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The Reading List

Review

The Reading List

From Sara Nisha Adams comes THE READING LIST, a heartwarming and magical debut about a small-town library and the life-changing friendships built there.

Mukesh Patel has been living in a “Time of Eternal Quiet” following the death of his beloved wife, Naina, a few years ago. He takes care of himself well enough --- he cooks and remembers bin day almost every week, and when his memory fails him, one of his three daughters always pops up to help him out. But what he truly misses is the comfort his wife provided and the joy he felt whenever he looked over to see her reading, shushing him for interrupting to tell her a tidbit from whichever documentary he was watching at the time. His granddaughter, Priya, seems to have inherited her grandmother’s love of reading, but Mukesh is now realizing that he never bothered to ask what exactly Naina was reading, and now he worries that he cannot access his granddaughter’s heart in the same way.

Across town, 17-year-old Aleisha is enduring her own private struggle as her mother is dealing with depression and agoraphobia. She and brother Aiden do their best to care for her and keep the house afloat, but her illness is weighing on them. Aleisha has quietly ended most of her friendships, and though she is studious and smart, she has never found a way to escape into a book like Aiden has, despite her new job at the library. Once a bustling zone of activity, it has fallen behind a bit in patronage. Aleisha has worked there long enough to recognize the regulars --- all five of them! --- but hasn’t yet found a reason to care about the library.

"Each and every character, poignant theme and, yes, book is given the full attention it deserves and a resoundingly satisfying story arc."

All of that changes when Aleisha encounters an old man desperate for stories. Mukesh has just read his wife’s last library book, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, and wants to continue reading the books she loved (or could have loved) so he can remember what love feels like and be close to her again. After a contentious “meet-cute” of sorts, Mukesh runs from the library bemoaning the rude girl who works there, and Aleisha discovers a forgotten slip of paper with a list of books for those in need written on it: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, REBECCA, THE KITE RUNNER, LIFE OF PI, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, LITTLE WOMEN, BELOVED and A SUITABLE BOY. Ready for a change and possibly to make a connection, Aleisha finds Mukesh again and recommends Harper Lee's classic novel to him, kicking off a life-changing, world-altering friendship.

Divided into parts by each book on the reading list, and broken into chapters featuring Mukesh, Aleisha and a slew of other characters touched and changed by the library, THE READING LIST is an exquisite love letter to books, libraries and the lives lived in each of them. As the mysterious reading list changes hands and circulates through the library’s various patrons, each of them finds a lifeline in one of the books on the list. For Mukesh and Aleisha, these lifelines not only distract them from their grief and sorrows, they enable them to forge connections with the people closest to them, as well as strangers and new friends alike. Perhaps most touching is Mukesh’s nurturing of and finding solace in his precocious granddaughter, a bookish girl who is not afraid to ask questions but also reminds her grandfather that “she can’t know everything!”

There is probably not a book lover out there who doesn’t love a book about books and reading. But when I say that THE READING LIST is something special, I mean that it is the ultimate ode and love letter to the bonds created by a shared love of books, and the ways that reading opens us up to new experiences, perspectives and friendships. I love that Adams uses real, in-print books to propel her narrative forward. If you’ve read the book in question, you're able to trace the impact it might have; if you haven’t, you'll end that section with a new book for your TBR list.

THE READING LIST would make a tremendous book club pick due to its celebratory references to other popular works and because it is so ripe for discussion. Grief, mental illness, stagnation, family dysfunction and love each play a huge role in the book; while that’s quite the laundry list of themes, none of them are tossed in carelessly. Each and every character, poignant theme and, yes, book is given the full attention it deserves and a resoundingly satisfying story arc.

That this is Sara Nisha Adams’ first novel feels impossible until you realize that this is a writer who has cultivated a love of reading her whole life, someone who respects and admires the authors who came before her while bravely carving out her own niche in the literary world and, hopefully, on every library and bookstore shelf. Perfect for readers of Ann Hood's THE BOOK THAT MATTERS MOST and Kim Michele Richardson's THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK, THE READING LIST is an inspiring, unforgettable debut that will remind you why you love reading in the first place.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 13, 2021

The Reading List
by Sara Nisha Adams

  • Publication Date: August 3, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0063025280
  • ISBN-13: 9780063025288