For the Love of Books: Then and Now

Need a date with a new novel? This month, we share an ode to our favorites from then and now, as well as top staff picks from local bookstores.



Why I chose to become a writer, I might never pinpoint, but I can rattle off a number of writers I loved to read en route to making that decision. Avid readers would already know those names and find them, even today, on the top 100 books to read; the select few that have heard of Joseph Mitchell have most likely also read his work, none of which are typically ranked as must-read classics.

A North Carolinian who moved to New York in 1929, Mitchell was a reporter and feature writer for various publications until eventually becoming a legendary writer for The New Yorker. I first heard of his book “Joe Gould’s Secret” as an aspiring writer and knew as early as the author’s note that I was in for an unconventional treat. He briefly states that, “this book consists of two views of the same man, a lost soul named Joe Gould.” Interestingly enough, these two parts were originally published as Profiles in The New Yorker — 22 years apart.

Gould was a Harvard-educated member of one of the oldest families in Massachusetts, yet he had exchanged that lifestyle for one as a Greenwich Village bohemian who wore castoff clothes, borrowed money, slept in flophouses, told pro- longed stories and constantly worked on what he called “An Oral History of Our Time.” Gould’s oddball stories, Mitchell’s descriptions of him (diametrical and without hesitation) and the incessant search for Gould’s mysterious notebooks are a trifecta hard to resist.

A single, dusty hiking boot is what initially captured my attention. The story of its owner, a woman in her 20s who suffers the loss of her mom and, in many ways, almost herself very soon after, is what kept my attention. Page. After. Page. Admittedly one with an insatiable appetite for wanderlust, I love a good journey, especially when it unfolds in such an amazing backdrop.

In “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed — and if you’re wondering if that’s her real name, you’ll have to read the book — impulsively decides to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon into Washington State. Not only does she succeed, despite having no experience or training, she does so alone.

Though the subtitle, “From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” lets us know the book ends happily, it does not come without its fair share of personal drama. Once we learn just how far down she falls, the distance she travels, both figuratively and literally, is impressive. Along the trail, we learn about her father, stepfather, brother, older sister, ex-husband and most importantly, her mother.

As if the physical toughness required to carry “Monster” — the name given to her 30-pound backpack — isn’t enough, Strayed must also endure the arduous feat of coming to terms with her mother’s death and her own life
choices. Along the way, she meets plenty of characters (some you can’t help but like and a few you won’t), but she writes as if on a roller coaster, hanging on for dear life at times and other times tossing caution to the wind. The result is a powerful and addictive read, that like the trail itself, can’t help but teach you something different every step of the way. – from HEATHER KW BROWN

I don’t remember when I first learned to read — but I remember with fondness being called a bookworm by my family. I couldn’t keep my nose out of the pages of then-classics like Ramona and Beezus, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High and Goosebumps. I read mysteries with gusto, historical books with raging curiosity and campy, children’s books like they were Halloween candy about to go stale.

There’s one thing that helped me decide which book of my childhood really stood out — not that I would have said it was my favorite, but looking back, it must be. It’s called “The Cold Sassy Tree,” by Olive Ann Burns. Burns wrote this 1906-set novel the year I was born. I discovered it about 12 years later, after a family member passed it along, saying it reminded her of my grandfather — a man filled with comedy, character and a genuine love for life.

The story follows a family in the fictional town of Cold Sassy. Told from a young 14-year-old boy’s perspective, the innocent narrative on life’s harder lessons made it a fascinating read for me. It introduced social systems, morality based in and outside of religion and it depicted a different sense of what family means around the world (and throughout history). I remember reveling in the illustration of country life, Cadillacs and general stores. And, while I can’t put my finger on why it was the one book that still stands out to me, I know I can blame my love for Southern authors and historical fiction on it. In a way, I think those have shaped me as a writer as well.

I’ve read stories that have stuck with me long after I hesitantly turned to read the last page. They are stories that resonated with life lessons or reminded me of people I knew. Some are even inspiring out of the simple fact of their fantastical existence. They make you ask, “Could that really happen?” And, whether treated with a happy ending, an insane thriller or something completely fictional derived from our fascinating history, I still can’t get enough.

That fact alone is why the back-to-back novels, “Joe” and “Fay,” by Oxford-born-and-bred author, Larry Brown are still two of my favorite stories. I still recommend them to friends, family and fellow followers. In “Joe,” Brown introduces us to a family living in the woods, well beyond the brink of poverty. In “Fay,” it follows the family’s oldest daughter as she takes the next step in her own life. It’s a two-book tale woven in, around and between motifs of family values, the delicacy of humanity and, as with any good story, a glimmer of hope. For this family, that glimmer’s medium needs some elbow grease to really show off the shine, but it’s something that hits home on any scale. It is the kind of story that makes you wonder what you’d do in the same situation. It makes you question your own strength, grit and, most of all, survival instincts.

It’s not a happy-ending kind of story, but it’s a read that takes over your entire soul – and for a fellow Southerner, it’s something you can’t ignore, or miss out on reading.  –from JENNIFER COLOSIMO

Like many things in life, I learned my love of reading from my older sister. I’m continually borrowing hardcovers and paperbacks off her shelves, but this practice all traces back to one series. My earliest and fondest memories of curling up with a chapter book – back when designating them as “chapter books” was in fact a point of pride — include Nancy Drew.

Turning the pages as this clever and seemingly fearless female heroine solved mysteries was truly a family affair, as my sister received her first bright yellow bound copy from my aunt and my mom often recounted which were her favorite volumes. From Nancy’s enviable roadster to gal pals Bess and George to discovering the secret in the old clock, hidden staircases, the clue in the diary, these books were my introduction to the adventure of reading. While I may have been up past bedtime reading from the comfort of my own bed, my mind went with Nancy to haunted mansions and daring places.

Those yellow spines were what I searched for on trips to the local library, hoping for one of the 56 volumes I hadn’t checked out yet. Later, my sister and I embraced the computer game versions of the books and even the 2007 film adaptation – but of course, the old adage they say about the original being the best holds true for a classic like Nancy Drew.

Since the series first debuted in 1930, I know the women in my family weren’t alone in growing up with stories of “Carolyn Keene’s” (actually a pseudonym for multiple writers) girl sleuth by their bed. I hope that young readers today continue to find the same thrill in discovering the secrets, deciphering passwords and daring to adventure through the printed words.

If Nancy is the woman I wanted to be as an elementary reader, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is the character I wanted to emulate as a freshman in college, when I first read Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.” The 22-year-old protagonist returns home with her journalism degree from Ole Miss, single and ready to conquer her career
as a reporter, but the 1962 world around her has other ideas about who she should be.

Skirting gender and racial boundaries that defined her Mississippi town and their times, she braves crossing these lines. The effect is an equally poignant and hilarious storyline that will not only leave a mark on history, but your heart as well. Skeeter is far from the only character to love in these pages, as the narration takes turn from three uncommon women including Aibleen, a maid that reminds us “You is kind, you is smart, you is important,” and Minny, Aibleen’s best friend who can cook like nobody’s business. This is where Stockett’s talent truly shines. Like a comforting heirloom patchwork quilt, the author creates three pitch-perfect voices that weave together universal lessons shared between mothers, daughters, caregivers and friends – those women who shape us into who we are. If the novel isn’t inspiring enough, Stockett’s own journey of bringing the book to life — and ultimately the silver screen with Academy Awards to boot — is a story in itself. Considering she received more than 60 rejection letters from literary agents for years before becoming a bestselling author, it’s no surprise her characters share a kindred tenacious spirit worth emulating.

First published in 2009, this novel may no longer be gracing headlines or bestseller lists, but it remains at the top of my go-to recommendations for those looking for a timeless story to love. – from COLLEEN ANN McNALLY

Find yourself running out of ideas for new books to read or looking to revisit a classic? We asked local independent bookstore owners and sellers for their favorites. – compiled by NICOLE MCLAUGHLIN

ANNALL GERSON, who co-owns Bookmiser, located in Roswell and East Cobb, with her husband Jim, answered our questions with ease. For her classic recom- mendation, Gerson offered “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. “I love this book because it was one of the first futuristic books I read and taught,” she said. “It made you view the world and the freedoms of life in a different way. We take so much for granted.” Gerson’s pick for a new classic is “Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown, published in 2013. “It’s non-fiction, which most people would not pick at first, but it’s an easy read full of suspense and thrills. It’s a remarkable tale about the human spirit and what it can endure.”
4651 Sandy Plains Road, 770-993-1555 or 3822 Roswell Road, 770-509-5611,

FoxTale Book Shoppe’s owner, ELLEN WARD of Woodstock, selected two classics that will pull at your heartstrings. “Old Yeller” by Fred Gipson and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee are books that take you back to the classic values and ideals of strong leading characters who exhibit loyalty, family values and strong morals.
For fresh fiction, Ward suggests Anthony Doerr’s “All the Lights We Cannot See,” a historical novel written in 2014 on the Nazi invasion of Paris. “It’s a wonderful new take on an old story,” she said. “A young blind girl and a young boy dragged into the Nazi army are the main story tellers, and when their stories intersect,
it’s beautiful.”
105 East Main Street, 770-516-9989,

TINA NEWMAN AND MARION SILVERMAN of Read It Again Books, located in Johns Creek Town Center, were overjoyed about sharing their book recommendations. For a great classic to pick up this month, Silverman suggests trying “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. “I gave it to my parents and it’s my children’s’ favorite book and my husband’s favorite book,” she said. “Everyone should read it – even adults!” For a new release, they both loved Lawrence Hill’s “Someone Knows My Name,” based on true events about a kidnapping during the
Revolutionary War.
3630 Peachtree Parkway, 770-232-9331,

KIKA PACHECO from Humpus Bumpus in Cumming had a harder time picking her childhood favorite. “I almost couldn’t tell you there are so many,” Pacheco said. She narrowed it down to two authors: “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell, one of the bestselling books of all time and anything by Jane Austen. “She just has a way with spinning a tale.”
703 Atlanta Road, 770–781-9705,