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My Top Ten Books, I Think

Andi Cumbo and I wrote about trends yesterday, in writing, reading, churches and life. Later that day, she posted a link to Jason Konopinski‘s not exhaustive list of his favorite books, which led me to think about the books I’ve been reading this summer; going back through some of the classics, which show trends from days past. Inspired by Jason and Andi, my list of Top Ten Books of all time, unless I think too hard and add a different one later.


Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Hands down this is my favorite book ever, but not because of the too perfect to be true happy sappy ending, although it does make me sigh. I adore Austen’s cutting wit and the way she skewers the classes. Her precise observations and characterizations are pure delight.

The Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

When I read this book, I practically thrust it into other’s hands. It is near perfection, in my humble opinion. Chevalier imagines the story behind a Vermeer painting and how it came to be. The small movements and moments of the characters reveal the emotional and historical tensions, as a painter uses so many thousands of tiny strokes to create a whole canvas.

The Palm at the End of the Mind, by Wallace Stevens

This isn’t cheater, per se, but a stretch; Stevens is my favorite poem and this book has all of my favorites of his. Stevens spent time in Key West, Florida with Hemingway (whose name you’ll notice is absent from my list) and spent his “real life” selling insurance in Connecticut. He wrote about art and artifice, created and creator and my favorite poem, “The Idea of Order at Key West,” has my favorite opening line:

She sang beyond the genius of the sea…

Let the Great World Spin, by Collum McCann

Set in New York City in the 1970s, Philippe Petit illegally secures a tightrope between World Trade Center Towers. He tiptoes across the vacant air, and the people under him crash together in the wild ways of relationships. The war has left America confused; people struggle with loss, drugs, God, death, and joy.  Ugliness and love converge. Simple marvelous.

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

Oh, how I gasp to read Cleave. He plucks the heart without being sappy. His writing is lyrical and dense. His  characters are far from perfect, and this is his genius. I want to read about characters who are like me: they work hard, they want to do the right thing, and they can be incredible jerks. If you saw the movie Incendiary, you know the pangs he strikes.

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

Yes. Another Austen. What can I say? The one criticism I have of Austen is that her heroines are often more perfect that possible. I’m still drawn to her satire, and love to see how she weaves the love story together. Can’t help it. I’m a sucker.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Wilde is one of the prime critics of his culture, and ours. What I like about him is that he is in on the joke; he knows he is as vain and susceptible as the rest of us. Dorian Gray doesn’t want to age, and so a portrait of him takes on his age as he maintains his gorgeous youth. Nothing lasts forever, and the ending is truly creepy.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

I must confess that the last time I picked up this book, I put it down again. I wonder if I’ve grown tired of the middle aged man with daddy issues genre. At any rate, OWEN MEANY is a story of a generation, a friendship and a sacrifice that takes the reader on a crazy surprise ride. Cider House Rules is also a fantastic Irving book, but I stopped reading him when I realized that every single book has a woman with “pendulous breasts.” No lie.

Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott

I know you writer types love Bird by Bird, and I do, too. But the stories she tells about being a young mother so closely reflect my own inexperience as a young mom. When I read this book, I feel normal. Thank God for small blessings. Favorite story is about teaching her son not to swear. It doesn’t really take.

The Tale of Desperaux, by Kate DiCamillo

Sure, it’s a kid’s book. So what? People who think kid’s books are simple aren’t reading the right kid’s books. I read this aloud to my children some years ago, and I kept stopping to highlight portions. My mother overheard me reading and she immediately purchased copies for her other grandbabies. Sin, redemption and a little mouse, the red thread and courage. DiCamillo does not dumb down her books  and everyone will find something amazing in this book.


*I lost this post and had to rewrite it. Lamott’s book took the place of a book I can no longer remember I must have loved. Call it age.

What’s on your list of favorites?


21 Comment

  1. I would like to list four books that I either read or were read to me as a yout. I list them 1). because the site-proprietor will NOT believe it, and 2). because (more importantly) those with children and summer ‘reading initiatives’ might not have heard of these. But they are wonderful and the kids will love them (…and that’s from a reading-neanderthal):
    ‘My Side Of The Mountain’ – Jean Craig George
    ‘Two Against the North’ – Farley Mowat
    ‘The Mad Scientist’s Club’ – Bertrand Brinley
    ‘The New Adventures Of The Mad Scientist’s Club’ – Bertrand Brinley

  2. I love this. My top five are easy, but I’d have to think too hard beyond that:

    East of Eden (I’m a huge Steinbeck fan)
    The Brothers K (David James Duncan)
    Prayer For Owen Meany
    Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner)
    Catcher in the Rye

  3. Great list, Jen, with some definite titles I want to check out. I think I would definitely put 100 Years of Solitude by Marquez somewhere in my top ten, as well as Jane Eyre by Bronte. Oh, but couldn’t we all just go on: The Good Earth by Buck, Blindness by Saramago…too much goodness out there.

  4. I’ve read a lot of these but not all of them, most recently Let the great World Spin… Cool!! Thanks for the new suggestions!

  5. Jen: Thanks for starting such a fun conversation. Many of these are favorites of mine too. I’m reading “Owen Meany” again right now. But since you asked, I will get my list of ten to you next week. And a question to the Catcher in the Rye fans. Why? What makes it one of your favorites? And I ask not to ridicule, but since I just recently read it and found it not to be one of my favorites, I wonder what I missed. Eugene

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