The Reading List

The Reading List (2021) by Sara Nisha Adams was lovely and heartbreaking at the same time. Set in London in Wembley, it follows widower Mukesh as he begins to try new things after the death of his beloved Naina; and young adult Aliesha who has just started working at the library, but isn’t sure it’s for her. She’s dealing with a lot, taking care of her depressed mother along with her twentysomething older brother.

In alternating chapters, we learn that Mukesh isn’t much of a reader, but Naina was–she was never without a book. He’s been in a rut since she died, with his daughters fussing about his terrible diet and the sameness of every day. One day he finds a book that Naina forgot to take back to the library–The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. He decides to read it in his grief in an attempt to feel closer to Naina. It’s exactly what he needed. So he decides to go to the library.

While checking returned books for any papers or items left inside them, Aliesha finds a piece of paper titled “In case you need it” followed by a list of novels. Aliesha was never much of a reader, but her brother loved the library and to read when he was her age. After an initial brief encounter with Mukesh, where she is rude and he quickly exits the library, Aliesha decides to try reading the books on the list, starting with To Kill a Mockingbird. When Mukesh comes back, as an apology for her previous rudeness, she decides to recommend it to him.

And so their friendship begins. It becomes essential to both of them as they deal with some of the unfortunate realities of life, and reading brings them closer to their families in ways they hadn’t expected. Adams brings both main characters, but especially Mukesh, to life, with sweet and self-deprecating humor.

If you want a fast-paced, action-filled, gripping book, I wouldn’t recommend it. But if you like to savor the words and the thoughts someone might have while reading one of your favorite books, you will probably enjoy it. I’ve read most of the books on the list, but the two I haven’t–Rebecca and A Suitable Boy–will make it onto my to be read list soon.

The Reading List was completely weight-neutral. Although I listened to it, and so could have missed something, I don’t recall any anti-fat bias from any of the characters. None of the characters were described as fat, nor did they note fatness in anyone else, which was refreshing. While it would have been good for the author to have positively portrayed some of the characters as fat, I’ll take neutrality at a minimum.

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