As with all things Tall Mom, you’re not just gonna get a nice little list. I’ve got to infuse it with some random thoughts too.
I didn’t become an avid reader until after I graduated from College. I joined a book club while living in Denver when a friend asked me to come along for a meeting. One meeting. That was all it took for me to lose myself into the abyss of the written word—stories, tales, and stranger than fiction real life accounts. When I returned to Wyoming a few years later, I began a book club of my own. Shortly after, I invited a new friend to join us and she in-turn invited me to her book club. What followed was the loss of a small fortune to Amazon and local book sellers, many late nights reading, or better yet, late nights thinking, laughing, and friending with my book club besties.
My love of books has grown to be a part of who I am. I can’t imagine life without beautiful, witty, suspenseful, eloquent, hysterical, brutal story tellers.
Sometimes when I meet someone new I’ll ask them to tell me if they have a favorite book. While you can’t glean an extensive read (pun intended) into someone’s inner being based on an answer to a single question, I often find this simple question serves as an opening that leads to learning so much more. For after that simple what question, there is why, when, where, and how. And Now we’re getting somewhere.
So, what’s my favorite? Easy.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak —This book, OH THIS BOOK. I laughed and cried, I ate the whole emotional smorgasbord with this one. I physically held this book to my chest, tears streaming down my cheeks, and willed it to last longer. Still to this day, many years after reading it for the first time, I think of Liesel, Rudy, Ma, Pa and Max. Hands down a must read. Don’t let those first chapters throw you. Death as a narrator is an incredibly beautiful thing.
Okay, so after my number one…what comes next? Here are another nine (in no particular order) on my must-read list.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand–—Both Unbroken and The Book Thief have been made into full-length movies. Here’s the thing. Neither are bad movies. But neither come close (as in…not in the same universe) to compelling the heart and mind to live what these characters (or real-life people in the case of Louis Zamperini) go through. Only the best story tellers of all-time can pull off what Hillenbrand does in this book. Also, Louis Zamperini is definitely on my someone I have on my “anyone alive or dead” dinner party list.
Cane River by Lalita Tademy–—Cane River was the first book I read out of College. It was so different to pick up a book that wasn’t assigned reading. This book is gorgeously written and equally haunting. But it holds a special place in my heart because it truly ignited my passion for reading as an adult.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë—I’ve read a fair amount of romance in my day—of every genre mind you (I’ll get to that later). It was Jane Eyre that really made me feel romance in a new way. Brontë melded dark undertones and heart thumping desire in a way that is tortuous, and yet still gives me the happy (or happy-ish) ending I want. Unlike Jane Austen’s tales, which I like…but do NOT love (Yeah, I said it. Just lost some fans with that one, I’m sure.), this story is totally unpredictable and the main characters have faults and imperfections, and loose their shit…AND I love them for it.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—I distinctly remember reading this book in high school. That may be because it was one of about five books I actually read during that time. But that’s beside the point. What matters is the fact that I remember this book specifically—the discussions that ensued, and the churning of emotion and moral fire that went on in my narrow 15 year old brain when we read and discussed this book in class. When I re-read it as an adult, I had a whole new appreciation for the subtleties, the language, and the pure art-form that make this book legendary.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand—I confess, after I attend my second or third book club meeting with my new group of friends and we discussed this book, I went home and cried to my husband that I wasn’t smart enough to hang with that crew. I’m happy to report I got over myself and have found I can hang just fine. That is not to say that I am as smart as any one of my book-club-friends about the intricacies of economics, capitalism, politics, sexism, or philosophical revolution, but I read the damn book. And I learned so much from doing so. Then I learned even more when I listened to the discussion between my friends. In the years since, I’ve become comfortable enough to be one of the discussers on similar topics. It was Atlas Shrugged that opened that door for me. I will always love this book for what it taught me. And finally, let me ask you this, who is John Galt?
The Help by Kathryn Stockett—This is one book that made me yearn for a series. I wanted to know the ENTIRE life story of every last one of Stockett’s characters. Thinking of it now makes me wish I could find Skeeter and ask her questions about how the rest of her life unfolded. This is also one case where the movie is a perfect accompaniment to a beautifully written book.
The Southern Vampire Mysteries (aka The Sookie Stackhouse Series) by Charlaine Harris—Oh yeah, baby! I love me some steamy supernatural creatures and I especially love me some well written sex scenes. Charlaine Harris is a master at both. Her characters are quirky and believable no matter how far-fetched their storyline, her humor is always laugh-out-loud funny, and her sex scenes are sizzling. I concede, as the series progresses, I felt the books really started to decline, but daaaaaang…if I could write 9-10 solid entertainment novels and only waiver on the last 3 or 4, I’d be beaming with pride.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens—What can I say? I’m a huge Dickens fan. So many of my friends don’t like his stuff, but I LOVE it. First, the setting…Victorian London. YES. Then the web of relationships, the satirical look at the legal system and social structures, strong female characters, happy endings for the true of heart—I love it all. I enjoy all Dickens, but Bleak House holds a particularly special place.
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham—This is another book that made me see the world differently. The portrayal of this particular marriage in this very particular setting makes for a drama unlike others. The idea of falling in love with your spouse for the first time years after your wedding and doing so amidst one of the world’s worst cholera epidemics half a world away from your family and friends, well…you get the idea. Its delicate, elegant, and brutal all at once. *Sigh* Yeah, it’s one of my favs.
And as always, I reserve the right to change my mind. If you ask me next year or even next month (depending on how great my current reads may be) to list my top 10, they may be different. See? Isn’t that prospect so dang exciting? Aren’t books freaking cool!?!
On that note, I spent a little time sorting through old emails to compile a quick list of additional books that I found interesting and worth the read. Below you will find a list that is not a complete compilation of all the books we’ve read in my book clubs in the last few years, but it’s what I could easily compile. Those books that REALLY stuck with me, I’ve listed in red. This is not to say the others aren’t great. Several of them are fantastic reads, but those in red I still think about even years after having read them.
- 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
- 1984 by George Orwell
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
- A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron
- A Long Walk to Water Linda Sue Park
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
- Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
- Bossypants by Tina Fey
- Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown
- Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
- Citizen Soldier by Stephen Ambrose
- Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
- Cowboys and East Indians by Nina McConigley
- Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
- End of Everything by Megan E Abbott
- End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
- Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
- George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade , Don Yaeger
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- Half the Sky by Nick Kristoff and Sheryl Woo
- Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
- Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
- Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
- Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
- Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
- Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
- No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
- Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
- River World by Philip Jose Farmer
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
- Sarah’s Key by Tatianna DeRosney
- Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
- Sycamore Row by John Grisham
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
- Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
- Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
- I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzia
- The Evolution of Calpernia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
- The Paris Architect by Charles Belfour
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
- The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
- The Complete (Original) Grimm Fairytales by The Brothers Grimm
- The Dirty Parts of the Bible by Sam Trode
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
- The Dress Maker of Khair Khana by Gayle Lemmon
- The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
- The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
- The Tortilla Curtain by C. Boyle
- The Virginian by Owen Wister
- The Working Poor by David K. Shipler
- Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
- Unwind by Neal Shusterman
- We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë