The Just-for-Me Book Club: Conclusion!

24 reader-recommended books!

I did it – I finished all 24 of the books recommended to me by esteemed readers of this blog! I started in November 2016, so it took me almost two years. I interspersed the 24 selected books with other reading including some for my local book club, and lots I chose myself.

The Just-for-Me Book Club never once felt like a chore. I always looked forward to reading the next one!

The final three were:

  • Fools Rush In by Bill Carter – recommended by Sarah at Live to List
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt – recommended by reader Margie in Toronto
  • Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? By Michael J. Sandel – recommended by Rom

Fools Rush In is a rookie journalist’s account of the siege of Sarajevo in 1994. Carter works with a rogue humanitarian group, providing food to citizens hidden in the city’s wreckage. He visits the same people many times and tracks their “progress” throughout the war. Carter ends up bonding with local residents including artists and musicians, teens and children. He feels the world is not taking the Bosnian War seriously and he tries to bring it more media attention. I had watched news about the war back when it happened, and I had forgotten the part in which he recruits some famous folks to help him!  But the most unexpected part of the book was the incredible love story that started in Alaska before the war.

After I read this, I ordered a copy of the documentary the author made while he was in Sarajevo. It appeared to have been mailed directly from the author’s house! It was amazing to see him chat with the people who were featured in the book, to realize how young and inexperienced he was then, and to see what an impact he was able to make.

The Secret History is literary star Donna Tartt’s first novel. It revolves around a young man who joins a small group of dedicated Classics scholars at a New England college. As the story begins, we hear that a murder has been covered up. The rest of the book tells us how it transpired, revealing many secrets about each of the students. The writing is especially good – I love the “scene” in which Richard spends a lonely, freezing winter in Vermont. One of the themes of the book is belonging: trying to become an insider in an exclusive group. In this way it reminded me of Brideshead Revisited and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Intensely burdened by the murder, the group begins to unravel.

I look forward to reading one of Tartt’s subsequent books – either The Little Friend or The Goldfinch.

Justice began as a course in political philosophy at Harvard. Much of the style is similar to Freakonomics. It gives real-life examples of public dilemmas, such as: Should governments bail out failing banks? Should you be allowed to sell one of your kidneys? Should you turn in a close family member if they commit a serious crime? Should military service be mandatory? You can see why this course would appeal to undergrads! The examples are used to highlight passages from philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, Rawls and Mill. The chapters explain utilitarianism, libertarianism, and other belief systems. I really liked how it made me examine my beliefs and try to make them more consistent. I also liked the author’s reasoning about which moral system is “best.”

OK! Now here are some random notes and facts about the 24 Just-for-Me books:

  • Shortest: Superhuman by Habit by Tynan (101 pages)
  • Longest: Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire (562 pages)
  • Oldest (first published): Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell, 1936
  • Newest (last published): The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 2017
  • Best Selling on The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (#742 of all books on Amazon)
  • Highest Rating on Goodreads: Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr. (4.6 out of 5)
  • Easiest to get: Justice by Michael Sandel – in the house because Rom owns it (that’s why I read it last)
  • Hardest to get: Cripple Creek Days by Mabel Barbee Lee and Fools Rush In by Bill Carter – placed interlibrary loans for both
  • Most evocative (sense of place): Breath by Tim Winton – coast of Western Australia
  • Most relatable character: Jacqueline in Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Shocker ending: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • Challenging: Riddley Walker (in a made-up language) by Russell Hoban
  • Most likely I would have read without this book club: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which my local book club assigned later
  • Least likely I would have read without this book club: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand – I don’t consider myself a horsey person!
  • How many were not dark or serious books? At most, 8 of 24
  • Glad I read: ALL!!!

Well, readers, you have made me very happy indeed by recommending these fine and varied books. I am much richer for the experience!

Can you guess what my next reading challenge will be? It’s no surprise: I need another round of Reading Down the House!

You are always welcome to friend or follow me on Goodreads.

What have you been reading lately?


  1. I’m impressed — this was quite an undertaking! 🙂

    I recently finished Hot Monogamy, a surprisingly applicable communication-based relationship book (surprising because I expected it to be more dated than it was, having been published in the ’90s). Ironically, I found some of the talking points to be most helpful in my non-mono relationship with my ancillary partner.

    I also read The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston this summer. It was Quammen-esque in its engaging exploration of anthropology, and I was fascinated by the intersection of history, culture, politics, and medicine as examined through the lens of an archaeological expedition.

    On the lighter side, I read Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel yesterday in one sitting. Because sometimes a little absurdity is called for. 😉

  2. I have marked all these books (well, the ones I haven’t read) – not sure if I’ll get to all or when but I love having a list to look at when I need something new. I am having a hard time finding time to read right now though as we travel. So much else going on that it’s sometimes hard to get my mind focused with a book and I fall asleep quickly at night, my other usual reading time.

    I have read “The Secret History” twice, as has my husband, and it’s one of those books I’m sure I’ll read at least once more. Both “The Little Friend” and “The “Goldfinch” were great reads too, although I preferred “The Little Friend.”

    And, I’m glad you enjoyed reading Seabiscuit. It was a surprising book for me as well, but I’ve read it twice and want to read it again.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about these and other books. I’m going to take a look at Justice to see if it is something I would make it through. Heading over to see your Goodreads page!

  4. I remember the George Orwell books from school – I really enjoyed them – most school friends didn’t but I couldn’t get into Animal Farm or 1984 (which seemed years away in 1968). I should read more now I am not working – I have just bought a copy of Walden after reading the book Deep Country – I am into simple living in a big way at the moment – you might know of an interesting book being a librarian?

    • I struggle finding good books on simple living because there are so many “angles”: books about decluttering or budgeting or homesteading or mindfulness or minimalism. I don’t know of a book that provides an overview of all of that! I read 1984 a few months ago and it still bothers me – scary!

    • Margie in Toronto

      May I recommend “The Simple Living Guide” by Janet Luhrs. It was published in 1997 but I think it is still available.

  5. Margie in Toronto

    I’m glad that you enjoyed “The Secret History” – I have “The Goldfinch” in my TO BE READ pile but it’s huge so I think it will have to wait for those winter on the couch days. I have read some amazing books over the past few months – I have made excellent use of my local library. It is difficult to narrow it down but here are three for your consideration:

    “The Gravity of Birds” by Tracy Guzman – a novel dealing with the relationship between two sisters and the artist who has such a devastating impact on both their lives.

    “The Weight of Ink” by Rachel Kadish – a huge novel but a quick read as I couldn’t put it down. A story about two women, living over three hundred years apart and their relationships with people, with books & writing and with their legacies – and how their stories become intertwined. An amazing book!

    “Paper – Paging Through History” by Mark Kurlansky – a non-fiction book tracing the history of paper and how it has affected the history of the world as we know it. I love his books and this one had special meaning as I love books and reading so much. Full of fascinating anecdotes and facts about something that we take for granted but which has had such an impact on all our lives.

    I look forward to reading about other recommendations.

    • I have another book by Rachel Kadish in the house – Tolstoy Lied. The nights are getting longer, the clocks will go back an hour soon, and I look forward to settling in and reading more!

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