What's East Lansing Reading?

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Sunday, March 13, 2016, 6:35 pm
Ann Nichols

In honor of National Reading Month, I asked this question of East Lansing residents, including ELi reporters: Tell me three books you love, one you hate and what you’re reading right now. At the end of this article, I’ve provided a complete list of the books that are most-loved, most-hated, and currently in the hands of your friends and neighbors.

There were no limits on what type of book could be chosen, and I heard from readers who selected fiction, non-fiction, YA (young adult) and children’s fiction, short stories, poetry, and graphic novels. Although I’ve used the real names of our reporters, other East Lansing respondents appear under pseudonyms.

Within minutes of my query, there was conflict. Rachel, a seminary student, says she hates Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and loves Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi. Jane, a stay-at-home mom planning to start graduate school loves Jane Eyre and hates The Life of Pi. The Eyre Conflict was joined by retired teachers Lee and Susan and college junior SJ, all of whom chose Jane Eyre as among their favorites.

“Classic” status didn’t protect books from being shunned; those on the “most hated” list include J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Jay, who works in East Lansing, listed Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth as his literary nemesis, saying, “I have never struggled so hard to get through a book in all my life.”

Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 were all more popular with readers. Jane Austen seemed to do well, as did J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

Among more recent books, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak were very popular with East Lansing readers. There was less love for Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night and Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, both of which were mentioned more than once as having been hated and/or abandoned before completion.

One respondent chose as his most hated book Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. “Good God, man,” he begs Rushdie, “if you are going to get killed over a book, make it an interesting one, at least?”

As a group, ELi reporters seem to read more non-fiction than others who responded, and agree that it is nearly impossible to pick only three “loves” from a competitive field.

Reporter Telaina Eriksen, who teaches writing at MSU, lists Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet, and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote as favorites. She hates Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho and is between reading American Desert by Percival Everett and Stephen King's The Drawing of the Three, the second in the Dark Tower series.

Danny Kaplowitz, ELi reporter and student at East Lansing High School also cites The Sparrow, along with One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon as his favorites He hates Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and is reading Power Systems by Noam Chomsky.

Reporter Julie Rojewski, who works in the MSU Graduate School, struggled to limit her choices to three “loves.” In the end, she settled on A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, and Mathilda by Roald Dahl. She chose James Joyce’s notoriously difficult Ulysses as the book she hates, and she’s now reading Mothers, Tell your Daughters, a collection of short stories by Michigan author Bonnie Jo Campbell.

Coleen Moyerbrailean, who reports on a variety of issues for ELi readers, loves Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, because her mother loved them and shared them with her. She also cites as favorites all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but hates Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, which she finds “redundant and depressing.” At the moment she’s reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

ELi reporter Heather Paris agreed with Rojewski that choosing “three is really, really difficult.” Under gentle pressure, she chose 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver, and The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers as most-loved. She neither liked nor finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, and is in various stages of reading Landline by Rainbow Rowell, Rising Strong by Brene Brown, Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica by T.J. Clark, and Life List by East Lansing author Lori Nelson Spielman.

It appears that our government reporters are the most likely to read non-fiction of anyone I interviewed. ELi’s Publisher and government reporter Alice Dreger loves All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books and Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, a memoir scheduled for publication on April 5. She isn’t a fan of Chang and Eng by David Strauss, saying “I hate it when novelists take the lives of real people about whom we actually know a lot and push their own assumptions and fantasies onto those historical characters.”

These days (when she isn’t writing for ELi), Dreger is reading a manuscript of former student MK Czerwiec’s graphic novel Taking Turns, David Wootton’s The Invention of Science, and Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant that is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine, which was recommended to her by Nina Santucci of Alice’s favorite East Lansing restaurant, Red Haven.

Michael Teager, who also reports on government (and other things) for ELi, is a professional musician by night and a stay-at-home dad by day. He chose as favorites Stephen King’s The Stand and On Writing, Miles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe, and Songs Only You Know, a memoir by Michigan author Sean Hoen. Teager says he doesn’t have time to read books he hates, but that he was “underwhelmed” by Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. His current read is Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings.

The hardest thing about writing this article was trying not to jump on any of several very appealing bandwagons. I am very fond of Jane Eyre, The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, The Sparrow, and the Harry Potter books, and very un-fond of Eat, Pray, Love. I managed to resist the temptation to change my choices based on what others said, and stuck with The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, all of the Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as my named beloved books. I hate Melville’s Moby Dick more than words can say, and I’m currently reading The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.

What are you reading?


The Complete List

(Books chosen by more than one reader are followed by the number of votes)


Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (2)

Alice's Adventures Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese”

God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2)

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (4)

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (2)

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (2)

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

“Almost everything by Terry Pratchett”

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (2)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver” (4)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle

Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

All God's Children by Fox Butterworth

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Dubliners by James Joyce

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott

Incantation by Alice Hoffman 

The Greek Treasure by Irving Stone

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

Midnight at the Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker

Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Jam by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.J. Rowling

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.J. Rowling

The Sparrow by Mary Doria RussellThe Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

The Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brien

The Gabriel Allon Series by Daniel Silva

The Stand and On Writing by Stephen King

Miles: The Autobiography by  Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe —

Songs Only You Know by  Sean Hoen

All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

The Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Mathilda by Roald Dahl

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

100 Years of Solitude by Gabrial Garcia Marquez

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Marcovaldo, or The Seasons in the City by Italo Calvino

The Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers as most-loved.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny


The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (2)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon (2)

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (2)

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (2)

Poland by James Michener

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish

“Any book by Mitch Alblom”

Johnny Got his Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Chang and Eng by David Strauss

Ulysses by James Joyce

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Currently Reading

A Nation on Fire by Clay Risen

The Confessions of St. Augustine by Augustine of Hippo

Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

“A Biography of Abigail Adams”

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

I'm the Vampire, That's Why by Michele Bardsley

Dune by Frank Herbert

Boston Girl by Anita Diamante

American Family by Faith Baldwin

Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith

A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell

Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer

Taking Turns by MK Czerwiec

The Invention of Science by David Wootton

Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant that is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine by Tal Ronnen

Mothers Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

American Desert by Percival Everett

The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

The Pope's Daughter: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia by Dario Fo

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica by T.J. Clark

Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman

The Paying Guest by Sarah Waters

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