On The Shelf: Susan Orlean’s Favorite Reads

Susan Orlean: staff writer for The New Yorker by day, professional literary connoisseur by night.

In Literati’s Private Collection Book Club, Susan Orlean’s book collection is a treasure trove of exceptional writing and unforgettable narratives. In her book selections, Orlean has a knack for finding fiction where the writing is truly an art form.

Curious to know what books have earned Susan’s praise? Keep reading to see what her bookshelf would not be complete without. 

Life After Life

Life is finite, right? Such is not the case for protagonist Ursula Todd in Life After Life

Most of us are given just one chance to fumble through life and, despite a series of unavoidable setbacks, hope we get it right in the end. Ursula Todd, on the other hand, finds herself infinitely reborn every time she is on the brink of death. 

A story of resets and new beginnings, Life After Life plays with the question of immortality, second (and twelfth) chances, and our capacity for joy, suffering, and wisdom—especially when there is no limit to one’s time on Earth.

This is a book you’ll want to read over and over again—and you’ll get something new out of it every time.

Salvage the Bones

What’s harder than sharing a difficult truth? Salvage the Bones answers: “Sharing it with your family as a natural disaster unfolds.”  

Written by fellow Literati book club leader Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones asks readers to take a hard look at their own interpersonal struggles. A National Book Award winner, Ward invites readers to listen with empathy to a story that is not always easy to hear. 

In Salvage the Bones, rural poverty is the central crack that splinters into a multitude of directions: alcoholism, teen pregnancy, and absent parents, to name just a few. Set this against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina and you’ve got a perfect storm that can only be weathered by a tight-knit sibling bond. 

The harsh textures of this novel are softened by a poetic voice and pieces of Greek mythology scattered across its pages. This is a worthy addition to any To Be Read list—you’ll want to put it at the very top.

News of the World

Whether it’s Boo Radley and Scout Finch or Hopper and Eleven, there’s something about an unlikely friendship that is hard not to love. 

Another pair likely to go down in literary history is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and an orphaned, ten-year-old girl named Johanna. Captain Kidd is a traveling newsreader tasked with returning Johanna, who has been recently rescued from captivity, back to her only surviving family in San Antonio. Amidst a treacherous post-Civil War landscape, the two outsiders each grapple with trust, belonging, and companionship in their own way.

News of the World is a National Book Award Finalist that is impossible to read just once. Keep it within arm’s reach to go back and re-savor each of its gratifying moments whenever you’re in need of a pick-me-up. 

The Good Lord Bird

If you thought “page-turning” and “history book” couldn’t be arranged side by side in a sentence, think again. 

Bestselling author James McBride offers up another absorbing novel that transports readers to pre-Civil War America. The story is centered around the infamous abolitionist, John Brown, and Henry Shackleford, a young slave who attempts to avoid participating in the anti-slavery militia by disguising himself as a girl. Comedy, adventure, and imaginative storytelling flood the pages of this novel that culminates with the historic raid on Harpers Ferry. 

Whether you need to get your history fix or you’re looking to add more laughs to your reading list, look no further than The Good Lord Bird

In the Dream House

Remember how you used to pay for a self-imposed scare at haunted houses? The zombies and headless horsemen might still give you the occasional nightmare to this day. But, as Carmen Maria Machado subtly points out, the scariest houses aren’t found at Halloween carnivals—the true horrors can be right at home. 

Carmen Maria Machado fearlessly dives into the complexities of domestic abuse with this trailblazing memoir. Lend a listening ear to this underrepresented voice and be prepared for a story that’s sure to leave a long-lasting impact. 

A one-of-a-kind narrative, The Dream House will lock you in a haunting metaphor and make you wonder what kind of home you’re building with the people you love. 

Reading With Susan

From memoirs and historical fiction to adventure and romance, there’s something for everyone to love in Susan Orlean’s Private Collection book club. Pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in for gorgeous writing and intriguing conversations. You’re in good company here.

Once you’ve blown through the Private Collection books, get acquainted with Literati’s other book club Luminaries to find your next literary match.

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On The Shelf: Susan Orlean’s Favorite Reads

Susan Orlean: staff writer for The New Yorker by day, professional literary connoisseur by night. In Literati’s Private Collection Book Club, Susan Orlean’s book collection is a treasure trove of exceptional writing and unforgettable narratives. In her book selections, Orlean has a knack for finding fiction where the writing is truly an art form. Curious

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