Favorite Books

Written in  October, 1997 for WWA Essay Round Robin

The writer, Jacquelyn Mitchard, challenged the readers of her “The Rest of Us” column in the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel to list their ten favorite books. The impetus for this challenge came from two things. First, Oprah Winfrey had listed her favorite books in a recent Life Magazine article. Secondly, Mitchard was probably moved to action by the fact that Oprah had picked “Deep End of the Ocean” as her first book club discussion book. Regardless, the idea seemed interesting and made me think of the books that have impressed me.

First of all, its impossible to pick just ten books. I’m always enthralled with whatever I just finished reading. For example, I just finished The Paperboy, by Peter Dexter. Its been along time since I read such an understated, undefined story. Dexter just barely explained what was going on, not like the latest in the inter-generational dysfunctional family tales of woe crowding the best seller list. But what a story! I know it was great because I did not want the book to end, because it kept me riveted to the page, I didn’t want to miss the tiniest detail. And yet, I had to stop several times to think: what is he saying, is this what he means, ow wow.

So, I had to pull myself away from what I’ve read recently and think about it over the long haul. What books do I remember, return to, recall with sad or wondering feelings. So here is my list. And this is not a definitive list. It probably would be a slightly different list than I have drawn up a year or two ago. After all, we do become different readers as time goes on. So here’s where I am today.

The Social Contract by Robert Ardrey: Probably the first close-to scientific non-fiction book that really impressed me with the larger picture of how we, humans, have come to be and more importantly, where we are going. Robert Ardrey is probably rolling over in his grave at how the world is turning out.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway: A super colossal metaphor for life and its struggles, this short but engrossing book left me exhilarated and worn.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: The most perfect friendship/relationship story one could ever find.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler: Probably my very favorite contemporary writer, Tyler has the gift of taking a character’s warts, exposing them for all to see and yet keeping them sympathetic and likeable.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: No doubt, one of the best stories ever told, some say perfect in its construction and character development. No wonder this is the only thing Harper Lee ever wrote. How would you ever follow something this good.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown: The true measure of a story is the emotions it brings out in the reader, attested to by my tears. This book put into perspective what it is to be an American, a fact of which we cannot always be proud.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Sallinger: The coming of age book that cannot be topped. Though told from a male point of view, there is a little of Holden in us all and I never tire of reading parts as the mood hits.

Cider House Rules by John Irving: This unique writer gave me a new perspective on the abortion issue and I will read it again.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: This is what literature is really all about. This tiny book puts all the blockbuster, 1,000 page family sagas to shame with its attention to detail and power of expression.

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud: A captivating book, Malamud was known for his stories about struggle and hope. The style of writing is poignant, his characters touching, their lives .

Like Mitchard, I also chose an eleventh book.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: The first time in my young reading life (about fourteen) that I recall loving a book so much I did not want it to end.

But then, isn’t that how it always is.





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