Since I love to read even more than writing, it’s waaaaay past time for me to make a list of my favorite books and why I love them!
In no particular order, here are ten tomes that I’d want with me on a deserted island, provided there were no Others or smoke monsters to keep me busy. My apologies for the length.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954 and 1955)
As a kid, I read The Hobbit but didn’t get around to this epic fantasy work until shortly before the movies came out. I was so incredibly pissed at myself for not reading it sooner.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s masterpiece set the bar for medieval-type fantasy worlds. A linguistic and Norse poetry scholar, Tolkien liked to play around with language. He invented a couple and wrote this as a setting for them. This is really one book, but it’s so big the publishers didn’t think anyone would buy it, so they split it up. Probably made more money that way, too.
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)
This is the one about the boy and his pet deer. A guaranteed bawl-fest, this one was a bestseller in 1938 and in 1939 it won the Pulitzer Prize. The Florida backwoods are brought to vivid life by Rawlings, who lived there as a child. You’ve got the hardscrabble life on swampy Baxter Island, a pack of feuding neighbors, and an exciting hunt for Old Slewfoot, a gargantuan bear who likes to steal the Baxters’ livestock. A terrific coming-of-age story.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
Another semi-autobiographical story, spanning three generations. Smith’s heroine is Francie Nolan, a wide-eyed young girl growing up in poverty in early twentieth-century Brooklyn. She lives with her brother Neeley and their mother and father and an assortment of interesting relatives and neighbors. Francie learns a lot during the novel, most of it through adverse circumstances, the worst being the death of her beloved but alcoholic father. Despite these depressing elements, the novel glows with characters you can never forget.
Francie learns her most important lesson –perseverance—from a tough little tree, the “Tree of Heaven,” that grows rampant in her neighborhood. I’ve read this book so many times I can quote from it verbatim.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
I know, they all seem to be classic books, but there are good reasons these are still around. Harper Lee only published one novel, but what a novel, rich with detail of the town and its inhabitants.
Scout Finch and her older brother Jem live in Maycomb Alabama during the Great Depression. A notorious neighborhood recluse figures large in their daily activities. Their lawyer father Atticus lands one of the most divisive cases ever to hit Maycomb County, the defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Through this occurrence, the Finch children see into the hearts of familiar townspeople and don’t always understand or condone what they find there.
Yes, it’s true; the character of Dill was modeled on Truman Capote, a childhood friend of Lee’s.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (1997 – 2007)
OH MY GOD WHAT CAN I SAY???
I’ve said it before; any writer thinking about doing a series should read this, one of the most successful of all time. In case you’ve been living under the sea and missed the biggest literary phenomenon of the twenty-first century, Harry Potter is about a boy who discovers he is a wizard, doomed to fight the most evil villain ever known.
Packed with fun, magic and tragedy, these books spurred non-readers to the library in droves. I wish to God I could write something people would love as much as this. Not for the fame or money, but because I would love to make other people feel the way these books make me feel.
I am a HUGE Potternerd and readily admit it. In fact, I’m going to share something with you now:
That is my left bicep (yes it was kind of fat in this picture, grr). I got this in tribute because this series helped me through a tough time. Yes, you may call me a geek. It won’t bother me a bit.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971)
I was too young to read this novel about a young girl possessed by demons when it came out, nor was I allowed to see the film version until I was older and it appeared on network TV. I heard about it, of course. It’s a gripping read, although I don’t believe in demonic possession. The character of the mother, actress Chris MacNeil, is every parent whose child has fallen inexplicably ill.
Blatty’s book is based loosely on an account of a real exorcism that took place in the late 1940s in St. Louis, Missouri. Originally it was a boy, whose real identity has never been released. He reportedly has no memory of the events. The story seized Blatty’s imagination and a horror classic was born.
Thomas B. Allen wrote a great book about the case, Possessed, based on the diary of Fr. Willam Bowdern, the exorcist.
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (1975)
SK’s treatment of Dracula. Screw Twilight. This is one of the best vampire books ever written. The little town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine gets a new resident and he’s thirsty for company. King’s second published novel, it’s white-hot with dread.
I’m a horror fan but I’m jaded. I’ve read too much stuff and seen too many slasher flicks. But this book still gives me chills. I seriously have goosebumps right now thinking about cemetery worker Mike Ryerson breaking open the coffin of poor little recently deceased Danny Glick and being transfixed by “that glittering, frozen stare.”
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (1981)
There hasn’t been a completely satisfactory movie adaptation of this, although the 1986 Michal Mann vehicle Manhunter was decent. I hated the 2002 version. It was too overblown and they messed up Harris’s perfect dialogue. Only Ralph Fiennes’ performance as the monstrous and also pitiable serial killer Francis Dolarhyde kept me in my seat. “Read the book,” I told everybody, “it’s frigging genius.”
Harris, a former newspaper reporter, has a succinct, detached style that still gives you everything you need to picture unspeakable things. In this passage, retired FBI profiler Will Graham steps into the bedroom of the latest victims:
Graham switched on the lights and bloodstains shouted at him from the walls, from the mattress and the floor. The very air had screams smeared on it. He flinched from the noise in this silent room full of dark stains drying.
No description of the room at all, but you can see it as vividly as though you were there.
Tom Sawyer by Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain (1876)
Adventure, romance, treasure, solving a terrible murder…what more could any red-blooded boy want? Tom and his best buddy Huck Finn find it all in their sleepy little river town, based loosely on Clemens’ boyhood in Hannibal, Missouri. Whitewashing the fence, dosing the cat with Pain-Killer and sneaking into his own funeral—fun times!
This book has been adapted to film several times, including a perplexing musical treatment in the 1970s starring Johnny Whitaker. Huck Finn went on to his own novel. Its controversial language makes it the better known of the two, but this one is still my favorite. Tom may be mischievous, but he’s a charmer. Becky Thatcher thinks so too.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Not just a film, but a 1940 Hitchcock film, starring Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson, came from this thrilling book about an unnamed protagonist haunted by the beautiful specter of her new husband’s dead first wife. This highly Gothic novel has been compared to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. du Maurier illustrates the new Mrs. De Winter’s awkward growth with painful sincerity. She’s a fish out of water and she knows it.
The literary device of an anonymous main character is difficult to pull off. The author gets around that by only allowing us to hear her referred to directly as Mrs. De Winter, once she arrives at her husband’s fabulous estate. Her gauche and condescending employer, Mrs. Van Hopper, doesn’t call her anything. Eventually she learns the truth about Rebecca, and begins to emerge as a confident woman.
That’s my list for now. I have a lot more books I would love to share with you, but this post is already too long as it is. Find one or all of these at the library. You won’t be sorry, but you may be up all night reading. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Feel free to list some of your faves in the comments.