By Norris Burkes. Sep 2 2018

Normally, I use this Labor Day weekend column to share my annual recommendations of books. However, before I do that, I want to confess something that few writers would ever make public. Here goes.

I began reading only at the turn of this century. 

That’s right. I was a bibliophobe. I didn’t read whole books in earnest until my 43rd birthday.  

I got by in school by skimming the assigned books, occasionally completing one only for a required book report. For leisure, I read extensive sections of magazines and newspapers, but never books.

I’m hoping most of you will glaze over this confession, but I fear this revelation might compel serious readers to abandon all association with this columnist.

Because sometimes, confessions spur “me-too” type movements and help inspire change. If you include yourself among the less-well-read folks, I’d encourage you to labor this weekend to make a personal change.

I know the excuses for not reading. I’ve made them all, still do sometimes. I’m busy. Books are too long. Reading is laborious or boring. 

Well, guess what. Retired life remains busy. I’m still a bibliophobe, but I’m recovering. I find the time to read books on my smartphone or tablet at bedtime or while traveling. You can, too.

Yes, it can be daunting to pry open a long book. That’s why I often “read” audible books on my phone while I’m jogging or driving. In this way, I’m not intimidated by the book length because I’m listening during down times. And I can speed the book along by increasing the playback speed.

If you’re a slow reader like me and you’re challenged by long books, commit to only a chapter at a time. Most authors use chapter division to tell a new part of the story. Take a break at the end of each chapter. This is how I took a year reading the Pulitzer winner “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power.”

Of course, you needn’t select a long book. My favorite book in all the world is another Pulitzer prize winner, “Gilead,” by Marilyn Robinson. I’m reading it now for the fourth time. 

“Gilead” is one of the few fiction books I enjoy, but this year I’m adding “Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult. This story follows a black neonatal nurse as she tries to care for the premature baby of a white supremacist. Read it before you see the movie adaptation with Viola Davis.

On my rather large nonfiction shelf I’ve added “The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us” by Lucy Jones. Almost spiritual in nature, the book explores the randomness of and, in some sense, the philosophical issues faced during cataclysmic events.

“The Soul of Money” by Lynne Twist is another spiritual book that will liberate you from tired assumptions we make about money ― earning it, spending it and giving it away. 

“Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” is written by social scientist Brené Brown. The book is an expansion of her TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability” (viewed 40 million times).

As I run out of space to say more, allow me to recommend these last five: 

1. “City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris” by Holly Tucker.

2. “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann.

3. “What Doesn’t Kill Us” by Scott Carney.

4. “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman. 

5. “The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story” by Douglas Preston (recommended if you’re going to Honduras with me in March 2019. See more at

Finally, don’t forget to read my books listed at They are under 175 pages and are written as a compilation of my column series.

Share your reading recommendations at, or leave me a voicemail at 843-608-9715.

Coming to Southern Tier

Norris Burkes will be speaking in the Elmira area from Sept. 9 to 12:

  • 8 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, Horseheads United Methodist Church, 1034 West Broad St. Topic: “Spirituality in Everyday Life.”
  • 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10, Hillview United Methodist Church, 109 Hillview Drive, Big Flats. Topic: “Laughing Through Loss, Love, and Life.”
  • Noon Tuesday, Sept. 11, Arnot Mall Center Court, Horseheads, for a 9/11 memorial gathering.

Burkes’ books will be available at all events. For more information, go to