“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.”
For one thing, there’s the sheer number of books that are wonderful. People have been writing them for a long, long time you know.
The end result, if you read as much as I do, is an extremely high lifetime total of good reads. I have a lot of favorite books.
Then there’s this: a favorite book has to fit, and with books just as with clothes, sometimes the fit changes.
It changes depending on where you are both geographically and metaphysically–a beach vacation book is not the same as an “I’m questioning everything about my life right now” book.
It changes depending on mood. Do you need to be cheered up? Are you feeling nostalgic?
It changes depending on your age.
When the fit changes, the list changes.
But, in spite of the ever changing list, here are some of my favorites. Get comfortable–this will take a while.
Jane Austen: All of her novels.
All of them, but there is a particularly tender place in my heart for “Persuasion” and the quiet, duty-bound Anne Elliot.
I probably identify the most closely with the sort of unlikeable Emma Woodhouse from the book “Emma.” She’s smart, privileged, and things come easily to her, but she’s too much of a dilettante to really excel at any one thing. She thinks she knows everything, but discovers she really doesn’t know much at all.
Neil Gaiman: “American Gods” and “The Graveyard Book”
If you have a chance to listen to one of his books read aloud by him, grab it. He’s a great reader.
Mary Doria Russell: “The Sparrow”, and “Children of God”
These were recommended to me by my Mother. I have probably recommended them to more people than anything else I’ve ever read. They’re the kind of books that make you fall in love with every character, and wish you could inhabit their space. It must be a mixed blessing for the author–she has written several other books and I’ve enjoyed some of them, but I don’t think she will ever write another that will captivate me in the same way that “The Sparrow” did.
If forced at gunpoint to select a favorite book ever, it would probably be “The Sparrow.” Or all of Jane Austen. If forced at gunpoint to select a favorite, I’ll probably end up like the guy picking a favorite color at the end of “The Holy Grail.”
Anne Rice: “Interview with the Vampire” and “The Vampire Lestat”
Thanks to a former flame’s mother who loaned me her copy of “Interview” when I was a teenager, I’ve developed a lifelong love of all things vampire. These are vampires of the brooding but sexy variety.
Christopher Moore: “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal”, and “A Dirty Job”
This writer can make me laugh. Really laugh. You’ve never laughed until you’ve laughed at the Sermon on the Mount. Is the line “blessed are the dumbfucks” sacrilegious? Because if it is, I don’t care. In addition to a comedy about the life of Jesus, Moore has also written funny books about vampires, demons, whales and Death. Christopher Moore made me want a Hellhound as a pet.
Stephen King: “The Stand”
This is one of those books I read as a teenager that resulted in a lot of lost sleep. How can you sleep when the world is about to end?!? I return to it now and then to see if it holds up. It does.
It’s not as scary as it used to be, but sometimes I get nostalgic for end times.
Charlaine Harris: all of those damned Sookie Stackhouse books.
It’s the vampire thing. Harris throws in shape-shifters and fairies just to make things interesting.
L. Frank Baum: all of the Oz books
In case of nostalgia.
Maud Hart Lovelace: all of the Betsy books
The Betsy books are about growing up, and learning to be who you are. Also to be re-read in case of nostalgia or mild depression.
George RR Martin: the Game of Thrones series.
A bit of a departure for me–I’m not usually much of a fan of the fantasy/dragony sci-fi stuff, but these are an exception. As viewers of the HBO series are learning, Martin is not afraid to throw a lot of characters at you, and he’s not afraid to kill them off, either. It’s a nice time for a red wedding.
Charlotte Brontë: “Jane Eyre”
Jane, Jane. Plain Jane. She captures the heart of her boss, and then runs away when it turns out he’s already married to the crazy lady locked in the attic. This is my favorite of all the Gothic classics. It somehow manages to be over the top and prosaic at the same time.
Bryce Courtenay: “The Power of One”
I re-read this whenever I need motivation. Peekay is a boy with a modest goal: he wants to be a champion. This is another one of those books that has made it challenging to read others by the same author. They are all a disappointment, because I can never love the characters in his other books more than I love Doc and Peekay.
David James Duncan: “The River Why” and “The Brothers K”
(Note to the author: please write another novel. Pleeeeeeeease.) It’s kind of funny–I tend to like books about baseball as a metaphor for life, but I don’t like baseball as a sport. Same thing with fishing, in “The River Why.” Pacific NW meets Eastern philosopy on a fishing trip and they play baseball together.
Margaret Mitchell: “Gone With The Wind”
I know, I know, but I’ve loved it since I was a kid. Rhett and Scarlett are classics.
J.R. Moehringer: “The Tender Bar”
I love the drinker’s memoir genre. Augusten Burroughs and Pete Hamill, I’m looking at you. I have probably read more memoirs of drinkers than anyone else you know. Is that a good thing?
Jeanette Walls: “The Glass Castle” and “Half Broke Horses”
Disfunctional upbringings make for good reading! As a bonus, Jeanette Walls does her own reading in the audio versions of her books, and she’s a great reader.
Kevin Wilson: “The Family Fang”
Disfunctional performance artist family.
Lauren Beukes: “Zoo City” and “The Shining Girls”
In “Zoo City,” criminals get paired with critters and somehow bonded to them in such a way that they are dependent on each other. If the animal dies, the criminal gets violently taken up by a black shadow cloud thingy. It’s no bueno. On the plus side, the animalling bestows a magical gift on the person. In the case of the heroine of “Zoo City,” it’s the ability to track lost objects or people.
Lionel Shriver: “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
A book about the family of a school shooter, written from the point of view of his mother. The mother, ambivalent about having children, never likes her son. Is it her dislike that turns him into a sociopath or does she dislike him because he was born evil?
Cormac McCarthy: “The Road”
This is a hard book. Hard to read, hard to think about. It’s also one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in spite of the near total lack of hope. Every word seems to be exactly in the right place.
OK, I have to stop. There are simply too many great books!
Go read one.