My Favorite Writers’ Favorite Books: Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean is a force. The author of The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and Rin Tin Tin.

I once got to sit near Susan Orlean, after an event at Hugo House. We were 8 people who separated into two groups of conversations, and though I kept checking to see if she was going to look our way, we really barely spoke. She likes to do as little research as possible before a story to go in as a clean slate, and as kind of a dummy instead of this high and mighty New Yorker writer. She writes using a treadmill desk.

I pretty much want to be her.

Here are some of her favorite books:

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry

She calls Parry a “dazzling reporter … a writer of immense humanity and a crazy-good cobbler of sentences. His books about Japan are revelatory and insightful as well as gorgeous.”

Publisher’s description:

A renowned journalist for London’s The Times and the author of People Who Eat Darkness, Richard Lloyd Parry delivers the definitive account of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, and the stories of the survivors.

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The Guardian, NPR, GQ, The Economist, Bookforum, and LitHub.

The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation edited by Jonathan Rose

She started it because she wanted to learn about Nazi book burnings, and discovered through its history pages that many books were burned by university students.

Publisher’s description:

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany systematically destroyed an estimated 100 million books throughout occupied Europe, an act that was inextricably bound up with the murder of 6 million Jews. By burning and looting libraries and censoring “un-German” publications, the Nazis aimed to eradicate all traces of Jewish culture along with the Jewish people themselves.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Atkinson, she says, is “one of those can-do-no-wrong writers, in my opinion.” But be prepared for a bummer. By the end, says Orleans, “I was crying so hard that I nearly choked. But I was also really happy to be so transported by a piece of writing.”

Publisher’s description:

A GOD IN RUINS tells the dramatic story of the 20th Century through Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy–would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather-as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.

An ingenious and moving exploration of one ordinary man’s path through extraordinary times, A GOD IN RUINS proves once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the finest novelists of our age.

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

“I loved the book and developed a real crush on Chatwin.”

Publisher’s description:

An exhilarating look at a place that still retains the exotic mystery of a far-off, unseen land, Bruce Chatwin’s exquisite account of his journey through Patagonia teems with evocative descriptions, remarkable bits of history, and unforgettable anecdotes. Fueled by an unmistakable lust for life and adventure and a singular gift for storytelling, Chatwin treks through “the uttermost part of the earth”—that stretch of land at the southern tip of South America, where bandits were once made welcome—in search of almost-forgotten legends, the descendants of Welsh immigrants, and the log cabin built by Butch Cassidy. An instant classic upon publication in 1977, In Patagonia is a masterpiece that has cast a long shadow upon the literary world.

Regeneration series by Pat Barker

This trilogy changed Orleans’ life, she says, and she’d invite Barker as one of her guests. if she could only invite three writers to dinner.

Publisher’s description:

In 1917 Siegfried Sasson, noted poet and decorated war hero, publicly refused to continue serving as a British officer in World War I. His reason: the war was a senseless slaughter. He was officially classified “mentally unsound” and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital. There a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers, set about restoring Sassoon’s “sanity” and sending him back to the trenches. This novel tells what happened as only a novel can. It is a war saga in which not a shot is fired. It is a story of a battle for a man’s mind in which only the reader can decide who is the victor, who the vanquished, and who the victim.


Small print: I’m a writer who connects writers with books, programs, and writer toys that make the writing life easier or more fun. As it turns out, people get paid for that. So some of the links I have are affiliate links, which means that, at no cost to you, I get a commission if you click through and buy something. If I recommend something you don’t agree with, just let me know. I stand by everything I suggest as a resource that will help you be the writer you want to be. 

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