Deep Reading (All the Books)


There is a moment when you’re charmed / challenged / bedazzled by the writing and you resolve to read every book this author has written.

(Sometimes, though, in the middle of the fourth book by that beloved author, one recants! Alas, true story.)

My reading life began with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Twice a year — on my birthday and on Christmas — my dad and mom gave me a brand new hardback, the next Little House in the series. Oh how rich I felt, how lovingly I smoothed the dustjackets, how often I re-read those early books.

Wilder was the first author who inspired me to ‘read the canon’ (not to be confused with reading the cannon!) even though I didn’t know the word canon. As long as we’re talking about obscure words, I like oeuvre. (←three vowels in a row!!!)

In my early twenties I embarked on reading James Michener — always skipping the first boring chapter — immersing myself in family sagas set in Hawaii, Israel, South Africa and the Chesapeake Bay. At some point I forgot what I loved about them and moved on. I have his book, Poland, unread on my shelf, curious what I will think of it after all these years.

Somewhere in my thirties I read Jane. Dear, dear Jane. There is only one Jane whose whispered name thrills the soul. Jane Austen. Seven books that I’ve enjoyed multiple times. My beloved Latin teacher would say, “I was reading Mansfield Park, and came across the ethical dative.” There is more than one reason to read Jane.

Fast forward to 2012. I fell victim to a Kindle Daily Deal and bought all of L.M. Montgomery’s books for $2.99. More astonishingly, I read them all! I had known and loved Anne-with-an-e, but I never knew Emily! A few got a ‘meh’ response, but I enjoyed almost all.

I began to compile a list of authors. David McCullough. Anthony Trollope. (Same beloved Latin teacher remarked, If you like Jane Austen, you should read Trollope.) Jan Karon. Wendell Berry. Miss Read. Marilynne Robinson. Colin Thubron.

[Wait for it! Here come the initials!] A.A. Milne. C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien (I can’t. I’m flawed. Because The Silmarillion.) P.G. Wodehouse. G.K. Chesterton. N.D. Wilson.  P.D. James. D.E. Stevenson.

A few authors I vowed to read all and then recanted: Mark Helprin. Alexander McCall Smith. Bill Bryson.

This year I succumbed to Shakespeare. I joined a Facebook group that is reading All of Shakespeare in 2017.  While I don’t love all of the bard, each play or poem rewards the discipline of reading it. It feels like being back in school, with a schedule pressing. I copied a friend’s idea to document the quest.

A friend calls this deep reading. I like that.

Next year I’m thinking of reading all of C.S. Lewis. It will require diligence and discipline. But why wait to read some of the best writing on the planet? Harper One has reissued Lewis’ books in gorgeous paperbacks with deckle edges. (Go ahead and click on the link just to see the covers.) Here is an even better glimpse. Even though I own almost all of CSL in various and sundry editions, I’m jonesing (← am I allowed to use the word jonesing with Lewis?) for this collection. I’ve already mentioned it to my husband. Birthday with a zero this year, dear. This is what I want. I dearly love matched collections.

Last month two young friends invited us to join them for lunch. As I passed through a bedroom (the only route to the only bathroom) I noticed her shelves full of Louis L’Amour paperbacks. What fun! She has her own quest, yes?!


11 thoughts on “Deep Reading (All the Books)

  1. Oh Carol this is the best post ever. You are brilliant and so very clever. A year of C.S Lewis sounds dreamy🤗 I chuckled when I saw you read a Barbara Pym book in the midst of reading Shakespeare!! Was it an antidote my friend?

    • Not so brilliant and only a wee bit clever! We’ll have to do CSL together! Pym was lovely after a spate of Shakespeare histories. I just looked at a list of her books and I think I’m four away from finishing Pym! 🙂 (I hope to see you soon!)

  2. So as usual I loved this post. I do believe that you will want to read “Poland” once you have read “We Were the Lucky Ones” And fact I’m going to have to get that book now!!

    I want to read “Paradise Lost”.

    XO Becky

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Thank you, friend. You add to my TBR list as much as anyone I know! A long time ago I got a list of Polish books/films to read from our friend Klinski.

      Wouldn’t it be fun to read Paradise Lost together? I read through three or four books a long time ago.

      Love you!

  3. We have so many authors in common! I just discovered that a friend loves Stegner, but hasn’t read Wendell Berry. I put my extra copy of Jayber Crow in the mail the next day. I’m now off to find out who Colin Thubron is!

  4. Dear Carol,
    So lovely and just right as always you are! Sorry if I sound Yoda-ish, but it is true you are just always spot on about books and I appreciate you. My dad read Michener from front to back even the wordy, descriptive parts. Ah, but dementia has taken that love away from him…sadly. I read books in order, just can’t help myself. I want to know the characters from their conception in the very first book of the series. Thanks for this blog, it brightened my day! love and prayers, jep

  5. I enjoy your blog and we have similar taste in books. I recently found a set of 5 of the new C.S. Lewis books at our libraries used bookstore. They were like new which probably means that the previous owner never read them unfortunately. I’ve read almost all of Jan Karon’s books and most of D. E. Stevensons. books. I know there are others but I tend to focus on finishing a series by an author verses everything that author wrote.

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