Book Review Time: The Reading List

The power of books is undeniable. They can be an escape, transporting us to worlds far beyond our reach, to times that pre or post-date our existence, introducing us to characters and circumstances that aren’t often recognizable in our day to day lives. We can lose ourselves in the pages of a book. But what is truly amazing about a great book is its ability to connect with the hard-wiring of its reader, its way of tapping into humanity’s fundamental truth.

I remember when I read Muriel Barbery’s novel, The Elegance Of The Hedgehog. The main character, Renee, is a cranky concierge in a posh Parisian apartment building. Outwardly, there’s nothing appealing about Renee and she likes it that way. But, interestingly, when I read the book, I immediately connected with this irascible character, from a different country, speaking a different language, living a life so far removed from my own. I understood Renee’s hunger for knowledge. I related to her experiences of loss. I empathized with her fear of emotional intimacy. Renee’s journey is a fascinating one. She’s become one of my favorite fictional characters. And whenever I’m asked for book recommendations, The Elegance Of The Hedgehog always makes the short-list. It’s a book that has given me so much. Its message, a reminder to value that which is most important in life.

But I’m not here to give a review of The Elegance Of The Hedgehog, am I? It’s time to get back on track and discuss Sara Nisha Adams’ The Reading List. As I’ve stated in previous posts, there are certain titles (and covers) that grab my attention quickly. And with a title like The Reading List and cover art containing books sprawled about at various angles, of course, I had to read this selection.

The Reading List is the story of Mukesh and Aleisha, two people brought together unexpectedly. Mukesh is an elderly gentleman, living in Wembley. He is in mourning. His wife of 50 years, Naina, has recently passed away. Mukesh grapples with loneliness, finding it difficult to connect with people in his circle, including his domineering daughters. He misses his wife, but can see a glimmer of her spirit in their granddaughter, Priya, who has the same love of reading that Naina once had. But Mukesh’s attempts to bridge the emotional gap between Priya and himself fail miserably. Mukesh decides that a trip to the library may offer a possible solution. Unfortunately, his initial visit is a bust, and he leaves disillusioned.

Aleisha is a 17 year old student, who reluctantly takes a summer job at the local library. She’s not a fan of books, but her brother’s love of the library influences her decision to work there. Aleisha’s family life is dysfunctional, and she has grown increasingly distant. Anger and sadness inform her personal life greatly. They also play a role in her poor job performance. Her customer service skills are severely lacking. And as the library is struggling to stay relevant, and keep its doors open, the last thing it needs is a librarian with an attitude. But one day, something interesting happens. Aleisha finds a piece of paper left behind in one of the library books. It’s a list. A reading list. 8 titles are written down in order,

To Kill a Mockingbird


The Kite Runner

Life of Pi

Pride and Prejudice

Little Women


A Suitable Boy.

Along with the list lies a simple message: “Just in case you need it.” A mysterious list. From a mysterious source. Aleisha resolves to read each of the books on the list, and in so doing finds a respite from her family troubles, and access to a deeper knowledge of herself and those around her. Aleisha then uses the books on the list, as a peace offering to a library patron she was rude to on their previous encounter. A Mr. Mukesh Patel. Over time, Mukesh and Aleisha discover a comfort and connection through reading and discussing books. A true friendship develops. Yet neither one of them could imagine the far-reaching influence this particular reading list has had on their West London community.

The Reading List is a solid book. I appreciate the way Adams makes books the centerpiece, bringing people from different walks of life together at a common table. She illustrates how we can turn to books in times of need, pondering how fictional characters might handle real situations we experience in our own lives. I also liked Adams’ advocacy for libraries. We live in an age where people are drawn more to their phones and social media platforms, than they are to books and reading. And with the introduction of digital options for borrowing titles, brick and mortar libraries are taking a real hit. We, as a society, have totally undervalued libraries and their significance to communities. Sadly, it’s hard to envision this trend changing course.

The Reading List does contain darker themes such as mental illness and death. Adams approaches these themes with nuance and sensitivity, exposing raw desperation in moments that are truly harrowing.

Do I love The Reading List the way I love The Elegance Of The Hedgehog? To be honest…no. That being said, the former set an exceptionally high bar. I did like The Reading List. Very much so. It’s a tribute to the novels that stay with us- in our hearts and souls- long after we’ve read them. So if you’re looking for a selection to ease you into the spring season, this would be a damn fine choice. Happy reading!


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3 thoughts on “Book Review Time: The Reading List

  1. Both sound like wonderful reads. I too love books that extol the joy of reading. The Hedgehog book particularly has caught my interest. Lovely review!

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