The Detective’s Daughter – The Summer Reading List



Kim in Baltimore surviving the heat.

What do Jaws, The Eye of the Needle, Where Are the Children, and Valley of the Dolls have in common? They are a few of the books I remember my mom reading when I was a child. Every day, whether she was sitting on the front steps or in the car waiting for Dad to come out of work, Mom was always reading a book.

Last summer, as I was moseying about in the East Village, I picked up a well-worn copy of Rosemary’s Baby in The Strand. By the next day I’d read it cover to cover. Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies and I remembered Mom reading the book years ago.image
Each week we took a trip to the Enoch Pratt library where Mom would walk out with an armful of novels she’d have read long before our next visit. By the time I was fourteen we were both reading Mary Higgens Clark, Phyllis Whitney and Barbara Michaels.

Throughout the years I’ve read Gone With the Wind more times than I can count. I have Mom’s battered copy locked on the shelves of my desk. I take it out just to hold sometimes, remembering Mom sitting in her folding chair, with her cigarettes and iced tea at her side, flipping the pages of the latest book she’d borrowed.

Dad was not much of a reader other than the morning and Sunday editions of The Baltimore Sun. However, one week Mom checked out The Godfather from the library and before she had her iced tea poured and her cigarette lit, Dad was absorbed in the novel. It’s the only book Mom and I ever recall seeing Dad read.

I’ve thought often about the books Mom has read and decided this summer to make them my reading list. I could cross off Rosemary’s Baby and Gone With the Wind; they are books I will read time and again. It wasn’t hard to come up with titles, but I needed to keep it compact. There’s only so many weeks in summer! Here’s what I came up with:image

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Jaws by Peter Benchley
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
Window on the Square by Phyllis A. Whitney
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre

I’ve finished reading Valley of the Dolls and am well into the Phyllis Whitney book. I unfortunately began watching Mad Men the same time I was reading Dolls. It was depressing reading and seeing how little freedom and respect women were given. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch another episode of Mad Men!

As I’ve compiled these books and read through them I’ve thought about what these titles say about my mom. Why do we select the titles that we do? Why are some inclined to read only mystery while others enjoy the classics? Is the genre you prefer inherited or learned?
I spoke to Mom this morning and asked her why she chose certain books. “They seemed interesting,” she said. She wasn’t particularly aware if they were best sellers or if a movie deal was in the works, she just enjoyed reading. I think that’s the part I inherited.
Hope you’re enjoying your summer reading.

Readers: Please share with us the titles of books you have read more than once and why.

36 Thoughts

  1. I may be the outlier, but I don’t like to re-read books. I’m catching up on books in Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy series this month, and I suspect I have already read the book I’m currently reading because things keep seeming familiar – but I can’t remember what happened, so I’m forging ahead! I have so many new books to read that I don’t want to spend time with repeats.

    1. I find that when I don’t feel well I tend to re-read books. My favorite is The Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell. I also always need to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding when I’m sick. I’m a creature of habit. Reading Gone With the Wind became somewhat of a summer ritual for me. Funny that you mention the Rhys Bowen book. Last month I was reading a Royal Spyness mystery feeling as though I may have read that one. Soon I realized it was because the first chapter of that book had been included as a preview in the last book.

    1. My mom feels the same way. When I told her I was re-reading some books she wanted to know why. Other than The Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell, I find that I don’t usually read books from a series over again.

  2. Hi Kim. Thanks for providing your list of summer reads. Very nice you chose the titles based on your mom.

    My mystery reading these days has been primarily focuses on titles in the cozy genre. And frankly I have so many books on my Kindle & bookshelves TBR (over 3000 unread), and other books to review on schedule that I rarely have time to go back and re-read books.

    I did read a lot of spy thrillers in my teens and twenties, so your Follett and le Carre titles are great classics in that genre. One mystery author & series that I have re-read a few times is John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books. I can read the first book, The Deep Blue Good-by, and it still seems timeless. For a young girl growing up in landlocked Ontario, the descriptions of Florida were vivid and memorable. And Travis McGee was the idyllic hero/knight-errant figure, a rescuer of “damsels in distress” that I fell in love with.

    1. I have heard good things about the Travis McGee books, but have not read them yet. They will definitely be added to my list of “must reads.” Thanks so much for the recommendation and for reading my post!

  3. My mother was a reader too, although she preferred historical fiction, usually involving royalty. I could never get into that, but at least she was a good role model. She and my grandmother would swap books (my grandmother lived in walking distance of a Doubleday Books in New York City and made regular trips there).

    When I was younger (with a weekly allowance that might cover one book at a time) I reread a lot of books. Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy, every summer for at least ten years. Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. All of Mary Stewart’s standalone mysteries. Even James Bond. I still have a lot of those books, and may dip into them again. But there are so many new ones now that I want to read! Was time longer when we were young?

    1. I’m not sure if time was longer when we were young or if we just had less demands on it. It’s true that I don’t have as much time to visit past books as I once did, there are so many new ones to read! Believe it or not, I’ve never read a James Bond book. I’ve checked them out several times from the library, but never get around to opening them. Maybe next summer that will be a part of my reading list.

  4. What a wonderful topic! My mother read self-help and religious books with one notable exception, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. When I took a momentary break from my animal exclusive reading I read A Tree… and enjoyed it, and understood why my city born and bred mother loved it. As a child I reread books often but as many have said, I no longer do so. There are exceptions, Jane Austen and Wallace Stevens I reread like a tonic. But my list is long, life is short and I am a glutton for mystery!

    1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite novels! I must admit, I came to it late in life. My mother-in-law was born and bred in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. She told me often how much she loved this book, you know, in the way people say things because they want you to do something. I finally took the hint and bought the book and fell in love immediately. I must say, it was the beginning of a change in our relationship. Books really do bring people together. So glad you enjoyed today’s post. Thanks so much for reading!

  5. Loved this post! These are the books I read off my parents’ bookshelves also–and weirdly, I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. Some of the more mature material went over my head, ha, so I should probably reread. Many were included in the Readers Digest Condensed Books selection. A bygone era…

    1. Thanks, Lisa! Isn’t it funny how an idea creeps into your brain and soon you discover others have been having the same thoughts? It must be something in the air! You must absolutely read these books that are on your mind and get back to me on your thoughts of them. I must say, I lost many hours of sleep over Valley of the Dolls. The story was engaging, but it has to be one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. I also thought the story behind the book was as interesting as the novel itself. It did make me laugh to think this book was thought of as “sexy” or “risqué.” Times really have changed!

      1. Very true. So many of these books have been showing up lately at our town’s “Swap Shop” (a separate section of the dump) in multiples. Maybe people downsizing, or…estate items. They do make me think how the titles influenced 2 generations of women, in different ways. For our moms, they were a whole new way of viewing the world. For us kids, they were just normal. Also, the books were very fast-paced and super easy to read. More action/story, less monologue.

  6. I loved Eye of the Needle. One of my favorite thrillers, as is Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil.

    I re-read a few favorites: The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford being the #1, Jane Eyre, and whenever I visit my mother, I whip through several of her Emily Loring romance novels. Comfort reading at its finest.

    1. I do love Jane Eyre, and in my opinion, the other sisters should have left all the writing to Charlotte! The Emily Loring novels I will need to investigate; I’m not familiar with that author. I also did not realize Ira Levin wrote The Boys from Brazil. My reading list grows longer by the minute!

  7. I don’t tend to re-read books either, because I feel like I’m never going to get to the end of my massive TBR list, both physical and mental. I was an English major, so I did get to read lots of the classics in school. My mom was always reading a book too, mostly mysteries with a dash of romance. While I’ve been an avid reader since I can remember, my sister never was.

    I also have a copy of Valley of the Dolls on my bookshelf. I used to go to used book stores and get all the books “famous” books I’d heard about out, just out of curiosity. I haven’t read it yet…

    1. My sister and I are both readers, though I’m not sure she reads as many mysteries as I do. You must read Valley of the Dolls so we can discuss this book. I am both in love and disgusted with it.

  8. I thought I’d check if I had my copy of Valley of the Dolls on my bookshelf–no such luck, and now I don’t know if I’m relieved or disappointed. But I do have three copies of The Group (read it in high school–we passed it around among the girls, in a plain brown wrapper), and four different biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine, so maybe my mother’s influence rubbed off on me just a bit.

    1. The Group, that is one I definitely need to read! I want everyone to read Valley of the Dolls so we can do a group post on it. I totally understand your feeling of relief and disappointment, that’s how I feel having read it. I think I’ve become a little obsessed with it!

  9. I love those old doorstop-sized summer blockbusters, the books everyone was talking about. Jaws (the book, not the movie) was about the town next to the one where my grandparents had a summer house on Long Island, and it was the talk of that summer.

    Both my parents were big readers, as are both my kids. Somewhere I have a photo of all ten of us (including my brother’s family) sitting in beach chairs, books in our laps.

    1. My mom loves the book Jaws. I remember my parents going out to see the movie when it premiered and how disappointed Mom was when she came home. She felt the same way about The Godfather.
      I have a really funny photo of Mom sitting on the steps in our side yard reading. Could I find it for this post? Of course not! The more I organize these photos, the less I find! You should post your photo of your family when you find it!

  10. I love to re-read books – if I have time! I can barely keep with everything I want to read ONCE. However, there are a couple exceptions – Joyce Carol Oates, We Were the Mulvaneys, and Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River.

    1. They are both good ones to read again. I have the most fabulous book of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates that I keep at my bedside and have read those stories over several times.

    2. I found Denis Lehane a competent writer but nothing to shout about–until I read Mystic River. It changed my whole perspective of him. (And I was happy to hear him say at a conference that Shutter Island is his least favorite book–he almost lost me with that one).

      Kimberly, Joyce Carol Oates fascinates me because she seems to have so many different voices.

  11. Big summer books – I can remember reading Exodus in high school, sitting under a tree in my back yard with a chocolate milkshake in hand.

    1. I remember reading War and Peace while waiting to get my hair done for the junior prom. (Didn’t exactly finish it in one sitting, but read it a second time a decade later.)

  12. I haven’t re-read any books in a while. But I have re-read Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Agatha Christie, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series, and the Harry Potter books.

    When I was kid, I read anything. Truly. If it was at the library, I read it. I remember reading a lot of 50’s-70’s young adult novels, including Phyllis Whitney’s young adult novels. I know I read Valley of the Dolls- in high school or maybe college? I remember one summer, I was working in a grocery store, but I had to finish the P.D. James I was reading and I called the store and said I was going to be late. I can’t remember my excuse but it must have passed muster!

    In college I worked in a shoe polish factory and my job for a large portion of the summer was the capping machine. I would climb up to the hopper, sit on the rail, and stick my hand in the hopper to make sure the caps were moving. As long as the caps were moving, the capping machine was not jammed. That is where I read my first Dorothy Cannell- The Thin Woman! Also numerous Carolyn Hart and Sue Grafton novels were read that summer with my hand in the hopper. No one in the factory ever said a thing but in hindsight, I have to assume it was not a good idea to rest my hand in there like that! (And I got to tell Dorothy Cannell that story at Malice this year- and she listened! :))

      1. Weird places to read books? Dangerous reading places? Reading as a dangerous hobby? 🙂

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