'Bel Canto' author Ann Patchett
My mother, Jeanne Ray, published her first novel, Julie and Romeo, when she was 60. Before she went out on a book tour, I gave her my best piece of advice: Keep a list of all the books that influenced you, because when people ask what you've read (and they always do), you'll draw a complete blank. Of course, we all know how mothers are: They never listen. Just before giving her first big talk at a booksellers convention, she called me from a pay phone in a panic. "What have I read?!" she asked. "Have I ever read anything?"

Like my mother, I read all the time, and like my mother, books are always flying out of my head. When a book club asks me what I recommend, I tend to come up with deadly serious things. "The Divine Comedy was really good," I say. After all, if you're steering a person toward a book, shouldn't it be a great book? Shouldn't it be Moby Dick? So many people pressed that giant doorstop on me, but I didn't buckle down and read it until two years ago. I have to say, it is one of the most innovative and thrilling works of utter genius I've ever put my hands on. Sure, it takes some extra time, but where books are concerned you often get out exactly what you put in. There's a reason they call them classics: Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, One Hundred Years of Solitude—if you haven't read them, run to the library. You have so much to look forward to.

Because I am a writer, I have a lot of friends who are writers. I am in love with them and with their books. No list of literary favorites is complete without a few friends. And did I mention that my mother writes novels? Her new one, Eat Cake, is out. I highly recommend it.

What's on Ann Patchett's Bookshelf? Read more!