Top Ten Book List: Can You Do It?

When I think of my best-ever books, I have a hard time keeping the list short. A Top Ten List would be absurd. I love to read, though I do not get as much time to do as would like. I fall asleep too fast these days when my head hits the pillow at 9:30, just after the kids quiet down in their room.

My friends make fun of me for being a book snob. I reply, “of course.” Why would you waste your time on 500 pages worth of mediocrity? I expect each book to be a treasure. I want to learn something about myself, humanity, hope, love, survival.

My husband once teased me that I only read female writers, which led me to stack the dining room table with all the male authors I have read and loved. My friends who call me snobby just laughed at my indignation.

When I think of my favorite books, I start with the Early Reader biographies of Helen Keller (which I read 14 times in fourth grade), Amelia Earhart, and Florence Nightingale. There was the Little House in the Prairie series too, and Little Princess and the Secret Garden. I loved Little Women, though I stopped reading it for an entire summer when I got to Meg’s chapters. I was only interested in Jo. There was The High King, which I adored and was probably the best. I still remember my father’s voice reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I sobbed when I read A Separate Peace.

I don’t really remember favorites from my middle and high school years, except for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notebooks, which I kept by my bed enthralled merely by his use of vocabulary. Otherwise, we were assigned so much reading for the most challenging tests I ever took. I underlined, then reread what I’d underlined. I practically memorized the books and poems we read, so that I could identify quotes for the exams. I aced the tests, but those are the books I don’t remember at all. Except for the ones I hated, like Moby Dick and Catcher in the Rye.

All-time favorites include Gone with the Wind, War and Peace, And Quiet Flows the Don, The Gulag by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Killer Angels by Michael Shaara – all historical novels. Roddy Doyle’s A Woman Who Walked into Doors was one that got me too, though my friends who read it after me were appalled that it made me laugh out loud. Dark Irish humor, I guess. I love anything by Alice McDermott too, because she so exquisitely captures the Irish-American experience. There is also The Violent Land by Jorge Amado and Corelli’s Mandolin and Bring me a Unicorn by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Or A Thousand Splendid Suns, Green Mansions, and Conrad Richter’s The Trees (followed by the rest of that trilogy).

Then there are the recent books that seem to be staying with me. The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks should be one everyone’s must-read list. March by Gwendolyn Brooks. Cutting for Stone (I may have been the last person on earth who hadn’t read it) has its own soul. The Book Thief broke my heart, and I will never forget it. Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn hits my Irish-American experience bug and is beautifully written. I just read Alice Hoffman’s new The Dovekeepers, which tells an amazing story of survival. Though I would have loved to be her editor on that one, it is a book worthy of the other great hardbacks on your bookshelves.

If I keep thinking of favorite books, I’ll lose my chance to start my next one. But it is like going through old scrapbooks. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

Please feel free to list your top ten…if you can!

9 thoughts on “Top Ten Book List: Can You Do It?

  1. Andrew says:

    fun challenge!
    Stones of Summer, Dow Mossman; In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, Delmore Schwartz; Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates; Sophie’s Choice, William Styron; The Real Work, Gary Snyder (essays and interviews); Shape of the Journey, Jim Harrison; Great Gatsby, FSF; Slaughterhouse, Vonnegut; Book of Laughter & Forgetting, Kundera;and, everything Wendell Berry has written that I can get my hands on….

  2. michelle says:

    Authors who seem to reach me at any stage/incarnation include: Amy Tan (100 Secret Senses), Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Milan Kundera, Carol Shields (Unless, Stone Diaries, Larry’s Party), John Iriving, and Orianna Fallaci. Favorite books: The Zoo by Edward Albee, The Garden of Eden by Hemingway, Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving, Another Country by James Baldwin, and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. Good books I read recently: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami, Do-over by Robin Hemley, Bittersweet by Matt McAllister and Gonville by Peter Birkenhead.

  3. elizabeth says:

    I love this.
    My childhood favorites include Narnia and Alice in Wonderland. As an early teenager, I think I was lost for a while in Judy Blume! Forgive me.
    As a grownup, some of yours would be on my list. I would add Bel Canto, Ahab’s Wife, Tess, Anna Karenina, and Cold Mountain. Possibly my favorite book of all time.

  4. Adam says:

    My biggest problem in trying to define a top 10 list is that I read a lot of epic fantasy novels, and those tend to run in packs (or series if you prefer). Can I list two or three different books from The Wheel of Time or does the entire series count as one entry on the list? I suppose I’ll try to come up with a few of my favorites (counting a series as just one).

    The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (being finished by Brandon Sanderson)
    The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
    A Separate Peace by John Knowles
    The Willow Tree by Hubert Selby Jr.
    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    I read a lot of books, and those are some of my favorites that I’ve ever read.

  5. polloplayer says:

    Omygosh I loved Killer Angels so much – it spurred an interest for me in the Civil War and from there to the Revolutionary War. I love the way books link you to more books and subjects – it’s a voyage. Some faves: Anna Karenina, The Divine Comedy, The Iliad, House of Mirth come immediately to mind. Totally agree with you that if you’re going to read, read something worthwhile. Like they say, so many books, so little time.

  6. jadowling says:

    Love Gatsby too and passion for the Russians! Great list!

  7. adelind says:

    I am subjected to such an endeavour when it comes to confining my readings to a limited number… How could I make a top when every book provides me with a new sensation ? I would have to separate firstly those sensations, then define my state corresponding with the respective book and only after those two initial stages I would be able to make such a list..
    But I have to deal with a lack of time for the moment, so I will rebuke my previous statements and proceed to a short list of books…. However, i maintain one of my principles, I won’t put a number on the following lectures, it would be too inappropriate.

    Doctor Faustus – Thomas Mann, The Myth of Sysyphus – Albert Camus, Thus spoke Zarathustra- Friedrich Nietzche, Lost Illusions – H. de Balzac, The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevski, The social contract – J.J. Rousseau, The Castle – Franz Kafka, The Karamazov Brothers – F. Dostoyevski, The Devils – Dostoyevski

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