For today’s Scavenger Hunt topic, three separate commenters asked for a list of my favorite books: Pezmama, Dedee, and the prodigiously talented Jen at A2eatwrite. A list of my Top 100 would have been easier. But top ten is what was requested, so top ten is what I give you, along with a few comments.
But first, a caveat: of course the scriptures are my favorite reading material. But I put them outside the bounds of this list, the way I put chocolate outside of the bounds of candy.
Also, I didn’t rank these. That would be just too hard, and somewhat pointless besides. So just pretend they're all tied for first place.
Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin
Mark Helprin is the most gifted living American writer (his photo graces this post). This book, told as an old Italian man’s memoir of his experiences in World War I, is lyrical, funny, spellbinding, and uplifting. The writing is breathtaking (and I don't mean that in the Seinfeldian sense).
The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
Eco is the most gifted living European writer. I love all of his writing, fiction and non-fiction, but The Name of the Rose is my favorite. It’s so brilliant; just thinking of it makes me want to re-read it. Again.
The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton
This is my favorite kids’ book of all time, bar none. I first checked it out at the Woodland Public Library when I was ten. We moved roughly once every two years after that, and I judged every new library by whether they had a copy of this book or not. I’ve bought countless copies and lent or given them away, because I believe every ten-year-old should read it. Jane Langton writes funny mysteries and has published many other children's books, but none comes close to the genius of this one.
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
I’ve written elsewhere about my deep love for this book. I’ve read it probably 20 times. For a long time when I was single, I’d just pick up this trusty novel when I was pining for a little vicarious romance.
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
I have been a serious Tolkien geek from age ten onwards. We’re talking: teaching myself to write Cirthish runes and speak Elvish. That level of geekdom. I went to a panel discussion on Tolkien at the World Fantasy Convention last weekend and felt entirely validated in my lifelong devotion. High adventure, vivid characters both good and evil, timeless themes of the struggle for agency and the power of love and friendship: it just doesn’t get any better than Tolkien.
The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
I love a good allegory, and this is one of the original great ones. It tells the story of Christian, an everyman character, who travels from his home in the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, having many harrowing adventures along the way. It is no accident that our first boy and our first girl are named after characters in the book.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Somehow I wasn’t required to read this in high school, so I didn’t pick it up for the first time until I was nearly 30. I’ve made up for lost time; this is another favorite re-read. There is no better father in all of literature than Atticus Finch.
Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin
Yes, Helprin is that good: he has two books in my Top Ten. This book made me fall in love with New York City long before I ever moved there. It reads like a historical novel (except for the fabulous magic). So gorgeous.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Published in 2004, this is the most recently written book on my list. Clarke evokes a unique and heady atmosphere in its pages, the perfect mix of English gothic and alternate history fantasy. The amazing footnotes are not to be missed.
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
I love all the Stegner I’ve ever read, but this is my favorite for very personal reasons. It’s just lovely.
So there it is! How many of them have you read?
And stay tuned until later in the month, when I reveal my ten least favorite books of all time.