It is hard to commit to a list of all-time favorite books. As soon as I think of one, another pops into my head, and no doubt as soon as I publish this post, I’ll recall books that I forgot. Since this is a somewhat stream-of-consciousness blog, I’ll simply jot down the first ten that come to mind in no particular order.
I should note that these are not intended as examples of the best or most powerful books of all time. None of the classics from literary history are included. This is simply a list of very enjoyable reads that demonstrate a variety of innovative plots, characters, and styles of writing that had me longing for more. If you’re looking to get lost in a good book, try one of these:
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: This is a hysterical tale about an angel and a demon secretly working together in a rebellious effort to prevent Armageddon. Almost anything by Neil Gaiman would fall into my list. This book is co-written by Terry Pratchett, author of the hilarious Discworld series.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt: Though intriguing, it was not so much the plot that captured me as Donna Tartt’s writing style and choice of words. Her voice is so strong that I found it influenced my own writing, particularly when I first read this book.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Audrey Niffenegger has suggested that the writing of this novel was a diversion from the production of her stories told through aquatint etchings, perhaps her true form of artistic expression. I am certainly glad that she made the time for this wonderful side track about a man who suffers from a genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time, involuntarily drawn to his true love at different stages throughout her life. I am keeping my fingers crossed that Niffenegger will continue to write more full length novels.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley: I wouldn’t say that Marion Zimmer Bradley’s writing style is always an inspiring example of where I want my own writing to go, but I do so love her ideas, her female characters, and the depth of her historical research into legends and myths, such as is the case in this epic novel about the women surrounding King Arthur’s court.
The Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card: After Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card was probably the author who directed my attention towards the genre of science fiction and fantasy. The worlds he creates are profound, while his characters are so full of human flaws and triumphs. I am drawn in by the almost sociological perspective of what life would be like in these alternate universes.
The Rachel Morgan series by Kim Harrison: This dark urban fantasy sets itself apart from the crowd in that it is not only decently written but also laugh-out-loud funny with characters that include a kick ass heroine, a pixie with a chip on his shoulder, and soulfully sexy vampires. I recommend that you get past the corny book titles and dig right into these fantastic adventures.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden: I threw this one in there because, now that I have traveled to Japan a few times, I find myself picturing the scenery and complex social customs as if Golden were narrating them. His vividly descriptive writing style left an impression.
The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling: What’s not to love about these magical tales that helped to instill or renew a love of reading for so many youth and adults alike? If you haven’t already read these books, you are really missing out on something special!
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire: This is not my favorite of Maguire’s creative collection of books, but it is the most recognizable example of his ability to take a familiar fairy tale and put his own unusual twist on it. I am intrigued by his ability to shine light on the often grey areas that cause someone to be perceived as good or evil.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker: I haven’t read this for many years, but it has stayed with me. Walker is able to develop characters through the simple letters or diary entries of her main character, Celie, in a way that makes you cry, laugh, and cheer for the women in this moving story.
What are some of your favorite books?
Wow, big question! My brain likes to shut down when anyone asks me questions like this. It’s just such a vast topic. But I’ll give it a try:
1. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. This is actually a sci-fi book within a work of literary fiction. It’s so complex, I’ve read it at least twice and still haven’t gotten everything in it. A difficult read, as far as having a non-linear narrative, but a rewarding book.
2. The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson. This is a Cain and Abel tale set in a very bleak part of Canada. Lawson writes gorgeously. Her prose is positively lyrical. She breaks your heart, but does so in the most beautiful way.
3. Eat,Pray,Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that this book helped save my life at one of my worst times. I’d lost my best friend to cancer and saw no meaning in anything, but this book helped me find my way again, if not to the path at least to seeing there could be a path. She’s funny, insightful and she shares her soul.
4. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead. I don’t recommend this book. It will tear your heart out. It’s brutal in the extreme. But it’s also masterful. The story centers on the ultimate dysfunctional family, featuring parents who are so completely mentally disturbed they lead one of their children to commit a heinous act. This book is brilliant but I can’t ever read it again.
5. The Stranger Next Door: A Novel by Amelie Nothomb. Nothomb is a major figure in contemporary French literature. She’s wacky, in a surreal way, but I just find her fascinating. This book’s plot is about a nutty neighbor who keeps showing up, and the dark turn that takes. I just love Nothomb’s quirky mind.
6. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. This isn’t the actress. Let me just clear that one up! Elizabeth Taylor is an unjustly neglected 20th century British writer who created some real gems. This one’s about an older woman who’s so incredibly lonely she reads more into a relationship with a young man than is actually there. It’s so poignant, absolutely heartbreaking. A beautiful read.
7. Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs. This one I listened to on CD, while making the trip to grad school classes. It’s laugh out loud hilarious, but at other times it’s just so sad. It made me think I’d like Augusten as a person. He has a kind heart despite all he’s been through.
8. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. This one made my 10 best list of last year’s reads. Lethem does characterization brilliantly.
9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This one’s a femininist classic, but I’ve always been disturbed by what the ending says about the plight of women. I won’t give it away, but the story is about a woman who looks around at her life and realizes she’s unfulfilled. She’s married with a little boy, and she’s bored out of her mind living as the trophy wife of a successful businessman. So she has an affair, then eventually leaves her husband. The rest I won’t tell, but I find it haunting.
10. Finn: A Novel by Jon Clinch. I started singing this book’s praises when I first received a review copy, several months before its publication. I consider it a modern masterpiece. Clinch takes the shadowy character of Huckleberry Finn’s father and expands a novel about his life. Like a lot of the fiction I enjoy, this one’s also brutal but beautiful.
There! I made it through with nary a scar!
Lisa G, thanks for playing. I always love your book recommendations from your Bluestalking Reader blog and Bibliobuffet column. (I have them both on my blogroll.)
Oh yes, Atwood and Burroughs, also two of my favorites. I think I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t read “Eat, Pray, Love” yet. I love French literature, and will definitely check out Nothomb. I’m going to add to my amazon list right now.