Friday Five: Top Ten Books

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

First up: I owe my readers (all five of you) an apology. I’ve been on a non-intentional blogging break due to a lot of factors I could list, but let’s keep it simple: I’m busy. I’m tired. I’m *at times* lazy and, most nights, just want to go to bed. <—- Reality.

The saddest part of this new Fall-time routine is that I’ve not only had little time to blog, but I’ve also had little time to READ. Now that my lunch breaks are spent either working (blah) or walking (yay), it is taking me MUCH longer to get through my reading list. In fact, I might hit a new low for my next Shelf Life installment. It’s sad. I hate it. I need 5 more hours in the day to do everything I want to do. <—- Reality.

I was invited to join a book club recently and, get this, I turned it down. Can you believe it? These are my FRIENDS! Friends + Books + Snacks = Best thing ever, right? But I can’t stretch myself any thinner than I already do and I wasn’t on board with all of the books they chose for upcoming meetings. (Umnothanks.) Life is way too short to read books you’re not that into. <—- Reality.

I promise this post isn’t just sob stories and realities.

Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic when remembering books from my childhood. I blame it on watching the made-for-TV version of Flowers in the Attic. (Horrible, by the way.) It was a total hide-from-your-parents classic from the 80s that I secretly nabbed from my sister, I’m sure. It got me thinking about other books from my past. I suddenly wanted to check in on Beezus and Ramona, Nancy Drew, Ralph and his motorcycle, and that Indian in the cupboard. I know I’m crazy, but I loved these stories and their details are only getting fuzzier.

For all you Facebookers, have you seen the new trend of sharing your top ten most influential books? Many of my friends have been spelling out their faves and I absolutely love seeing what stories my peeps savor. It says a lot about them, you know? I don’t join in on mass Facebook posts—I’m ironically not a fan of over-sharing on social media platforms, despite having a tell-all blog—but I feel the need to make my own list.

This is a big deal.

I’ve forever avoided compiling a list of my favorite books. I mean, I have a running list in my head, but to put in on paper (much less, the interwebs) makes it MUCH more official and permanent. How can I possibly just pick ten? Don’t make me pick a #1 when they are all so different and I love them for so many different reasons! My anxiety level went through the roof when I started making this list, especially when, 30 minutes in, I still had over 15 and needed to start cutting books I cherish. I seriously caught my breath drawing a line through The Thornbirds.

So, after much internal deliberation and cringe-faced thought, here are the Top Ten Most Influential Books of my life. ….in no particular order, because I think that would make my head explode.

10. Roald Dahl’s Matilda

This whimsical story about a quiet girl who thrives when reading spoke directly to my heart. No, it captured my heart. I WAS Matilda. It was the first book that made me realize I, too, wanted to live surrounded by books and the people that love them. Roald Dahl’s hilarious characters helped a little, too. I think it’s pure genius and I can’t wait to introduce all of my Littles to it down the line.

9. Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon

Within its pages about a boy and his mouse, I found myself for the first time sobbing for fictional characters. Totally, completely crushed by people that never existed, events that never happened. It was perplexing! I wish I could remember my age at the time, but I do remember feeling like it was such a heavy, grown-up book. Even though I haven’t read it since, it has always had a place on my bookshelf as a reminder of its emotional power and the first time I lost myself to a book. (Side note: I just found out the author died this past summer at the age of 86.)

8. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea

The book that launched my love affair with Hemingway! Don’t mistake his short-sentenced, clipped-description prose as simple. There’s power in those words that defies the need of flowery adjectives and run-on sentences. He quickly draws you into his own mind, one vivid and without excess. I love reading Hemingway and this old man and his marlin started it all. I especially adore the worn copy from my sophomore English class whose margins are littered with notes and excitement. It may not be his favorite storyline of mine, but I have to give credit where it’s due.

7. Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors / Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life

There’s no way for me to choose between my two favorite autobiographies. (Cheater! Cheater!) Both of these books instilled in me a deep longing to record my own story, whether by book or by blog. Their ability to recall beloved and painful memories with tenderness (and, at times, snark) is bar none. You will laugh, you will cry, you will wonder how any of us turn out okay. Some of the most powerful writing I’ve ever encountered.

6. Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex

When I was in college I took a Modern Literature class where we read total jewels every single week: short stories by David Foster Wallace way before he tragically took his life, Brokeback Mountain before Heath and Jake brought it to the big screen, and imaginative, twisted versions of modern-day fairy tales before “Once Upon a Time” ever aired. But, this book was my absolute favorite. Sweeping generations of a Greek family, its narrator is such a strong, compelling, dynamic character. What’s interesting is that I’ve seen Facebook book lists of people that were in the class with me and this made every single one of our lists. It’s somewhat of a dark horse, but it’s absolutely stunning.

5. Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief

We’re getting into the Top Five now. I know I said they were in no particular order, but these five would (probably) be my definitive favorites. See how sure I am? When my friends tell me to read one of their favorite books, I listen. This is one of Bobbie’s favorites and she lent me her copy while I was visiting once. I had never heard anything about it, but I trust her explicitly, especially when it comes to books. I remember sitting on the plane and reaching one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book and the tears just starting falling. Hard. I looked down to wipe them away and noticed the page was wilted from Bobbie’s own tears. It still gives me chills to think of that. The recent movie version does it justice, but—come’on—you know the book is *always* better. It’s worth the read, even if you know the ending.

4. Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns

Most people know Hosseini’s name from The Kite Runner, probably his most famous novel to date. But, it’s this story about two afghan woman that, to me, is positively breathtaking. I really love everything he writes, and most of his novels span generations (which I LOVE in a story), but when I finished this I could not get the characters out of my head. I thought about them and what they might be doing. That’s the best recommendation I can give for this work – it stays with you long after you finish that last page.

3. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series

Oh, Harry. You get all seven books in one. I know some of my bestest friends (*cough* sean!) can’t wrap their heads around my infatuation with this “children’s series,” but not only is it truly amazing story-telling, but it completely revolutionized children’s reading habits. It was a phenomenon whose reach went round the globe, sparking imaginations in every country and culture. I will forever adore these books, how they quickly enticed my family and friends into a shared, endearing love of all things magic, and inspired a new generation of voracious readers and dreamers. Well done, J.K.

2. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

I first came into contact with Steinbeck’s East of Eden in my sister’s freshman dorm room. Her friend (who would later key my sister’s car after an argument — the things you remember!) had a copy on the floor and when I picked it up she told me it was her favorite book of all time. It looked huge to me—daunting in scope—but I at least remembered her recommendation when I encountered it again a few years later. And what do you know? Crazy Amy was right! It’s beautiful and poignant and epic and heartbreaking and wonderful. I especially love the dedication, written to Steinbeck’s friend and editor Pascal “Pat” Covici:

Dear Pat,

You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, “Why don’t you make something for me?” I asked you what you wanted, and you said, “A box.”

“What for?”

“To put things in.”

“What kind of things?”

“Whatever you have,” you said.

Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts – the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation. And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.

And still the box is not full.


1. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

Steinbeck = Hard to beat. But some, maybe most days, GGM reigns supreme. Gabriel (who also died earlier this year) wrote in the most beautiful literary style I’ve probably ever read. They have a name for it: Magic Realism. Remember Hemingway’s perfect direct sentences? GGM’s ooze off the page in descriptions that never end. And that’s okay because you don’t want them to. This work of staggering genius chronicles seven generations of one family (again, my favorite kind of story to read) and is loosely based on his grandparent’s house where he was raised. This is the only book on my list that I’ve read multiple times. Most others I read once and was forever changed. This I could read every year and still find new things to love about it. Just thinking about it makes me want to pick up my copy and start anew. Is there a better book than that? It’s like an old friend you can visit again and again and again. And that’s why it’s my Number One…at least for today.

What are your favorites?


9 thoughts on “Friday Five: Top Ten Books

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