Sarah O'Donnell

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I'm not much of a book reader but would really love to be - HELP!

I struggle to find the time to sit down and get through a good book. That said, I somehow find insane amounts of time to while away the hours reading 'stuff' on the net!

During my most recent holiday, I read Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In' and started a downloaded version of Eric Schmidt/Jared Cohen's 'The New Digital Age'.... this perhaps gives you an inisght into what I would choose to read if I were to buy a book without recommendation.

I work in the technology sector and am fascinated by the advances in this space... but for goodness sakes... I need to catch a grip and fill my brain with other 'stuff'!

Which is where you guys come in.... If I may ask you - could you please advise what your:

1. Top 5 novels you've ever read (and what was it that particularly you loved about them)

2. What are the 5 books you plan to get through in 2013 (fiction or otherwise - perhaps like me you only plan to read books related to your work!!! - In which case perhaps this thread may come in useful for you as well)

Thank you all in advance for your active participation in helping me expand my brain and my reading capacity outwith technology related matters :-)


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    Jun 3 2013: The question is the answer.

    Never avoid filling a void.

    Read whatever interests you. If you are not interested change you mind and become interested, this alone is worth the price of admission.
  • Jun 7 2013: May be you should try audio books. If you drive often that'll be great and if you use public transport a lot then it'll be just fine. Make use of your public library more as you'll probably discover good books through that means. You could also have a look at
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    Jun 4 2013: Ten that are really good:
    Going to See the Elephant - Rodes Fishburne
    The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen - Jacques Pepin
    The Eight - Katherine Neville
    Color: A Natural History of the Palette - Victoria Finlay
    To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon
    Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us) - Tom Vanderbilt
    The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - Erik Larson
    Why Geography Matters: More Than Ever - Harm De Blij
    Bel Canto - Ann Patchett

    Just recently finished reading:
    A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
    The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr - Henry W. Brands
    The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling

    Intend to read in 2013 (at least within what remains of it):
    Don Quixote - Miguel De Cervantes w/ translation by Edith Grossman
    Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
    Something of Charles Dickens
    Shakespeare is always fun to read
    I've got the Greek classics on my to read list, probably gonna be the Illiad
    And some more that are yet to be decided...
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      Jun 4 2013: I can second The Eight and The Amazing Adventires of Kavalier and Clay, though the latter book may be a little long for developing a reading habit.
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        Jun 5 2013: sounds good - thanks both!

        From Wikipedia "a postmodern thriller in which the heroine, accountant Catherine Velis, must enter into a cryptic world of danger and conspiracy in order to recover the pieces of the Montglane Service, a legendary chess set once owned by Charlemagne"

        A bit Da Vinci Code perhaps??
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    Jun 3 2013: i'm not going to give wise advices like others did here, but just shamelessly promote my fav book of all time: fahrenheit 451. also aspires for the title of the most depressing book ever, so buyers beware.
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    Lejan .

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    Jun 22 2013: As your question made me smile, you shall be helped in your dilemma:

    Read 'A Perfect Vacuum' by the Polish author Stanisław Lem '..., the largest and best known collection of Stanislaw Lem's fictitious criticism of nonexisting books.'

    As it wouldn't make any difference to you which books I liked most or intend to read - as Amazon is full of book recommendations and critiques of people you already don't know - 'A 'Perfect Vacuum' may get you started to turn you into a life-long 'bookworm', especially, as it talks about books you will never ever be able to read anyway... which may let you appreciate those you could ... :o)

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    Jun 7 2013: I think that you are finding lots of time to read online is a wonderful thing. Anything that inspires you can open your mind, whether it is a novel, children’s book, Internet text, song lyrics, or a photograph. Here are some books I’ve enjoyed:

    Choose the Life You Want By Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar:
    The first time I read this book I read two short chapters almost every day and tried to apply it to my life. I’ve given copies of the books to friends as gifts and use a white board to share parts of the book each week with others. I was watching Brene Brown and realized the words she was saying were written in this book in Ch. 12, where the choice is presented to “impress and conceal or express and reveal.” There are many inspiring chapters in the book.

    A Million Little Pieces by James Frey:
    A fun and easy read about an intriguing journey through rehab. I liked the way the author disregarded many typical grammatical rules. I read it as a nonfiction book. Now that I know it is fiction, I still think it was a good read.

    The Notebook and the sequel The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks:
    A very sappy and romantic love story that I think is worth the indulgence. At the time that I read it, I found it interesting because I lived in the neighboring county to Nicholas Sparks and spent time in some of the local cities mentioned in his books. Maybe you would enjoy reading texts from local authors in your area..During my first read, the difference was crying for an hour instead of for a few minutes…as I am a slow reader. :) I like to pause and think about what I’ve read. I’m not going to say the book or movie was better, but I will say there were a few distinct differences…such as the ending.

    I plan on finishing All That Is Bitter and Sweet: A Memoir by Ashley Judd soon. Good luck finding what interests you!
  • Jun 5 2013: Guns Germs and Steel (an book about the development of human society and why Europe was the conquerer and not the conquered)
    Barbarians - Terry Jones (Roman empire period 'barbarians')
    • Jun 7 2013: Hi Scott, Seriously, no disrespect, in fact I've read some of your other comments and quite agreed (your response to the the college/university issue for example: the conversation was closed however I was in total agreement with you for several different reasons). Alternatively, your answer here disappointed me a little. As I am one of those who wasn't lucky enough to get that secondary education I'm still a stickler for good grammar. Too many American people these days, especially those within the "Pop Culture", have moved on to using initials, shortcuts, fake contractions and other such nonsense in their daily communication so it comes as no real surprise that people today have trouble communicating in our own native language correctly. You're obviously strongly opinionated and I've no wish for hurt feelings but in suggesting the one publication you did, you chose to use an indefinite article of speech, "an", that should only be used if the following word begins with a vowel (though there are a few exceptions to this rule). Book, of course, begins with a consonant, "b". The correct description would then begin "a book about...".
      This is the first time I've gotten into a conversation here on TED and I will be very disappointed if I proofread my own post, find it error free and then click the "submit" button only to discover a grammatical error of my own and find it's not editable. Here goes!
      • Jun 8 2013: No problem, most of my issues with writing the English language stems from weak creative/objective writing. This is due to my lack of attention to detail during lower grades of school, but has become habit.

        Also if the use of 'an' wrong is the thing you find wrong in my posts I would be happy (although I will be first to admit there are likely lots of other grammatical mistakes as well). Although I couldn't agree with you more about slang and other nonsensical shortenings and reductions.

        Don't worry its always editable (I just usually don't because if its about a small thing like this that if I change it, it will completely remove context of your reply).
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    Jun 5 2013: @Time Traveller: This is great advice - with the disappearance of Borders from Glasgow's Buchanan Street a few years back now, there's a distinct lack of book shops that provide the type of environment where I'd feel comfortable simply going in, browsing, and perhaps finding a seat to flick through a few books I like the look of. I used to love doing that when I had time - plus they had a great coffee shop and often had decent music playing! Such a shame...

    Hence why I've resorted to going straight for the jugular, no messing, come right out with it - with TED being a hive of activity, bursting with great ideas, I knew I'd get some excellent suggestions and I'm delighted with the input from you all - thank you so much everyone!

    Do keep the suggestions coming - nothing wrong with having a bucket list - does what it says on the time after all ;-)
  • Jun 4 2013: I am an incredibly slow reader. I have found extremely helpfull. A book that I would highly rcommend is "outliers" by Malcomb Gladwell. Ed
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      Jun 7 2013: Outliers is a good recommendation. I picked it up to have something to read while traveling, read some parts thoroughly and other parts I glazed over…learned some things about arbitrary dates as it relates to the best month to have a child.
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    Jun 4 2013: I have another two for you, though I have the same concern Time Traveler does about your having a giant list and potentially not knowing how to choose.

    Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible are both classics about westerners in Africa at different times in history.
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    Jun 4 2013: Just finished reading "The Inferno" by Dan Brown. The emotions that man is able to conjure up is incredible. A genius work filled with suspense.
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      Jun 5 2013: Whilst I read 'Lean In' on holiday, I received updates from my friend who was reading this book... hers certainly sounded much more compelling and this is one that will definitely make it on to my 2013 list - plus the fact I can borrow it from a friend. The pages of books always feel so much better to turn when they're pre-thumbed :-)
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    Jun 4 2013: The problem with favorite five novels is that people's tastes are so different.

    Some ideas:
    Anything by Isabelle Allende, by Lawrence Durrell, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. [Extraordinary writing]
    Tolstoy short novels are less of a commitment for the sometimes reluctant reader than War and Peace or Anna Karenina [Narrative and character development]
    I loved Hesse's Magister Ludi.[Ideas more than the writing]
    I like John Fowles (The French Lieutenants Woman, Daniel Martin]
    Some people love Jane Austen and others not. Some people love Virginia Woolf and others not. I think these authors have more appeal for women than for men.
    I thought Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children was an extraordinary work.

    You may get some ideas on contemporary writing if you start reading the book review section of your local Sunday paper or the New York Time's book review.

    It can be easier to develop a fiction habit with lighter fare, particularly if your main reading time is on subway or airplane. If you like mysteries, Laurie King is a good bet. John Le Carre is fast reading. Henrik Mankell as well.
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    Jun 3 2013: Read what "speaks" to you. There's nothing wrong with that. For example, I go through phases in my life when non-fiction speaks to me, even though I tell myself that I am a novelist-hobbyist and should "only" read fiction. When my interest is piqued by my job (I'm a teacher) or by television or by radio programs, I search my library's database for something related to the interest of the moment. During the presidential election last year, I read what I could on social and political matters. Then I'll swing back to fiction, though rarely re-reading a favorite title because there's so much out there to discover. Just like the gym, one has to make time for reading. Since reading takes special effort because OMG one has to think, it's easier to find distractions. Any of my top 5 lists would reflect who I am at a given phase of life, but may not be someone else's.
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    Jun 3 2013: what is wrong with reading stuff on the net, it's just wonderful.

    If you want to add more time to your convo, click "edit" and add more.
  • Jun 30 2013: For starters, the famous ones like the Harry Potter and Twilight series; and as you get familiarised with the flow and the imagination that books convey, switch to Jeffery Archer and the like. The Prodigal Daughter, Kane and Abel, Clifton Chroniclesare sure to keep you hooked. There will be no turning back and before you know it, youll be an avid reader.
  • Jun 26 2013: This is a great thread; I have the same issue with sitting down and reading books. For me, it isn't a matter of not having enough time. Rather, I get distracted very easily and am a very slow reader.

    As suggested in other comments, audiobooks are a great resource. I have finished a ton of books using audiobooks from Still, I still like having a physical book or e-reader in front of me. Also, since I listen to audiobooks while driving or doing chores, I sometimes find it hard to do those things AND concentrate on the story.

    Judging from your recents reads, I'm assuming that you like reading books that are semi-educational. By this I mean books that you make you think "Wow, I've never thought about [insert contemporary phenomenon x] that way". For example, "The New Digital Age", which I have read a good chunk of, sheds light on the many ways that technology is changing the world.

    There is a site called Brainpickings ( that has a phenomenal digital "bookshelf" of suggested readings ( Check it out if you haven't already. The books that they suggest range from "Brand Thinking" by Debbie Millman (a book about branding and creativity) to "Conversations with Maya Angelou" to Jack Kerouac's "Lonesome Traveler".

    Hope that helps.
  • Jun 9 2013: You can't do something unless you do it and like I always tell my sweetheart, you cant give what you dont have. You dont have "up" so never give up. Just pick the book and read, pick books that merge with your interest.
  • Jun 9 2013: my cousin felt just as you do, and he got his better reader cousin to compile the best 50 he should read, and plowed thru them, and he soon got into the habit and benefited
  • Jun 8 2013: Hi Sarah! I've always enjoyed reading books, they are such wonderful little alternative realities we can turn to just to relax and escape our own sometimes troubling lives. Alternately, a good mystery, thriller or suspense story can spice up a dull day. I have to admit that I haven't read any of the "classics" that most Americans read in high school or college, the reason I missed then isn't important but what is important is that from what I know and from the portions of these books I have read I'm certain you'll always find a good read in that category. In recent years I've enjoyed Freakonomics and found it was an eye opening book on what's really happening in today's world so there's a specific recommend. I also enjoyed, in recent years, Dennis McNally's A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead. Previously a Grateful Dead fan, yes, and certainly I enjoyed the story but the education I received about 1960's American culture, answered many questions I had about the first decade I was alive. The author also wrote what many say is the definitive story of Jack Kerouac. I have a bit of trouble coming up with specific titles when I'm not really acquainted with someone but in general, I find memoirs to be among the best reading of all because they contain at least one person's "true" story, as well as some cultural education or knowledge. The bottom line in this category is that I always learn something from the experience of reading someone's memoir. Completely unrelated to any I've mentioned so far is my love of non-fiction books about our natural world and natural history, most notably anything by Sir David Attenborough. I think I've listened to so many of his programs that I may even read his books in his own accent, as his real life voice sounds to me. I know that sounds silly but books may be "things" and reading them may be the means to an end but I find that they often become my friends as well. Reading should never be considered "work.
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    Jun 7 2013: I'm the same way. The absolute only thing i can read from end to end is Technology, Science, Chemistry, Astronomy, Genetics...... etc. I used to love Science Fiction and couldn't put a book down, then, I went to college and studied Technology and science. Now, the first time I bump into a chapter where the science dissolves into fantasy... in the garbage it goes.

    To me, the greatest that that has happened to reading is the Kindle.
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    Jun 4 2013: I would like to make some suggestions, tho I won't post the 10 books list that you requested, as I think you may just end up with a massive bucket list of books to read, which by your own admission you struggle to find time to read in any case.
    Personally, I like going into bookstores or a library on occasions and just spend some time looking in different categories and quickly reading overviews of those books that I am interested in. Then if compelling enough to warrent I will get one and then read it when I am able to find some gaps in my day. For example while eating breakfast or stuck in traffic etc. Or I may even because I am gripped enough in the material, keep reading during times I may ordinarily have been doing other things.
    To me it is the feel of the paper, the smell of the book and the structure of the words as much as the information that engages me in so many ways! :D