What’s on My To-Lend Shelf?

Happy Tuesday! Today I’m collablogging (hm, that doesn’t really work, does it?) with the fabulous Renay of Lady Business, Chelsea the Reading Outlaw, and Claire Rousseau, and we’re all talking about the ten books we’d like to keep on a “to-lend” shelf (should our lifestyles support such a thing).

First up, I know because I nearly bought two copies at a library book sale recently that I like to be able to lend out Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The un-spoiler-y version of the pitch is that it’s about a girl who used to have two siblings and now has zero. You can have the spoiler-y version that got me to read the book in the first place in the following footnote.1

The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanigahara, is my number two. Despite the utter weirdness of this book, and my great dislike of Yanagihara’s entitlement and second novel, The People in the Trees remains one of the best reading experiences of my life. It’s the story of the life of a fictional scientist — now disgraced after several of his foster children accused him of sexual abuse — who discovered the secret of immortality on a faraway Pacific island. Reading it made me feel like I’d never read a book before. I wish I could get everyone in the world to read this damn book.

The greatest triumph of randomly-picking-up-a-book-in-the-library since Diana Wynne Jones’s A Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Joan Wyndham’s Love Lessons remains a tricky sell because the title is blah and people are not exactly lining up to read old-time diaries all over the place. But maybe if I had some spare copies, that would change. It’s the diary of a teenager in London during the Blitz, a description that is completely inadequate to describe how charming, funny, and strange Love Lessons really is.

One of these years, I am going to get Whiskey Jenny to read The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, with me. It’s the story of a young black woman growing up in rural Alabama in the 1930s, and while it is tremendously dark in places, its luminous beauty and hope have kept it one of my favorite books of all time. Plus, it has queer ladies! Queer women of color in the rural South! Don’t you want that? Of course you do.

Again, I may be influenced here by my own recent book sale behavior, as I purchased a spare copy of this book there, but I’d love to share Kage Baker’s book In the Garden of Iden with more people. It’s the first in a science fiction series about time-traveling cyborgs who work for a futuristic Company. In the Garden of Iden follows the cyborg Mendoza through her rescue by the Company, her metamorphosis into a cyborg asset for the Company, and her life in Elizabeth England trying to rescue specific old-time plants from extinction. It’s a fun book on its own and a wonderful first entry in a brilliant and gripping SF series.

Greensleeves, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, is about an eighteen-year-old girl called Shannon who doesn’t exactly know where she belongs or what she wants to do next. She does know that she’s tired of being herself, and so she takes on a job as an investigator for a contested will, which requires her (well, she decides) to become a completely different person. Teenage me needed this book like oxygen, and it remains one of my very most favorite books in the world (that no one else has ever heard of).

In comfort food, I would include Hilary McKay’s wonderful Saffy’s Angel, a middle grade novel about a girl called Saffy who discovers when she is eight that she’s adopted. Her siblings are really her cousins, and her parents are really her aunt and uncle. When her grandfather dies and leaves her “the stone angel, the angel in the garden,” she decides to set out to find that angel (if it still exists). It’s a funny, heartfelt dear of a book with a strong female friendship at its center.

If I had thought of it while I was at the book fair, I’d have bought the shiny new copy of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith and kept it for just such an occasion. When someone tells me they’re in the mood for a book that’s meaty, plotty, and well-written, Fingersmith is what I give them. It’s about a queer girl running a con in Victorian London, and if that pitch doesn’t get you then I don’t even know what to say.

In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden, is about a businesswoman who decides to become a Catholic nun. A proper one, who stays all the time in the convent. Not long after Philippa arrives, the brilliant, complicated Abbess Hester dies, and the convent is plunged into financial crisis. It’s a bit like a boarding school book with adults, lots of politicking and internal conflict, and it’s among my favorite books by one of my all-time favorite authors.

And finally, my beloved, cherished Sunshine, by Robin McKinley. For reasons not entirely clear to me, this vampire dystopia has become one of my dearest comfort reads. It is about a girl called Sunshine who gets kidnapped by vampires as she’s visiting a lake that should have been relatively safeish. She finds herself sharing a cell with a vampire, whose meal she is supposed to be; but instead they form a kind of alliance. Sunshine does vampires in a brilliantly specific and visceral way, and seeing Sunshine come into her own as a vampire adversary is A+ terrific.

What books would be on your to-lend shelf?

(PS I asked my mum to help me come up with books for this project, and she became very excited about the idea of my having a to-lend shelf. “Mama, no, it’s for a blog post!” I kept saying, and she kept handing me spare copies of her favorite books and saying “Start the shelf! Start the shelf! Now you have three books to put on it!” So now I have an actual, literal to-lend shelf. You’re welcome, guests.)

  1. One of the siblings is an ape, because the protagonist, Rosemary, was raised in a family that was conducting ape language studies.
  • Jeane Nevarez

    These all sound fantastic. Several are among my favorites- Sunshine, Color Purple- most of the rest are on my TBR you’ve just bumped them all up a notch. (Except for Fingersmith. I tried that one a few years ago and just couldn’t get into it, oh well).

    • Oh well! No one book can be for everyone, no matter how sad I am that you didn’t care for Fingersmith. (For what it’s worth, I tried to read it twice and couldn’t get into it within the first few chapters, and then the third time was the charm.)

  • Maureen E


    Also: instantly sold on Love Lessons, because old time diaries are INDEED my thing, and teenage diaries from the Blitz are, like TRIPLE MY THING.

    • Maureen E

      I got overexcited and missed your mention of IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE, which I love soooooooooo much. SO MUCH.

    • Oh my gosh I am so excited for you to read Love Lessons. IT IS SO WEIRD AND GREAT.

  • Yikes can you believe I’ve only read two of these (and one of them, Sunshine, I just read the other day!). The Color Purple is the other that I’ve read. Both were fantastic so I clearly need to try a few more from your list!

    • YAY that you liked Sunshine! It’s good, isn’t it? I read it on a camping trip, which is the best reading environment, and it’s a book that I revisit constantly. Please keep me posted if you read any others of these, I love them all so much.

      • I read it Friday night and it DESTROYED ME HOW CAN I READ ANYTHING ELSE NOW RUINED. Most especially because I want MOOOORRRREEEEE. Sigh. Life is cruel. 😉

  • To-lend shelf? Surely you’d lend any you’ve already read yourself and therefore are able to throw at people’s heads or shove into The Bestie’s hands? (Or is that just me? Lol!)

    • Hahahaha, you are a much nicer person than I am. I’ve read most of my books, and I would, ah, not be willing to lend a lot of them. I have a policy that I won’t lend any books I couldn’t bear to get back, so with my favorites, that means I’d need to have a spare copy to lend. :p

      • Well, my brother’s banned from borrowing my books tbh. My HP&OotP book came back with a marble embedded in one of the front pages. He’s older than me, it’s not like I was lending to a kid! Lol.

  • I love this idea! And I’m with your mom…start the shelf.

    I really need to read We Are Completely Beside Ourselves…it’s been on my radar forever.

    • If you lived in my town I could lend you my spare copy of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves! But regardless, do read it when you get a chance. It’s absolutely fantastic.

  • Aarti

    I had a massive emotional reaction to The People in the Trees. I think Ana and I went off about that to each other for quite a while. It is an absolutely amazing book to read and discuss but it also made me not want to read more by her, and I don’t know why. She is an amazing writer. But gosh, that book.

    • I really need to read that book. That one’s on my urgent to-read shortlist. Which is still long.

    • Well, for what it’s worth, she only has one other novel and it made me really angry (as I’m sure I told you). So you’re probably fine giving it a miss. I need to reread People in the Trees! See if it holds up to my rapturous early encounters with it.

  • Lisa

    I lover In This House of Brede so much. I think it would be on my list too. Or I might buy an extra copy to give away to someone. I’ve done that with many copies of Eat Cake.

    You’ve added two books to my reading list, Greensleeves and In the Garden of Iden.

    • Oh, I think you’ll love Greensleeves! In the Garden of Iden is also wonderful, but I am very devoted to getting more people to read Greensleeves, and I think you in particular will like it a lot. It’s excellent.

  • Kristen M.

    I want to read Love Lessons!
    And you just reminded me that I’m looking forward to April when I get back to The Company series.
    Pretty much, my to-lend shelf are the books I give my sister at Christmas. Recently it was The Night Circus. Next up, The Raven Cycle.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Thanks for adding a bunch of books to my TBR? Actually some of them were already on it so I can’t blame you entirely. And I have already read The Color Purple so I’m good on that one. On my to-lend shelf is Gift Upon the Shore by MK Wren. Also Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. There’s more but I had better get back to work 🙂

    • A Gift Upon the Shore! So good! I never hear enough people talking about it! Man, I need to lend that to someone.

    • You’re welcome? I aim to *always* add books to people’s TBRs? :p

  • I love a list like this, where everything is already a favorite or a TBR. I need to reread Sunshine–I liked it, but it didn’t really stick with me when I read it years ago.

    Most of my books are lenders now, since I only buy books after I’ve read them specifically because I want to give them to other people (or if I can’t get the ebook. Or if I can get it secondhand for cheap.) My big ones are Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Christopher Moore’s Fool, and the first volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

    But if you love nun books like Brede (my second favorite nun book!), you should read The Nun’s Story by Kathryn Hulme. It was a movie with Audrey Hepburn. It’s really lovely (though she does become a missionary in the Congo, which is pretty thoroughly glossed over).

    • I can see how Sunshine wouldn’t be for everyone! I loved it the first time I read it, and I’ve also loved it more and more as I’ve reread it more times. (Very typical, though.)

      Thanks so much for the recommendation of The Nun Story. I didn’t feel that I was in the market for a nun book, but I would read one! My nun book repertoire is so small, currently.

  • I’ve only read one of these (The Color Purple)! Greensleeves looks perfect for me. I’ve always been interested in trusts and estates, though that isn’t what I ended up practicing.

    • It doesn’t get THE MOST into trusts and estates — it’s more about the human people involved in the will — but yes! Read it! I love it so so so much.

  • I’ve either already read or already wanted to read most of these, except The People in the Trees. The description does not grab me but your recommendation does. Will place it under consideration.

    What would I put on my lending shelf? I’ve been burned by lending some of my fave books and having them not be enjoyed (sob) – but if I dared to try again I might put Fifth Business by Robertson Davies; Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees; Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis; Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison; Tam Lin by Pamela Dean; The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam. (This is just picking from the books by my desk. Might come up with some others if I thought more about it…)

    • Well, the good thing about having a lending shelf is that if people don’t like the book, they’ll give it back to you, and there you go! Book all set to go to the next likely prospect to enjoy it, and that next prospect will love it. (It is really sad when people don’t love my recommendations, though.)

  • Care

    Ugh, my library only has The People in the Trees. (And I suppose someday I might try it.) And a few books by Rumor Godden but NOT the IDEN GARDEN one which appeals to my time-travel passion. Love Lessons looks good, too. I’ve read The Color Purple and Fingersmith; the Completely Beside Ourselves has been mentioned whenever We Love You Charlie Freeman comes up (though I understand they are quite different.)
    Best to you on your Lending Shelf. You know me, I don’t keep books so… I usually do send my done-reads (especially if hard cover) to my blogging friends. I’m still waiting to hear if one wants my copy of The Mothers – I just might send it to her anyway! I’m trying to think what other books I’ve read that are patiently waiting for me to send to a good home… I’ll have Black Wave back to me soon and will have to think of who needs to read it. Then I will push it on them. (If you might want it, I can’t promise when but I’ll put you top of the list. Let me know)

    • I have just acquired close to forty new books in a single week, so I’d better not acquire any more for a bit. :p You are always so sweet sending books to blogging friends! <3

  • Citizen Reader

    The Karen Fowler novel sounds heartbreaking. But if you liked it? Well, I will have to woman up and read it sometime.
    I’m always trying to lend people (or recommend to them) True Crime titles. It never goes well. “Hey, I’ve got this awesome book about Jeffrey Dahmer–you’ve got to read it.” I know from experience that line does not go down well among suburban mommies, which is what I’m surrounded by right now.

  • Akilah

    I put Greensleeves on hold at the library (okay, actually I requested it through interlibrary loan). So. I will give it a shot.

  • I have just very excitedly added Love Lessons, Saffy’s Angel and In This House of Brede to my list – all of which are completely new to me!
    I also loved The People in the Trees, and love that you say that reading it made you feel like you had never read a book before. What could be more convincing than that as a recommendation? I also loved The Color Purple, but it’s been too long since I read it!

  • I forgot to say that I think the book I have lent out the most is The Birth House by Ami McKay. Partly because I loved it and think a lot of other people have too. But also because I keep finding copies of it for almost nothing at the thrift store and buying them so I can just give them to people!

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