Reader Recommendations with Donna Hetchler / by Madeleine Riley

It's the last Wednesday of the month, which means it's time for Reader Recommendations!

Except today, we're doing things a little differently. When I reached out to my friend Donna for her recommendations, she countered with a fabulous idea -- to tell us a little bit more about how she leads a bookish lifestyle. I love how creatively Donna weaves reading into her life, and I hope some of her projects inspire you, Readers!


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Hi I'm Donna and I live in the Bay Area in CA but I'm about to move to Boise, ID. My career has been in financial planning and reporting but secretly I just want to be in a bookstore or library all day long. I love coming up with different book projects because I think picking the book is half the fun. Here are three of my projects and some favorite books for each of them.


Project #1 - The Bookstore Road Trip

Last year for my 50th birthday I drove from San Diego to San Francisco and stopped at 18 bookstores and bought 50 books along the way. I tried to pick books that I would want to reread so years from now when I pick them up for the fourth time they'll seem like old friends.

(Psst! You can hear more about this adventure on Anne Bogel's literary podcast, What Should I Read Next? on Episode 83: An Epic Birthday Road Trip.)

Here are two of my favorites from that trip:

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The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I was on a cruise to Alaska with Oprah (!) and she told us when this book came out she loved it so much she bought multiple copies and carried them around in her backpack and handed them out to strangers. The book takes place in the 30s in the South where a young, black woman-Celie-is living a hard life that includes abuse, loss and poverty. Ultimately the story is about Celie's journey to finding the freedom to be her true self and I'm always inspired by her when I read it.

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Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I'm not sure how to describe this book-it's a memoir, a set of blog posts, a bunch of crude drawings-it's definitely unique. I love the subtitle: 'Unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened.' It's very funny but it is also brutally real as the author deals with her depression. I've never read anything like it.


Project #2 - Classics and Movies

I love reading Classic books but sometimes I need a little extra motivation to pick one up since there are always bright and shiny new books that I want to read on everyone's Bookstagram feeds! So here's my solution to that-I pick a Classic where I know I also want to watch the movie and it's fun to do them back-to-back and see how they differ. Here are two I've really enjoyed:

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

 The book is only 200 pages long so it's a good one to start with. Lucy Honeychurch (love that name) is a proper young woman living a proper life in proper society (yawn). Then she goes to Italy and gets kissed and it turns her upside down...now what will she do? The movie is gorgeous and includes Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith and Daniel Day-Lewis.

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Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

You probably already know the basic plot-Mr. Bennett is marrying off his five daughters and independent Elizabeth must overcome her pride when dealing with wealthy suitor Mr. Darcy. The beauty of reading a Jane Austen classic is then there are usually multiple movie versions to watch. I think choosing your favorite Mr. Darcy is an excellent use of your time.


Project #3 - The Reading Road Trip

Since I couldn't do another bookstore road trip this summer I launched a Reading Road Trip where each month for the next year I'm picking 4 books from 4 states in order to read my way across the country. I've been getting wonderful suggestions from readers on my site and here have been a couple of favorites:

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March by John Lewis, Nate Powell and Andrew Aydin

This was my pick for Alabama and it's a graphic novel trilogy that tells the story of Congressman John Lewis' rural upbringing and his experience with the Civil Rights Movement. The graphic novels bring history to life in a way that just words couldn't have done. The determination in the face of violence and many setbacks is inspiring and hopeful.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

This was my pick for Arizona and Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors so it was an easy selection. I'm so impressed that this was her first novel, I feel like there is a depth and richness to her writing but it's also very accessible. Taylor Greer is a young woman who leaves her hard life in Kentucky and ends up in Arizona when her car breaks down there. She ends up with a child along the way (just read the book, it will make sense) and forms a makeshift family as she takes on her new responsibility. This book is full of characters you will remember.


Thank you, Donna, for sharing these picks with us!

Readers, do you have your own projects you're working on, or recommendations to share with Donna? Leave a comment below!