris Bohjalian. He’s a terrific writer, and he knows how to write a female POV well.

      • Interesting recommendation Pam … not my usual choice of reading but having now read the blurb I’m intrigued, not least as, as a young man I was known to sleep walk! My current reads in progress are: ‘Autumn’ by Ali Smith; ‘How to Stop Time by Matt Haig; ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell … and (big build up!) ‘The Right Wrong Man’ by a certain someone!

  6. Aw…I’m honored to be included among so many talented writers, Pam. Thank you so much. My father loved The Whistler…I must add that to my list. Of course, if I were making a list, Birds of Paradise would be much closer to the top. 🙂 Happy New Year! ❤

    • I was surprised at how easy it was to use the titles of my “have read” list into a little “essay” on life, Darlene. But that’s what writing is all about – the surprise. Right? Happy writing and reading to YOU for 2018, my Spanish friend. xo

  7. Wow! i’m impressed that you managed to read all those books while also writing and publishing one! “the Right Wrong Man” was one of my favorite few. My 2018 resolution is to make reading a priority again.

    • Thank you so much, Paula. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed my book The Right Wrong Man. My new year’s resolution is to finish the sequel to that book. Halfway done. Please – wish me luck. And happy reading in 2018 for you. xo

  8. I like your book list. Even more, I like the clever story you weaved about the books you’ve read. If I was inclined to write a summary of my 2017 reading list, your post would now have completely intimidated me 😉

    • I start a list at the beginning of each year, Joanne, because no way would I remember all the books I devour. I’m a book addict, for sure (chocolate a close second). 🙂 Big hug to you. xo

      • I’ve been keeping a list for 2 years now – largely because I was curious about how much I really was reading.
        As with all things – what gets measured gets managed. Quel surprise!! I read more than I thought I did – but still a modest amount compared to many others 🙂. My official total of completed books this year is 36.

    • I couldn’t find a way to comment on your last post, The Day After Christmas. Yes, a dreary time but invigorating as we decide where we want the new year to go. Here’s to inspiration and creation! Here’s to the New Year bringing you both.

  9. Very good Pamela 🙂 I suppose I ought to keep a list too. I’ve read a lot, but sadly only one on your list (the Victoria Blake, very good). I tend to avoid out-and-out romances though, of which there are quite a few in your list. Though surprisingly I see ‘romance’ only accounts for 21% of fiction.

    My present night time read is in fact non-fiction – an account of the author’s tackling of the Pennine Way in the North of England.

    Anyway, Happy New Year Pam and look forward to reading your further blog posts in 2018.

    • Okay, Roy, you’ve given me a challenge here. Watch out, because my mind is whirling. Eight of the books I listed are in the “women’s fiction” category (but not necessarily “romance”). Six of the books perhaps could be called “historical fiction” because they’re not set in contemporary times. They are not romances, although in all of the books – those by men and women – those that are action books and those not – have some kind of “romance” in them, ie, some love. As do YOUR books, Roy! So my point? Few stories can be written without some “romance,” because without love, well, we’d have a lot of unhappy characters. I guess that’s why I read so little non-fiction (a fault of mine, I admit). Non-fiction tends to leave out the ‘humanness’ of the people involved.
      Whew. Okay, off my soapbox. That wasn’t too bad, was it? 🙂 In reality, thank you for reading my little essay and my book list. Since you enjoy non-fiction and exploring different ideas, I suggest Origin by Dan Brown for you in the New Year, with my best wishes.

  10. You have certainly read some wonderful books, Pamela. Your essay with the books was impressive. Of course, I must say thank you for including Circumstances of Childhood. The Right Wrong Man is on my TBR. Since I lived in the Bay area, Twin Desires needs to be there as well. (We used to motor from San Raphel to Stinson Beach along route one. No wine at Stinson Beach since going home would otherwise be impossible.) Happy New Year.

    • If I remember correctly, Circumstances of Childhood has some great scenes in my neck of the woods now – Boston. The Right Wrong Man begins in the Cambridge/Boston area. Twin Desires has some great scenes (the author says modestly) of San Francisco but particularly Stinson Beach – and that drive. I can’t wait for you to read these books and see what you think. In the meantime, happy writing, reading, and creating to you for the New Year!

  11. Pam, you’re a genius!! I love your first section and how you’ve woven in so many names here…brilliant!!

    Oh, goodie…a book list and I’ve read quite a few of these and then reminders of some I look forward to next year. The last one is one of those…Birds of Paradise! Many times a day I look at the beautiful postcard! Wishing you and your family a very Happy New Year and a wonderfully creative 2018! Love & hugs xxxxx

    • 🙂 Any comment that begins with “you’re a genius” is a comment I pay attention to!! Haha. I had a fun time making a little essay on life using the titles of the books I read in 2017. Will be fun to do this again in a year – and your book will be one of the titles used!!! How exciting is that?
      Glad birds Bert and Bessie are by your side as you write and create, my friend. xo

  12. I admire your reading skills Pam…that makes me envious too! The books you have picked up for this innovative post must be the best ones? Just wondering! Wishing you a lovely 2018 🙂

    • I start a list at the beginning of every year, and type in each title diligently when I finish a book. In my list on my computer, I put asterisks for those books I loved the most. But I didn’t do that here, because each reader has her/his own taste. And yes, there are a few more books I’ve read but didn’t add to this list because I couldn’t find a way to use them in my little essay. 🙂 Happy New year, to you, Balroop. ❤

  13. Making those around you happy is a wonderful message as we head into the New Year! I wish you a wonderful year ahead, Pamela. I enjoyed reading your list of recommended reads too 🙂

  14. Tee-hee! Oh, so cleverly done, Pam. You had me smiling.
    (I admit a touch of envy that you read so many books this year.) 😉
    Here’s wishing 2018 brings us all “a time when we feel encased in a nest of love and acceptance.” That would be such bliss. Huge hugs.

  15. Thank you, Pam. What a great list. I’ve bookmarked it so I can come find a good book any time I need one. I’m honoured to be included in your list. You forgot to include your own “Right Wrong Man” and “Twin Desires.” They should be on the list!

  16. Clever you to weave all this great sounding books into a post. I shall try to obtain a few of them. No way can I read all of them. I just do not have that kind of time right now. Hope you had a lovely Christmas, Pamela.

  17. You had quite a vigorous reading year my friend…I love some of the choices on that list that we shared this year…I see more that I will have to roll over to my new list for this year. Like you, reading is my way of coping sometimes…as it provides, happy thoughts, comforting lessons, humor and great get aways…I love to see how the other half lives and I just simple love good writing…and lots of words…
    Can’t wait to see where books will take us this year…
    Happy New Year Pam…and Happy reading…

    • I can’t imagine what my life would be without reading. I ‘escape’ into the lives of others, and learn so much in the process. To learning more about others — while in our reading chairs, Cheryl. xo

  18. That was so clever! Loved it and delighted to have made the list, Pam. You read all those?? Good for you. I’m trying to read more and will be thrilled if I get to twenty books for the whole year. You’ve inspired me. Happy New Year!

    • I’m not sure when I read the most – in the winter when it’s 0 degrees (like right now) and the best place in the region is on my reading chair, or in the summer in front of the NJ oceanic surf, feeling the hot rays of light while I sit in my little plastic water chair and float into another (book) life. I wish you much reading pleasure in 2018.

  19. Finally, i found all good books in one list..Thank you so much for sharing and i am in love with your featured image of this post…

  20. What a beautiful post Pam. Not only is the story elegant, but oh so clever including book titles in the story. And extra thrilled to see one of my books there. Congrats on a fabulous reading list accomplished! Happy New Year my friend! ❤

    • Yes, that book began slowly and I wondered if I was going to stick with it. Then BOOM, I couldn’t put it down. I’ve been told I should read his earlier book, Rules of Civility, so put that on my 2018 to-be-read list!

  21. Holy crap!! What an impressive list of books you read this year. I will be sure to share your list with my mother who reads voraciously and will be very appreciative of your selection, no doubt. Very interesting presentation of this post, incorporating book covers into the thread…..

    Ben sheepishly admitted he read ahem two books… I guess it is time for us to sign up to read books online. I do miss the availability of bookstores and libraries here. But reading online just seems so hard on the eyes as yet again it is more computer time…. So what to do??

    Question: do you map out a set of books and have a back log waiting for you to read them, or is your approach more opportunistic and when you finish one, then look for another that captivates your interest?


    • I’m fortunate because I can reserve books from one website that is connected to over five libraries within a 15 mile radius of my home. But if I can’t wait for a book (or if I want to read an Indie book that’s not in the library) I buy it for my Kindle. They are much less expensive than buying a hardbound or even paperback book. Would you consider getting a Kindle? I agree, I can’t read on my laptop or I-pad (well, I don’t even have an I-pad). My eyes would protest. I’ve had the same Kindle for several years (the Paperwhite), which is simple to use (no bells and whistles) but I can make the font as big as I want, and make the background lighter or darker depending on where I am.
      Lastly, I read book reviews voraciously – in newspapers, magazines, blogs, Goodreads – and decide which books I like from the reviews there as well as from friends. (And if I’ve I read a book I love, I’ll look for other books from the same author.) The other nice thing about the Kindle is that you can just ‘sample’ a book for free to see if it’s to your liking, and if it is, press the button and download the entire book. So, hope this helps! xo
      PS – I always have 2-3 books waiting for me for when I finish the last one. 🙂

  22. Oh good, love book lists! Points, so some say. Hey, what book might you recommend for me? I am having trouble reading fiction in the past year or so. Big Magic IS Big Magic. Loved that book! (I would not be adverse to fiction if it was amazingly good.) My mother, our book club and me all loved the book “A long way home by” Saroo Brierly.

    • Dan Brown’s new book ORIGIN is fascinating, Kathy, because within the plot, the characters explore if science replaces religion, and where “spirituality” mixes in with all of this. I’ve had some intriguing group discussions about this book with friends who are ministers, doctors, agnostics, yogis, etc., A book that makes us think is a good book, in my mind. xo

  23. Wow! I am totally impressed with so many books read in one year, Pamela! You teach, you write and you read so much!
    I don’t think, even when I stayed home and babysat children, did I read the numbers you did. 🎈📚🎉
    I read four on your list plus twelve not there but independent writers.

    Total= 16 books annually: 1-Christy’s, 1-Debby’s, 2 of Luanne’s, 2 of Shehanne’s, (4 famous), 1-Jill’s, 1-Ann’s, 1-Diana’s, 1-yours, 1- Anneli’s, and 1-Carol’s.
    I thought one book a month was about my *”speed.” 🙂

  24. Cool! Love having new books to read. I am always looking for something new and different. I get tired of the same genre. I fine an author I really like and a series… end up reading all of them and then I have to wait until the new book comes out! Grr..
    Btw, there is an author not on your list that I think you would love!! The series is called “The Seven Sisters” by Lucinda Riley! There are 4 books so far and the 5th one was announced to come out in April. They are about these girls who were all adopted by an extremely wealthy man and brought up on an island near Geneva, Switzerland. They are named after the “Seven Sisters” star cluster and each book is their story. Lucinda Riley is an amazing author and tells the stories to keep you enthralled and wanting more. You almost hate for the books to end!
    Anyway.. check it out! I hope you had a good holiday season. We traveled to Kentucky and Tennessee and it was freaking cold! But no snow! That came after we left. However, it wasn’t any warmer at home in TX and I got to see my babies! But now I am back in school! YAH! Love my classes (of course)! Take care my friend! Hope all is well with you! 😚

    • I just downloaded book ONE on my Kindle! Thanks so much for the recommendation. I’ll be on a long flight soon, and this is exactly what I’ll need to take me off the plane and into a beautiful setting. Yay! All well with me, except January has been brutal in NE. My friend who just moved to Austin has told me all about the TX cold snaps. Stay warm. I’m so impressed with your stick-to-it-ness with your school. You are an inspiration!

  25. I love finding an accidental reading list of recommendations. 🙂 I am late to the table, but I did discover Louise Penny about a year ago and love her (and Inspector Gamache et al.) I’m now up to #5 – interspersed with other books I read. What would life be without reading. Have a favorite in the list above? Jeanne

    • Life would be MISERABLE without reading. Hmmm, a favorite. I can’t pick just one. The Women in the Castle for sure, and I must say Small Great Things because it made me think for weeks after, and A Gentleman in Moscow, which I thought was too slow when I began, but then I got caught up in it and mourned when it was over. Oh! And any Louise Penny book is top on my list, and …. well, I’ll stop there. 🙂

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