My Top Thirteen Books


A few weeks ago, I participated in a challenge that asked me to name 10 books that had made an impact on me.  I posted 10 of the above 13 covers.  I took the liberty to add three  more favorites here … because 10 is just not enough.  It’s really tough to even narrow it down to 13.  For example, I’ve read at least three books this year alone that should go on this list, but since they are newer in my head, they will only get honorable mention at the end.  And, probably if I did this same list a year from now, I’d have a different list altogether (except for a small number that would always be on my list no matter what). Here they are in no particular order:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Although I said no particular order, this is unquestionably my favorite book of all time. I read it soon after I moved to California. It changed my life in almost every way possible.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A very close second for my favorite book of all time.  Another life changing book. It made me want to be a lawyer. I’ve written and presented about it.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Our criminal justice system is broken. If you don’t believe it, read this book.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. This is one of the few books that I enjoyed after watching a film version that I also loved. Loved the book and the miniseries.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry. I have vivid memories of my mother reading this book to me. I absolutely loved hearing about Brighty and his adventures in the Grand Canyon, and it began my love for our National Parks. Inside the front cover of this book, which I still have, is an inscription that shows that I gave this book to my brother for Christmas. That explains why my memory of mom reading it takes place in my brother’s room; she was probably reading it to both of us. I’m glad I wound up with the book (despite the compelling evidence it’s his), because it is a great memory of my mother.

Harry Potter Books 1-7 by J.K. Rowling. Nuf said.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I had this book on my to-read list for a long time, and finally read it just before I went to Russia. It was a great book that stayed on my mind all through my trip and long after.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck. John Steinbeck is my favorite author and I like everything he wrote, including his journal.  However, GoW and EoE are my standout favorites. I waited a long time before reading EoE, even though I had read just about all of JS’s other books. I was daunted by the length and, I think, the biblical reference in the title. But once I finally read it, my only regret was that I didn’t read it sooner and that it eventually ended. I lived in Southern California–during a long draught–when I read this book, and it gave me such great insight into the “rest of California”–i.e., the part that’s not Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful book. Classic Steinbeck.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I read this book shortly after I got my first law teaching job. I was thinking a lot about thinking in those days, and this book enlightened my thinking on that subject. I’ve often wanted to go back and read it again, and will one of these days.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. One of my all time favorite books, and one that resulted in my poor neighbors being subjected to my incessant spying on them.  I got a notebook and all the equipment and stayed up late peering out my bedroom window and right into my neighbor’s dining room–which, unfortunately for me, they rarely used at that time of night. I recall occasionally seeing the legs of someone walking from the living room, through the dining room, into the kitchen (I knew the layout because in those days, all of the neighborhood kids hung out in each others houses during the daylight hours). So, I really was a completely failed spy–an attempted spy, if you will. But, this book opened the world of books to me and enlightened me to the fact that sometimes a more interesting world existed in books than the one in the Flintstones.

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White.  This is an add-on to my original ten books. I love all of E. B. White’s children’s books, including Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, but I think I love The Trumpet of the Swan the most, mainly because it introduced me to the wondrous trumpeter swans that I have tracked to the reaches of the North West, and seen on my own lake in Southern Illinois. I read this book with my son and have special memories of that experience too. (I also have special memories of my sister reading Charlotte’s Web to me when I got my tonsils out at age six.) This book also added the word “crepuscular” to our everyday vocabulary, and you can’t beat that!

1984 by George Orwell. I read 1984 in 1984 for a college class. As the class started in January 1984, my professor was so excited to be able to assign the book in the year 1984. It took a few years for the world to catch up with George Orwell’s dystopian vision of what society would become, but I believe that now–in 2018–we have pretty much realized the predictions of 1984. Big Brother is most certainly watching (and I’ll probably get an ad for these books in my Facebook feed to prove it).

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  I read this book in the year before my family was preparing to move abroad.  Although I would have loved the book under any circumstances, it had an especially big impact on me because of the timing I read it (that’s true with many of the books on this list). The book reminded me of one of the most important things that I already knew about going into another country to live and that is that I’m a guest there and I should not try to shape my experience in my American  image and expectations, but rather should shape my image and expectation in light of the culture and society that I find there.  Don’t bring the cake mix!

Honorable Mention–these are three of the books I’ve read so far this year that are worthy of being included on this list:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. In an earlier iteration of myself, I probably wouldn’t have read this book. I had it on my list, but the unusual way it was written, along with the unusual subject, would have likely made it fall down on my list.  However, my sister rated it her #1 favorite book from 2017, and that was the spark I needed.  I found it was a wonderful book. I loved the way the author picked out a variety of versions of the same situation–which showed the differences in perception of different people.  I loved how the author stepped inside Lincoln’s grief over his son’s death and just hung out there and explored it from every angle.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. One is the series of WWII occupation of France books I’ve read this year and a great book. This one juxtaposes a young German radio genius with a young French blind woman. I’m not going to give spoilers, but things didn’t end up the way I thought they would.  Just another reminder of how nothing was predictable or ordinary at that time.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I reviewed this book earlier this week. This is a wonderful book about a horrible subject. The characters of this book will stay with me forever.

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