100 books like Austen Years

By Rachel Cohen,

Here are 100 books that Austen Years fans have personally recommended if you like Austen Years. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence

Emma Darwin Author Of This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin: a writer’s journey through my family

From my list on failing to write a book.

Why am I passionate about this?

Alongside writing, I’ve been running workshops, teaching and mentoring writers for nearly twenty years, helping people get unstuck and keep going. So I spend most of my working life thinking about creativity and writing—then suddenly I, too, couldn’t write the book I needed to write. Every book in this list is about not-writing for different reasons, in different circumstances, but between them they tell us so much about how we write, why we write, how we get writing to happen—and what’s happening when we can’t. These very different stories resonate with each other, and I hope some of them resonate with you.

Emma's book list on failing to write a book

Emma Darwin Why did Emma love this book?

First, because it’s incredibly funny. Geoff Dyer set out—he says—to write a sober, serious study of D. H. Lawrence, but life, travel arrangements, random people and his own inertia kept getting in the way. The story of his odyssey doesn’t just evoke all the things about writing that we’ve always suspected (that it’s hard; that it’s easy; that we often wonder why on earth we do it; that we never question that we want to do it). It also, by stealth, evokes and explains an amazing amount about Lawrence, and why he’s a writer that so many people love—or hate—so passionately. 

By Geoff Dyer,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Out of Sheer Rage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recounts the author's experiences visiting the places D.H. Lawrence lived while actively not working on a book about Lawrence and not writing his own novel.


Book cover of My Life in Middlemarch: A Memoir

Diane Charney Author Of Letters to Men of Letters

From my list on offbeat memoirs.

Why am I passionate about this?

I taught at Yale for 33 years and I hold advanced degrees from the Sorbonne. I am interested in literature as lessons for life, but I am mostly a passionate letter writer, especially to the great authors who have marked me. They are never really dead. I carry them around with me. I selected the category of Offbeat Memoirs because I have written one. I also have an Italian alter-ego, Donatella de Poitiers, who authors a blog in which she muses about how a lifelong Francophile could have forsaken la Belle France for la dolce vita in the Umbrian countryside, where the food and fresh air are way better than the roads.

Diane's book list on offbeat memoirs

Diane Charney Why did Diane love this book?

What do the writers you are drawn to reveal about you? Why at certain points in our lives do we become “attached” to certain authors? The process of attachment is mysterious. As we age (and change) some things remain constant. Our attachment to a particular author may have begun in our youth, but evolved as we have. To reconnect with a favorite author can put us in touch with our younger self in unexpected ways. Mead shows how much Middlemarch has “spoken” to her throughout her life. This book is perhaps more in harmony with my own than any on the list. I have come to love books that underscore how what we read can be inseparable from the person we become.

By Rebecca Mead,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My Life in Middlemarch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New Yorker writer revisits the seminal book of her youth--Middlemarch--and fashions a singular, involving story of how a passionate attachment to a great work of literature can shape our lives and help us to read our own histories.

Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described…


Book cover of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

Katharine Smyth Author Of All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf

From my list on about books (and the authors who write them).

Why am I passionate about this?

In the wake of her father’s death, Katharine Smyth turned to her favorite novel, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief. Her book about the experience, All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, was published by Crown in 2019 and named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Smyth’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Elle, The New York Times, Literary Hub, Poets & Writers, and The Point.

Katharine's book list on about books (and the authors who write them)

Katharine Smyth Why did Katharine love this book?

This is a compilation of essays about Batuman’s experience of studying Russian literature at Stanford. Wondering about “possible methods for bringing one’s life closer to one’s favorite books,” Batuman traces the literal and figurative path of writers such as Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Babel, finding answers in their life and work while at the same time exploring their influence upon a motley group of Slavic scholars and readers.

By Elif Batuman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Possessed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story of one woman's intellectual and sentimental education and her strange encounters with others devoted - absurdly, melancholically, ecstatically - to the Russian classics

Roaming from Tashkent to San Francisco, this is the true story of one budding writer's strange encounters with the fanatics who are devoted - absurdly! melancholically! ecstatically! - to the Russian classics. Combining fresh readings of the great Russians from Gogol to Goncharov with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence, The Possessed introduces a brilliant and distinctive new voice: comic, humane, charming, poignant and completely, and unpretentiously, full…


Book cover of U and I: A True Story

Katharine Smyth Author Of All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf

From my list on about books (and the authors who write them).

Why am I passionate about this?

In the wake of her father’s death, Katharine Smyth turned to her favorite novel, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief. Her book about the experience, All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, was published by Crown in 2019 and named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Smyth’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Elle, The New York Times, Literary Hub, Poets & Writers, and The Point.

Katharine's book list on about books (and the authors who write them)

Katharine Smyth Why did Katharine love this book?

In U and I: A True Story, the death of Donald Barthelme inspires Nicholson Baker to write a book about his obsession with John Updike while his muse is still alive. Coining the term “memory criticism,” which he defines as “a form of commentary that relies entirely on what has survived in a reader’s mind from a particular writer over at least ten years of spotty perusal,” Baker embarks upon a wildly entertaining meditation that reveals as much about the writing process as it does about Updike (and Baker) himself.

By Nicholson Baker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked U and I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Baker muses on the creative process via his obsession with John Updike.


Book cover of Trompe L’oeil

Margaret Farrell Kirby Author Of Becoming Nora

From my list on characters navigating the fragility of life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always wanted to be a writer. I love reading and am inspired by authors of character-driven novels—Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg, Colm Toibin, Anna Quindlen, and others—who take time to explore the inner thoughts and motivations of their protagonists. The novels I picked take the reader deep into the interior thoughts of their protagonists. As they explore the complexities of relationships amid the texture of ordinary life, they reveal the fragility and strength of the characters as we discover what simmers beneath the surface of their relationships. Long after reading them, I remember the characters and the time I spent with them.

Margaret's book list on characters navigating the fragility of life

Margaret Farrell Kirby Why did Margaret love this book?

Nancy Reisman brings her characters to life in this portrait of a family that begins after the tragic death of one of their children. Four-year-old Molly is killed by a truck while dashing across a street in Rome during a family vacation. In an instant, their lives change. 

We follow the family in the aftermath of the accident and over two decades. Reisman chronicles the birth of two more children and the slow dissolution of the Murphy’s marriage. The loss of Molly reverberates throughout the novel. Through varying points of view, we observe the guilt, regret, longing, and despair that affect each member of the family.

By Nancy Reisman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Trompe L’oeil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set against a backdrop of Rome, Renaissance artworks, and images of Mary Magdalene, Trompe l'Oeil portrays the ripple effects of a family tragedy and the ways in which its members perceive and misperceive themselves and each other.

During a vacation in Rome, the Murphy family experiences a life-altering tragedy. In the immediate aftermath, James, Nora, and their children find solace in their Massachusetts coast home, but as the years pass the weight of the loss disintegrates the increasingly fragile marriage and leaves its mark on each family member. Trompe l’Oeil seamlessly alternates among several characters’ points of view, capturing the…


Book cover of Inkling

Anna Humphrey Author Of Megabat

From my list on middle grade unlikely friendships.

Why am I passionate about this?

There are so many ways to make friends—and to be friends. As a painfully shy person for most of my life, I’ve learned that words aren’t always necessary, and that shared interests and non-verbal (or differently-verbal) communication can take you a long way. It’s probably why so many of my books focus on unconventional friendships, like that between a boy and a funny-talking fruit bat (in Megabat), a boy and his emotional support duck (in Quack), or even a bee and a flea (in Bee and Flea and the Compost Caper). Not surprisingly, I also love reading books that celebrate unlikely friends. These are just a few of my favorites. 

Anna's book list on middle grade unlikely friendships

Anna Humphrey Why did Anna love this book?

Adventure awaits when an inkblot from one of Ethan’s dad’s sketches comes to life and leaps off the page. Sydney Smith’s inky illustrations add to the fun of this fast-paced and funny story about friendship and family. And because Inkling loves to read/eat up ink, and he takes on the mood of whatever text he’s just devoured, it’s also a cool and clever introduction for kids to some classics and to different genres of writing. 

What’s more, the book ends on a note that suggests a sequel that I can’t wait to read!

By Kenneth Oppel, Sydney Smith (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inkling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Mishaps and madness ensue when magical drawing ink comes to life in the Rylance home and 11-year-old Ethan tries to prove he's just as talented as his famous father.

A moving but light-hearted story about grief, family and a sixth-grade rivalry. When Ethan's class is given the task of creating a graphic novel and magical ink jumps out of his father's sketchbook, a strange series of events is set into motion. To his younger sister, Inkling is Lucy, her beloved dog; to his father, Inkling is a second chance at a dwindling career and a chance to solve his family's…


Book cover of Cry, Heart, But Never Break

Robin Hall Author Of The Littlest Weaver

From my list on picture books for healing from loss.

Why am I passionate about this?

All my life, books have been a safe space for me to explore emotions, recognize that what I’m experiencing is universal, and see that we can cope with difficult situations. As I pursued my MFA in Writing, I studied and wrote books that address heavy topics in hopeful ways. As Matt de la Pena says, “I can’t think of a safer place to explore complex emotions … than inside the pages of a book.” The picture books I have chosen address the heavy topic of loss in sensitive, hopeful, and empowering ways. I hope these books will touch your life as much as they’ve touched mine.

Robin's book list on picture books for healing from loss

Robin Hall Why did Robin love this book?

“In the far north, in a small snug house, four children lived with their beloved grandmother,” begins this gentle tale. I’ve never made it through this book without crying. I bet you’ll cry, too.

Translated from Danish, Glenn hits the chord of loss with universal truths shared by a visit from Death himself. He’s a respectful visitor who leaves his scythe outside to not scare the children when he comes for their grandmother.

Death has a “heart as red as a beautiful sunset and beats with the great love of life.” He tells them of opposites, of dark and light, of sorrow and delight, of grief and joy. “What would life be worth if there was no death?” 

By Glenn Ringtved, Charlotte Pardi (illustrator), Robert Moulthrop (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cry, Heart, But Never Break as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Aware their grandmother is gravely ill, four siblings make a pact to keep death from taking her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must. He comes gently, naturally. And he comes with enough time to share a story with the children that helps them to realize the value of loss to life and the importance of being able to say goodbye. Glenn Ringtved is a best-selling and award-winning Danish children's author, whose books have been widely translated. Charlotte Pardi is a well-beloved Danish illustrator, who has created numerous books since her first picture book in 2000.…


Book cover of Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss

Joan D. Heiman Author Of Life with an Impossible Person: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation

From my list on by women grieving the loss of a quirky partner.

Why am I passionate about this?

My mom handed me one of those little girl diaries with a lock and key when I was in third grade. I wrote my heart into those diaries until I needed more space and shifted to regular-sized notebooks. Writing is my way to know myself and make sense of my life. The journal I kept in the last months of my husband’s life helped me reassemble the trauma-blurred memories of his dying, and then, it supported my emotional rebirth during the year of intense grieving. It is with surprise and delight that I hear from readers who say I articulate their innermost emotions related to love and loss.

Joan's book list on by women grieving the loss of a quirky partner

Joan D. Heiman Why did Joan love this book?

As I entered the strange new territory of grief and a solitary life after 37 years of an unconventional marriage, I found myself looking for solace from authors who could show me the way forward. Martha Cooley’s retreat to a small, medieval Italian village brought the first tentative smiles to my early months of grieving. My husband and I shared a love of Europe and stayed in our own medieval village in Tuscany just a few years before he died. Cooley used her retreat to deal consciously but gently with the many deaths she’d faced over a traumatic ten years, as well as the impending death of her mother. Her reflections related to mortality and carrying on after the loss of loved ones were a comfort as I began to confront the uncomfortable challenge of stepping into a new life without my husband and best friend. 

By Martha Cooley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Guesswork as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"[A] splendid and subtle memoir in essays" —The New York Times Book Review

Having lost eight friends in ten years, Cooley retreats to a tiny medieval village in Italy with her husband. There, in a rural paradise where bumblebees nest in the ancient cemetery and stray cats curl up on her bed, she examines a question both easily evaded and unavoidable: mortality. How do we grieve? How do we go on drinking our morning coffee, loving our life partners, stumbling through a world of such confusing, exquisite beauty?

Linking the essays is Cooley’s escalating understanding of another loss on the…


Book cover of Cape

Caroline Kusin Pritchard Author Of Where Is Poppy?

From my list on talking about death and loss with your kids.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a children’s book author who typically centers humor at the heart of my books but who dipped into heartache to tell this specific story. As a former educator with four kiddos of my own, I’ve been able to witness the myriad ways kids cope with grief, everything from hiding out in blanket forts to holding a backyard funeral service for a beloved pet roly-poly. I hope my book, Where is Poppy? offers kids comfort, peace, and preparation for their own unique journeys with loss. I studied creative writing and political science at Stanford University and hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

Caroline's book list on talking about death and loss with your kids

Caroline Kusin Pritchard Why did Caroline love this book?

Oof. This book. It’s an absolute treasure. It’s so rare to find a story told from the perspective of a child navigating the day of a funeral that includes the often angry resistance to all that is happening, as well as the deep redemptive power of memory.

I fall straight into the rich, kid-centered illustrations, in part because of the sparse and exactly right prose that allows the images to speak for themselves. Once I pieced together where the titular cape came from and how the child narrator uses it in the story, it was like the best kind of gut punch. 

By Kevin Johnson, Kitt Thomas (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cape as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

When a child loses the person in his life that he loves more than anything, he uses his cape as protection from his grief. On the day of the funeral, he uses it to block out the pictures and stories people share, refusing to acknowledge the memories that keep bubbling up. He won't think about them. He doesn't want to.

He avoids the memories, until he no longer can.

He remembers then. Their laugh, their smile, the moment they gave him the cape. The cape transforms, becoming a source of comfort and strength as the child navigates the sadness and…


Book cover of The Tree of Man

Stephen Jarvis Author Of Death and Mr. Pickwick

From my list on turning you into a novelist.

Why am I passionate about this?

Loads of people want to be writers and the dream can come true! It did for me. So, I want to tell people about the books that have helped to turn me into a novelist. Initially, I wrote journalistic pieces about bizarre leisure activities for various British newspapers and magazines: I lay on a bed of nails, walked on red hot coals, met people who collect bricks as a hobby...and even lost my underpants while performing on the flying trapeze! (No kidding!) But my ultimate goal was always to become a novelist. Then, one day, I discovered the subject I just had to turn into a novel. And the result was...Death and Mr. Pickwick

Stephen's book list on turning you into a novelist

Stephen Jarvis Why did Stephen love this book?

This book made me realise that a great novel could be largely plotless. The Tree of Man simply describes the lives of a husband and wife in Australiaa sort of echo of the Garden of Eden set in the Outback. I can’t claim that I remember many details about it nowI read it years and years ago, but I do know that it made me feel that I too could write a plotless book, based on simple, everyday human experiences. 

By Patrick White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tree of Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stan Parker, with only a horse and a dog for company journeys to a remote patch of land he has inherited in the Australian hills. Once the land is cleared and a rudimentary house built, he brings his wife Amy to the wilderness. Together they face lives of joy and sorrow as they struggle against the environment.


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