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!