Breaking Old Reading Habits

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Ten Works That Might Convince You to Love Literary

by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Multi award-winning writer of fiction, poetry and author of the much-honored #HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers

It’s New Year 2022! Maybe with Covid still plaguing us, it is time to break some old reading patterns just long enough to broaden our choices. I’ve compiled a list that I hope might convince those who think they hate literary novels to give it a fair try using my list as a guide. I am convinced those who hate, hate, hate it were coerced to read literary before they were ready—that is they were too young or didn’t yet have the background—that can be read as, “didn’t have the equipment yet”—to understand it, much less to appreciate it. I mean, I know of no one who jumped into James Joyce without proper guidance who loves his work. For that matter, I know no one at all who is head-over-heels for it, no matter what the circumstances.

Don’t let the idea of reading literary scare you off. None of the books on my list are the kind you may have detested in high school. You know, a little hard to read (though perhaps worth the trouble). Most have been popular in relatively recent history and a couple are books that Oprah should have picked if she had been doing that when these books were released.

Why not give one or all a try?  Sandwich them in somewhere between the romance, crime, and psycho-stuff that we tend to keep on our nightstands. Here goes:

“To Kill a Mocking Bird”  by Harper Lee

This is one of my favorites of all time. But I had teenage houseguests a couple of summers ago who had been required to read it during summer vacation who couldn’t find anything good to say about it. Do you think their attitude would have been different if it hadn’t been “required?” What if it had been set in a part of the country more like their own—one that they could more easily identify with?

“A Painted House” by John Grisham

This is a recent favorite of mine that few called “literary” but got blasted by Grisham’s fans anyway because, I think, they were all expecting his specialty, legal thrillers. Writers will want to study how he used first person point of view through the entirety of the novel.  That’s not easy to do. At least not well!

“The Chinchilla Farm” by Judith Freeman

It’s been around awhile but it’s one of the few good pieces of fiction set in Utah where I set my first novel.

“Dear Corpus Christi” by Eve Caram

This is a lovely little piece by my first writing teacher at UCLA. It deserves wider readership.

“A Child Out of Alcatraz” by Tara Ison

Ison is relatively unknown because no one ever gives screenwriters much credit, so very few are famous regardless of the fact that their talent or the lack thereof can make or break a movie. She taught writing at UCLA and at Antioch University.

“The Sixteen Pleasures” by Robert Hellenga

Apart from an occasional lapse in drawing his female characters truly, this book, set in Florence during the Arno’s infamous destruction, is a winner.

“Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner

You can’t go wrong with this one or any other title written by this novelist and journalist.

“The Wedding” by Dorothy West

This was West’s first and only novel because she didn’t get around to storytelling until she was in her last decade. She breaks rules and makes it work. She also makes us understand a portion of black history and black intolerance that many of us didn’t know existed.

“Travels with Charlie” by John Steinbeck

Not fiction, but it is literary. You might enjoy seeing nonfiction written with passion, style, and artistry. Charlie was the last book Steinbeck wrote, the culmination of years of honing his craft.

“Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury

A touching novel that will be loved by those who consider themselves science fiction fans. He is my ideal author of literary cross-genre.

“Dr. Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak

This book is worth the struggle required to sort out the Russian names. Hundreds of thousands of readers did it a few decades ago when we weren’t all so spoiled by authors who cater too often to short attention spans and formulaic writing these days. 

Okay. So that’s 11. I’ll make it a baker’s dozen. 

“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

This is a novel that holds up over the decades, especially for women (and men) who still suffer from gender prejudices. Don’t let the long names dissuade you from reading it.

“This Is the Place” – my little brag

This is no longer in print. I get no royalties, so it assuages my conscience a little to mention it. It is still available with Amazon’s new and used feature, usually for less than $1. It’s a little romantic, a little memoirish, a little historical, a little women’s. They’re all good categories but I prefer “a little literary.” If I didn’t include this book among my favorites, I wouldn’t be giving you the truest list possible. Maybe my next novel should examine the mirror image twins of false pride and false modesty as its premise. If you love it, feel free to review it on Amazon at  A review is always a lovely gift to give an author and it sure doesn’t get as many as any of those listed above. It will give you a Didion-style look at a the rarely explored culture and history centered in Salt Lake City.

Readers’ Tip: A nonfiction book, West of Kabul, East of New Yorkis much like the world’s best literature. The author is Tamin Ansary.  The publisher is Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson was named first Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment by members of California’s legislature. Rolf Gompertz, UCLA professor and Author of “Abraham, The Dreamer” says, “Carolyn Howard-Johnson is a magnificent writer. Her book [he is speaking of Harkening] is a joy to read. It is a work of literary art. It is an important book. It is a book that touches the heart, mind, and soul.” Learn more about her work at her new website, The page for her creative work is


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PS: Learn more about my fiction and poetry at

1 comment

    Thank you for using the #NewYear to highlight literacy, literature, and promote the #publishingindustry, dear @ReaderViews editorial (blog) staff! It would be fun to do a RV poll to see how many of these books your followers have read. I suspect many of them. I’m guessing an average of 10! (-:
    Hugs and Happy New Year!

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