This post has been a long, long time in the making. I don’t know why I am always so hesitant to a) make lists b) name favorites or c) share either of those things with others. But that’s a discussion for another post. For today I have faced my fears and I have made a list (although it is in no particular order – I’ve got to keep control over some things, you know…) and I am sharing my favorite books of all times. I’m afraid that it has turned itself into a rather long, long post. For whatever it’s worth, here goes nothing.
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
I know it’s such an obvious choice for a favorite book if you’re a girl. And I hate being obvious. I really do. But let’s be honest. There are few things more romantic than the way sentences were put together in the time and culture of Jane Austen. You read it and you long to speak the way they speak. And I have never had my heart pound so much from anticipation as when Mr. Darcy bursts in on Elizabeth who has stayed home alone and says, “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” And Elizabeth, who has jumped to all sorts of wrong conclusions, refuses him. Oh! It’s good. And it just gets better from there.
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
First book I ever cried in. Fourth grade. I felt like I understood what it was to have sisters when I read this book.
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
I think this might be one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. It is simply a fictional account of an old man on his deathbed, writing his thoughts down for his young son to read when he has grown into a man. There is no story, no dialogue, not the kind of book that normally captures my interest. Just words from the mouth of a dying man. And yet this one wound its way into my soul in a way that I won’t soon forget.
The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
First book I ever stayed up all night reading. The summer before eighth grade. I couldn’t put it down. I entered into a world I knew nothing about and it captivated me. The more I read, the less tired I was and the next thing I knew, it was morning.
The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
One of only two books that I’ve ever read more than once. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this series, actually. At least four times for sure, including the year we lived in Mexico City when I was in seventh grade and my dad would read out loud to the family after the big meal at 2:00pm each day. The best thing about these books is that you get something different out of them each time you read them, whether you’re seven or thirty-seven.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
First time I ever made myself vulnerable by choosing to read a passage out loud to my fourth grade class that had affected me greatly. We all had to read a book and give an oral book report on it, including reading a portion of the book out loud. I chose the portion where Tom and Becky were lost in the cave and he held onto her trying to protect her and comfort her as they were sure they were going to die in that cave. Reading this out loud to your class when you’re nine years old: “Tom kissed her, with a choking sensation in his throat…” has to be one of the most mortifying things you might ever have to do. And yet I had to do it. I just HAD to. It was too good not to share.
Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maugham
This has to be one of the most amazing novels ever written. The title is exactly right. I felt the weight of everything the enlightenment did to the minds and lives of people as I was reading it. I related with the main character in so many ways. It was not an easy read, but it was a good one. I would often read only one page at a time and then close the book just so I could digest everything on that page. Maugham was truly a gifted and tragic man to be able to see so clearly into people.
Midwives – Chris Bohjalian
Just a good story, told in a way that kept me turning the pages.
The Living – Annie Dillard
Another difficult book to read that has stayed with me over the years, about the first settlers in the Pacific Northwest. I am in awe of Annie Dillard and her ability to understand human nature and God and this earth and put all of it into a story that happened 150 years ago, as though she were there and is writing a first-hand account. I am just sure she must have been there when I am reading it. How can anyone write like this?
Giants in the Earth – Ole Edvart Rolvaag
Much like the previous, only this is a novel about the first Dutch settlers in the Midwest United States. Completely different people and terrain than “The Living,” but again Rolvaag has such a grasp on humanity and what it is to fight the ground in order to just survive. Told in such an unassuming way that I wondered at how I could feel so full after reading it.
Heidi – Johanna Spyri
This is the only other book that I have ever read more than once. I had a magnificent red, leather copy of it as a child. It had gold around the edges. It probably wasn’t really leather, but in my mind it was. I thought it was the most beautiful book I had ever seen. It was my comfort book and I would often read the entire thing at night before falling asleep. How I longed to go to the mountain where Heidi lived with her grandfather and drink fresh milk from a wooden bowl.
Dana’s Valley – Janette Oke
I have to put this here, even though I feel silly about it. I have never cried so hard as I cried while reading this book. Maybe it’s because I read it while I had three very little girls and I was exhausted and this is a story about a young girl’s battle with leukemia and how it shaped the lives of the whole family. This book affected me maybe more than any book I’ve ever read. Crying my eyes out basically makes anything have a profound impact on me. I’m telling you. I really, really cried at this book.
Circle of Friends – Maeve Binchy
Maeve Binchy is one of my favorite story-tellers. She is easy to read and I always find myself transported into the lives of her modern, Irish characters . I have read all her books and this one’s my favorite. The ending has stuck with me to this day. It’s my favorite last page ever in a book. Oh wait, I think I felt that way about “Midwives” too. But don’t see the movie. The movie was awful. It changed everything that I loved about the book.
The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
By far, the most graphic novel I have ever read which always makes me hesitant to say how much I liked it. But with that disclaimer out there, this book made me interested in church history and the middle ages in a way I never had been before. Like “The Living” and “Giants in the Earth”, I am just amazed at authors who can truly transport me to another place and time while I sit at home on my couch. I KNOW the characters in this book. It’s been years since I read it and I still know them like they are old friends.
The Giver – Lois Lowry
A wonderful, tiny little book. Sort of futuristic, but sort of backwards too. Timeless and captivating.
Kristin Lavransdatter – Sigrid Undset
This one I’m still reading, but it has to go on the list. I’m on page 934 of the 1,047-page book, so I figure I’m far enough into it to know that it has to go on my favorite-books-of-all-times list. I think it’s definitely the most difficult book I’ve ever forced myself to read. Funny how the harder things are, the more they pay off. This is a Norwegian book set in the 1300’s that follows the life of a girl named Kristin. Sounds simple, but it’s so much more than simple. It’s everything lovely and everything tragic about life. It’s church and dowries, sex and childbirth, family connections, war and disease. It’s the deepness and the suffering and the importance of this life. As you can see, it has and still is greatly affecting me. It’s epic on the grandest of the epic scales. I need to finish it soon.
Yes, all of my favorite books are novels. I’m sort of ashamed of this. I really wish that I could devour non-fiction and learn from it like other people that I really admire. Sometimes I think I might just be lazy. I feel like I always start out excited about books about history or theology or scientific studies or how-to-live-better, but after a chapter or two, I fizzle. It always seems to me that the authors could say all the really good stuff in just a few pages but they’re always trying to drag it out until they have enough material for a legitimate book. I get annoyed when things feel repetitive. But I’m probably just lazy. I do have two non-fiction books that I loved, both of them memoirs:
Baby Catcher – Peggy Vincent
Girl Meets God – Lauren Winner
That’s it. Suggest some more to me and I might give them a whirl. Or become friends with me on Goodreads. I’m trying to keep track of everything there.