If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know I’m a fool for books. It’s the writer’s double-edged sword. With the compulsion to write, comes the compulsion to read. It’s the old chicken and the egg conundrum. Which came first?
Any who, shout out to blogger/poet/writer muriposis A Different Perspective by murisopsis who pubbed her own list last summer of favorite books from A to Z. Being a typical writer/magpie, I thought it a great idea.
And so, here’s my list–maybe there’s a gift idea for some bibliophile on your Christmas or Hanukkah list–or maybe it will serve as a springboard to get you thinking about your own list.
A = A Million Little Pieces by James Frey – Whatever heap of coals Oprah shoveled on this man’s head makes no matter to me. This was a compelling story. In this case, whether it was a memoir or blatant fiction is more of a gatekeeper/agent/publisher and marketing issue anyway.
B = The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. If I had to choose a book to possess while stranded on a deserted island (besides the Bible, of course) this might be the one. A fantastic look at the Holocaust through the eyes of a young girl who loves books–as well as the POV of Death, a narrator unlike any other known to me.
C = Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger AND The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. Okay, okay, it may appear to be cheating to choose two, but they are the kind of books you can gift a teenage boy who is going through hell. These books meant a lot to two of my sons during adolescent turmoil, and enables a path for discussion between parents and teens. Both narrators wonder, in their own ways, Do I dare disturb the universe? Or am I, in fact, disturbed?
D = Defending Jacob by William Landay. Every parent’s worst nightmare. With an ending you won’t soon forget.
E = The Endearment by LaVyrle Spencer. It was a sad day for this reader when Ms. Spencer announced her retirement from writing. I first picked this title up in a supermarket for a beach read…a mail order bride moves to northern Minnesota and finds her groom to be a sullen Swede. Brings insight to anyone wondering what it was like to be a pioneer back in the late 1800’s.
F = Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers. A group of young men go fight in Vietnam. Serious Ritchie from Harlem and the hilarious PeeWee from Chicago take us there in an unforgettable way. I had a few students tell me over the years that the book enabled them to understand fathers and uncles who served there, but refuse to speak of it. Plenty of death in this book, but also a reminder of those things that make life worth living.
G = Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris. One rotten apple brings down a whole school. It may be set at an exclusive boys school in England, but man, can this American teacher relate.
H = House of Sand and Fog by Andre DuBuss III. A collision course between an Iranian immigrant and a white trash bar-fly. The prize? A simple house both parties claim as their own.
I = The Illiad/The Odyssey by Homer. The first is always the best. Homer broke the mold with these classic tales or heroes and gods and monsters.
J = Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. My all-time favorite book EVER. The downtrodden orphan emerges a plucky heroine. Plus, a madwoman in the attic and an enigmatic estate owner. Gothic perfection.
K = Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. A story of two boys who fed from the same breast, one with a pure heart and the other with a guilty conscience. A look inside a mysterious country and the impact of war waged by both outsiders and insiders.
L = Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. When a book that’s published in 1928 doesn’t reach the public-at-large until 1960, you’ve got to wonder what all the fuss is about. It’s been banned. It’s been burned. It’s been put on trial for being plain old obscene. But what it is at heart is a romance between a man and woman of two different social stations. Read it with the AC cranked up.
M = Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert. Again, sexy stuff. Any woman who has ever wondered, is this really all there is? will be able to relate to Emma Bovary, a doctor’s wife, whose answer to her boring existence is to screw around and spend indiscriminately. I read this as a young single woman and then loaned it to a co-worker. Like herpes, I’m sure it got passed on and on and on, but I never saw it again. Nor did I forget it.
N = The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Two sisters who live in France at the beginning of World War II must cope with Germany’s invasion in their pastoral country and quaint towns. One takes the traditional path to survive and protect her daughter. The other blazes a trail of heroism and risks her heart, her life, and her father’s life.
O = The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Every kid should read this book during his or her early adolescence. It may have been written by a 16 year-old girl during the 1960’s, but some things never change. Peer pressure. Bullying. Friendship. Family bonds. Fitting in. And social stratification. There’s a reason they call them growing pains. Nothing gold can stay.
P = Praise the Human Season by Don Robertson. Elderly coupe. Wife is dying. Husband takes her on one last road trip. He keeps a journal documenting their journey–their love story–warts and all. To me, this 1974 book is Robertson’s Magnus Opus. I read this book in 1985. It has stuck with me as a favorite for over thirty years.
Q = Queenie Peavy by Robert Burch. This historical middle-grade novel takes the reader south during the depression. Queenie is a thirteen-year-old tomboy/troublemaker. Her father is in prison in Georgia and her classmates never miss a chance to rub it in her face. But Queenie’s getting older, and she’s going to have to decide once and for all if she wants to rise above her raising and change her ways.
R = Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. Proof that is can suck to be the second wife of a wealthy man. The title character, Rebecca, is stunningly beautiful. And deceased. And now it is the second Mrs. Maxim DeWinter, a young bride herself, who must try to make sense of the gothic nightmare at Manderley in which she finds herself.
S = The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. Despite the damage Demi Moore tried to do to this title by making it into an unfortunate film, the novel remains a stalwart reminder that sex is like chocolate cake. Seconds on the lips; years on the hips. Especially when your partner in crime dips. Still, a damn good story about people who took the pure out of puritan.
T = To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Innocence lost. And the boogie man isn’t who you think it is. Could there be a more relevant story to American history? There’s a reason this is the Great American Novel. Interestingly, the name Harper was one of the top baby names for girls this year. Scout made the list, albiet a bit lower down, as well. Atticus, too, is popular–but oh such big shoes to fill.
U = Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I know this is supposed to be a fiction list, but this real-life story reads like a novel. It is the story of Olympic runner, Louis Zamperini, who goes from badass delinquent to Olympian to the service of his country in World War II, to near-death after being shot down and left to die on a life raft, to a Japanese POW camp, to life back in the States dealing with the effects of war long before the term PTSD had ever been coined. This is EPIC storytelling. A true masterpiece of truth.
V = Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult. No list of mine would be complete without a shout-out to Jodi Picoult, one of my all-time favorite authors of realistic fiction. Jodi pulls her subject matter right out of today’s news for her novels, and creates such three-dimensional characters that one can’t help but get lost in her stories. In this title, bride-to-be Delia Hopkins finds lost people using her search-and-rescue dog. And then she starts having strange flashbacks. When a policeman knocks on the door and tells her everything she once knew about her past is a lie, the woman she once thought was is gone.
W = Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Yup–another gothic masterpiece makes my list. Ever wonder if you married the right person? Ever wonder how your life would be different had you taken the other path? Catherine Earnshaw chose the expected path. Marriage to the traditional Edgar Linton. She may have loved the low-brow orphan Heathcliff, but love doesn’t pay for the estate and all its trappings. But Heathcliff isn’t about to let Catherine go without making his displeasure felt into the next generation.
X = Wild Card – THE BIBLE Really needs no blurb. Wisdom, beauty, and God’s plan.
Y = Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris. Three generations of Native American women grapple with their lives and their relationships with one another. This is the kind of book that stays with you a long time after closing the final chapter.
Z = Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. Imaginative historical fiction that seeks to illuminate the life of the woman behind the man. I truly enjoyed getting to know Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald via the charming southern voice of Zelda in Fowler’s novel.
Anyway, those are my picks. How about yours? What gems make your list? I’d love to hear from you!
Susan J. Anderson
Foxy Writer Chick