An Independent Bookseller Shares Her Favorite Books

Editor’s Note: Annie Philbrick is the owner of two fine independent bookstores, Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut and Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, Rhode Island. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, has twice chaired the American Bookseller Association’s Indies Introduce program that highlights debut authors, and last year was a judge for the prestigious Kirkus Prize for Fiction. All around, she’s a spectacular reader with excellent taste. We asked her to share some of her all-time favorite books with us.


Over the course of a year, I read about 150 books and keep track of them in a small Shinola notebook. My favorite genre to read is fiction. I love getting lost in a story, getting to know a character, sometimes not even liking that character, and watching the words move across a page. Having owned Bank Square Books for almost 11 years and Savoy Bookshop & Cafe for one, I am inundated with advance reading copies each day, and have my pick of the crop. I love getting a bound manuscript from an editor with a note of love for the book.  And I am ghastly afraid of being on an airplane with nothing to read after having finished what I brought.

The Spinning Heart
by Donal Ryan

Pitch-perfect prose written in a slight Irish dialect, THE SPINNING HEART introduces us to a working-class community right after Ireland's building boom, when recession has seeped into their souls. In this passionate and original novel, Donal Ryan shows us the brutality of life juxtaposed against its tenderness. He brings you right into the characters' souls. I loved this for the writing.

by Will Harlan

This is an absolutely fascinating true story about a wild woman of nature, and a history of Cumberland Island, a national park off the coast of Georgia. Determined and passionate, Carol Ruckdeschel, a combination of Henry David Thoreau and Jane Goodall, fought to save the turtles who lay their eggs on Cumberland. A woman of contradictions, she literally lived on roadkill and took tea with the Carnegies. Highly recommended to all!

Fives and Twenty-Fives
by Michael Pitre

FIVES AND TWENTY-FIVES is a clear look at the men and women of war, their pain, their fear, their deaths. It’s fiction that is as immediate and compelling as reading someone’s journal. The novel details the background leading to the Arab Spring, something not everyone understands. Michael Pitre existed in this world, came out alive, and translated his experience into this immensely powerful novel where the atrocity of war is placed into our hands.

In the Kingdom of Ice
by Hampton Sides

A dazzling heroic tale of the USS Jeanette, a reconditioned Navy ship seeking to discover the North Pole in the later 1800s. Entering winter conditions, the ship becomes locked in the polar ice a thousand miles north of the Siberian coast, forcing the crew to abandon ship and begin their arduous journey to safety. Three lifeboats spread their oars in the Arctic Ocean, one to be lost completely and the others find their way to Siberia and the reindeer herders. Almost a thriller in pace, IN THE KINGDOM OF ICE is a spectacular read. I loved it.

On the Beach
by Nevil Shute

I read this classic 1957 novel a long time ago and it is as terrifying today as it was then. A nuclear war has erupted, the world is decimated, and Australia is waiting for the radioactive cloud to descend. A man’s family is believed to have perished in Seattle. Then a weak radio signal is detected overseas. Under the stealth of the ocean they travel to the totally destroyed Northwest to seek the origin of the signal. A must-read for all!

Follow Your Heart
by Susanna Tamaro

This gem was a gift from a friend years ago when life was rough and it has always been dear to me. This bittersweet, heartwarming novel is a letter from an Italian grandmother urging her granddaughter in America not to make the same mistakes she did but to have courage and follow her heart.

The Curve of Time
by M. Wylie Blanchet

After M. Wylie Blanchet’s husband died in 1927, she packed her five kids into a 25-foot boat that would become their home summer after summer. They sailed amongst the islands of British Columbia, avoiding bears and seeing orca pods breech around their small boat. Blanchet was a mom, skipper, navigator, and engineer, as well as everything else. Being from the northwest myself, I love this adventure-filled classic.

Gift from the Sea
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This is a quintessential classic from 1955 and is still in print. GIFT FROM THE SEA is a perfect gift book for any woman as it captures women’s struggles and desires in everyday life as we seek to find time for ourselves amidst the chaos of our lives. Lindbergh teaches us how to appreciate solitude and silence. “[A] woman must come of age by herself—she must find her true center alone.”

Remembering Laughter
by Wallace Stegner

I found this novel in a small bookstore in Anacortes, Washington, while waiting for a ferry to the San Juan Islands. REMEMBERING LAUGHTER, Wallace Stegner’s first published novel, came out in 1937 and is set in Iowa farm country. It’s the story of a love triangle between a farmer who, despite the happiness of his wife, takes to drink, and the attractive sister who arrives and gets in between the marriage. Not long, and a real jewel of a read.