book reviews · gen reads

gen reads: the secret history

Some of my most favorite memories of summer when I was young revolve around “my summer reading ritual”.

It would began the day school let out.

When we came home from the last day of school, I would pull all of my bedding off my bed and create a bed on the floor using my comforter as my “mattress”. I would then stack any and all books I wanted to read by my new “bed”. This stack usually included new books and old books. I was very fortunate to grow up in a house where we had disposable income for books, access to a library, and parents who are both book worms. I was a voracious reader as a kid and my parents definitely nurtured that as much as they could.

I would then proceed to read all summer long.

I would read before I went to bed, I would read in the mornings, I would read laying on the hammock outside, I would read in the car, I would read by the pool. Chances are if you saw me from ages 6 onward I almost always had a book in hand.

Summertime always makes me think of being a little kid  and the excitement I always felt when I cracked open  a new book along with the sorrow I would feel when the incredibly amazing book I had been reading 24/7 finally came to an end.

There’s just nothing like a good book.


It was on a summer vacation at age 17 where I found my FAVORITE book, The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

I had finished a book I had packed for the vacation plus a book that was at the beach house we were staying. I was remarking to my mom’s friend that I didn’t know what to do with myself for the remaining hours of the trip while we wandered a book store we had found on our way home.

She smiled and said “Hold on let me find you this book”. After a few minutes she handed me this book.

I have never been so engrossed in a book in all my life as I was when I first read The Secret History.

Donna Tartt is an incredible writer and you should prepare yourself for a dense SMART read with a lot of references you may need to look up. It is not a quick beach read but it is addictive and dark and delicious, perfect for a summer read. The characters are complex, you love them and hate them as the book flows through the story. Much of the book focuses on character flaws and the desire to be someone you are not.

“Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.” (book jacket)

The book follows Richard Papen as he leaves behind his dismal upbringing in California to go to school at Hamden College (those who love Bret Easton Ellis will recognize it as Campden College from The Rules of Attraction as Ellis and Tartt were very good friends). Hamden College is nestled in Vermont and is both bucolic and grand (the college is based off Tartt’s alma matter Bennington College).

Richard becomes facisnated with a group of 5 students who are studying the Greek Classics. There’s drinking, there’s drugs, there’s wild college parties and one night stands. Slowly Richard is invited to join the Classics class and in a way falls in love with each of them. Stoic Henry who is the leader of the group; Charles and Camilla, the lighthearted twins; Francis, the lovable hypochondriac; Bunny, the obnoxious Kennedy-wannabe; and Professor Julian Morrow, their warm but removed Classics Professor.

Then a terrible mistake happens and Richard becomes privy to the group’s dark secret which in return begets more dark secrets, betrayals, and murder.


I don’t want to give away much more because reading it in Tartt’s words is far more interesting and engrossing. How she writes is absolutely incredible, her writing is rich and evocative. She is able to capture both the mundane and the exotic and make each flow into each other perfectly.

Here are a few quotes that I love particularly.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

““Being the only female in what was basically a boys’ club must have been difficult for her. Miraculously, she didn’t compensate by becoming hard or quarrelsome. She was still a girl, a slight lovely girl who lay in bed and ate chocolates, a girl whose hair smelled like hyacinth and whose scarves fluttered jauntily in the breeze. But strange and marvelous as she was, a wisp of silk in a forest of black wool, she was not the fragile creature one would have her seem.”
“It is easy to see things in retrospect. But I was ignorant then of everything but my own happiness, and I don’t know what else to say except that life itself seemed very magical in those days: a web of symbol, coincidence, premonition, omen. Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together–my future, my past, the whole of my life–and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!”

I can’t say for sure why this book gripped me so much but I have re-read it more times than I can count. I bought it on audio tape to listen to on long runs.

I even have a signed copy because I am THAT dorky.


I think some of why it resonated with me is because it was the first book I had read that was SUPER smart but also covered things that were applicable to my life like college, drugs, parties etc. I also deeply loved greek mythology as a kid and very much enjoyed that the Classics almost are a 7th main character in the book.

Its a fantastic dense read and one that is perfect for vacation or just if you want a book to read long into the hours of the night. Its much more than just a book about college students or a book about murder.

Its a beautiful haunting story of unrequited love, secrets, and wanting to be someone different.

On a sidenote people on pinterest/tumblr have made all these amazing pictures based on The Secret History “aesthetic” and I thought it would be lovely to include a few to give you all a feel of how the book is. I LOVE everything people have created, it’s perfect for the book.



At times, I have wished they made a movie or show out of it and at times Im glad they haven’t as I would be devastated if they ruined it. I do think it would make a fantastic show for HBO or Starz.

If you do enjoy The Secret History please also read Tartt’s other books. The Goldfinch (easily one of my other favorite books) won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 and was so good I read it twice in a row. Her other book   The Little Friend, which very much reminds me of a mix of To Kill A Mockingbird meets Harriet the Spy meets A Member of The Wedding.


Please tell me if you read The Secret History and what you think of it. Whats YOUR favorite book?

Happy reading friends!



One thought on “gen reads: the secret history

  1. I read voraciously and it started when I was 8 or so. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was that book for me, the one that put me over the edge into full on bookworm status. It was porbably due to the fact that my father died that year and I soooo wanted Atticus Finch for a father! Who was more brave, wise and noble than Atticus? We didn’t live near a library and my Mom didn’t drive so the day the Bookmobile came to our neighborhood (every other Tuesday!) was a banner day for me. I became fast friends with both the driver and the librarian on board and they would have piles of books for me to read every two weeks. They never kept me to the limit so there were times I would struggle home with 13 or 14 books! They remained a part of my life for about 7 or 8 years until the library had cutbacks and bookmobiles were dropped. That was a sad day. By the way, I read “the Secret History” a couple of years ago and fell in love with it too, I felt transported to another place and time. I really lost myself in that book! Well, thanks for sharing, I have a smile on my face remembering those lovely days of reading away my summers.

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