SavidgeReads had a terrific idea. What if you had a Reader’s Table in your home and could give away copies of your 20 favourite books. Think about it sort of like the Hot Fiction table at Indigo…only you’ve chosen the titles (and they wouldn’t necessarily have to be all fiction, either).
Just thinking about the possibilities makes me swoon with delight. What 20 books would I put on my list? What books would you put on yours? If you do a Reader’s Table- I’d love to have a link to it…
So…here’s my top 20- subject to change – of course- as I continue reading. *g*
Updated March 2013
Our Daily Bread is a novel is full of unforgettable characters – people who are so heart-breakingly fragile and brave and real that you just won’t be able to stop thinking about them. It may have been a fluke that this ended up being my 2013 book club selection, but it was the best fluke ever. So good!
Wonder is terrific debut novel. It’s actually geared for younger readers, I think, since the protagonist is just ten, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. the book has a lot to say about compassion and empathy and kindness and, seriously, who doesn’t need those things in their life.
There’s a reason everyone is talking about this The Fault in Our Stars: it’s fantastic! The story of Hazel Grace and Augustus will make you laugh out loud and cry real tears. There just aren’t any words for how much I loved this book. I can’t keep it on my classroom bookshelf. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book.
Updated December 10, 2011
This is a story that grabs you by the throat and shakes the living daylights out of you for 479 pages. The subject matter is often dark. The character of the preacher, Aaron, is one of the creepiest psychopaths I’ve encountered in literature in a long, long time. And this is a book I want to hand to people and say “read this now!”
A gem of a story that is both dark and light, funny and terribly sad. David loses his mother as the age of 12 and goes on a journey into the world of fairy tales in order to escape the loss. Whether or not this is a metaphorical journey will be up to the reader to decide – it won’t matter, though. The Book of Lost Things is perfect in all the ways that count.
There’s nothing I don’t love about The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. When I did work at the bookstore I recommended that people not try to work out the logistics of the time travel, but to concentrate on the incredible story between Clare and Henry. This book swallowed me whole and appealed to the romantic in me…and I am not ashamed to admit that I sobbed uncontrollably during the book’s final 50 pages.
I bought Kristin McCloy’s debut novel Velocity at The Strand in New York City the summer I was 24 or 25. I have read it every year since. It’s the story of Ellie who returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother. She meets Jesse, the quintessential bad boy, and their affair is propelled by her grief. I suspect that I initially fell in love with this novel because I was, at the time, in love with a ‘bad boy’ myself…but those days are long gone. So, what makes me re-read this book over and over? I love the way McCloy writes and this story still speaks to me in ways I find difficult to articulate.
Here’s what I wrote in my review of Lisa Reardon’s novel Billy Dead:
Truthfully, the book probably isn’t for everyone: it’s graphic and violent. But the characters are so compellingly real and their journey is so honest, they’ll make an indelible impression on you. Really.
For whatever reason (okay, okay, it’s V.C. Andrews’ novel Flowers in the Attic) I have a thing for fiction that deals with incest. Billy Dead is a love story, though, despite its subject matter.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters was my book club pick a couple years ago and – no surprise- I won best book. This is just a fantastic novel, filled with period details and intrigue and characters it’s impossible not to care about- even when they are doing horrible things for selfish reasons. The BBC did a mini series, which is worth viewing, too…but the book is a fantastic page turner which will have you gasping out loud!
I love this book and hand sold a dozen copies when I worked at the book store. Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon is a ghost story and a love story and a coming of age story and the writing is wonderful. In my review I said: The characters are well-drawn, even minor-characters. More importantly, as the story unravels, you don’t feel cheated by the denouement.
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel A Little Princess is one of my favourite childhood novels. The heart-wrenching story of Sara Crewe, left at Miss Minchin’s School for Young Ladies, is tragic and magical. I’ve read this book a few times as an adult and it never fails to make me cry, particularly during the part when starving Sara gives her hot buns to a little girl who is clearly more hungry than she is. This book belongs on every young girl’s bookshelf. It’s on my daughter’s.
I’ve loved Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town for 30 years and I even wrote my Honours English thesis on Wilder because of this play. The residents of Grover’s Corners lead a simple life, but even they don’t truly appreciate life’s value until it’s too late. Thorton’s masterpiece still resonates in a world which places far less value on the things which are truly important: family, community, love, faith.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a huge King fan. That said, I haven’t read every single one of his novels…and I haven’t loved every single novel I’ve read. I did, however, love It. There are some things King does better (or at least as well) as any other popular novelist. For example, he writes childhood friendships beautifully and, ultimately, that’s what It is about. Seven adults who fought a horrible evil as children reunite to fight it again. This novel is scary and surprisingly poignant and the summer it came out I carried it with me everywhere because I could not put it down.
I can’t imagine who would leave Harper Lee’s only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird off a list of favourite books…but I suppose it’s possible. I’ve taught this novel a few times and I know that students struggle a bit with the first 50 pages or so, but after that this novel is the most brilliant story of friendship and parenthood and prejudice and loyalty. It’s sad that Lee never wrote another book, but when you’ve written this book, I guess it hardly matters.
Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre had a huge impact on me the first time I read it. I was about 12 and I loved everything about this book. Jane, an orphan, leaves an unhappy life with her relatives to attend school and then become a governess. I couldn’t actually relate to Jane’s life and yet I adored her character. I really should re-read this novel.
I have mad love for Ian McEwan, even though I often find his prose dense and difficult. There’s always, always a pay-off when you finish one of his novels, though – not the least of which is feeling very literate! I’ve read several of his novels but I have to put Atonement on the top of the pile. I found the first 50 or so pages a tough slog, but wow- then I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and the novel’s stunning ending just made everything that came before so much more incredibly moving. Love this book.
Okay, I’m not going to try to make the argument that Robert James Waller’s novel The Bridges of Madison County is great literature. It’s not; I know that. Nevertheless, this book (prior to The Time Traveler’s Wife) made me cry harder than any book ever. I read it when I was living in the UK and as soon as I was finished I sent it to my best friend back home. Waller’s book should speak to anyone who has ever had the opportunity to reconsider the choices they’ve made in life…and will undoubtedly move anyone who is not cynical about love.
I am a huge Kathryn Harrison fan. She’s a fantastic writer and The Kiss, while difficult to read, is a terrific memoir. In my review I said: it’s a breathtaking and gut-clenching examination of how her seemingly unrequited love for her mother manifested itself into an all consuming and ultimately devastating sexual affair with her estranged father. There’s nothing titillating about this story and yet I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Harrison doesn’t excuse herself or her part in the relationship, but it’s impossible not to feel incredibly sad for her.
This is definitely one of my favourite books of the last few months. Standing Still by Kelly Simmons is just a terrific book: part page-turner (there’s an intriguing mystery at this book’s core) and part meditation on marriage and family and the lives women leave behind in order to have those things. When a kidnapper breaks into Claire Cooper’s house, she begs him to take her instead of her daughter. He does and the novel spins out a story of their relationship…and so much more. I just really, really think this book deserves a huge following.
I should really read this book again. A.S. Byatt’s Possession was one of those books I read in my late 20s, which I really loved and which I probably didn’t understand half as well as I thought I did at the time. So how come it ends up on my top twenty table? Seriously, it’s got everything: a love story, poetry, mystery. And then, it’s got Byatt’s incredible prose. For anyone who loves literature – it’s a must-read.
The Diary of a Young Girl should really be required reading for everyone. Anne Frank’s diary of life in Nazi Germany is remarkable for several reasons, but mostly because it relates the everyday feelings of a young girl caught in extraordinary circumstances. When I visited Holland in the early 90s, I went to Anne Frank’s hiding place and it was such a poignant experience. This book had a profound impact on me as a young girl and holds a special place in my heart.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is sitting on my to-be-read shelf, but obviously for it to be included here I’ve already read it. That said, I read it a LONG time ago. Still, I have wonderful memories about this book and its classic story of a poor American family at the turn of the 20th century. Once I’ve re-read it, I’m going to hand it over to my daughter. Who knows, maybe someday it’ll end up on her Reader’s Table list!
I have to include threemore novels on this list, all of which might be difficult to find and all by Carolyn Slaughter. The first one is called The Banquet and tells the story of an architect named, Harold, and a Marks and Spencer shopgirl called Blossom. At first glance this is a love story, but it’s far more compelling than that. The ending- and trust me, you won’t see it coming- is remarkable. Once I’d read The Banquet I raced around to find more work by Slaughter. The next book I’d encourage you to read is called The Story of the Weasel ( also called Relations; I’m not sure why the book is known by two different titles). This is another book which concerns incest, but it’s one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking love stories I’ve ever read. Finally, Magdalene is a fictional account of the love story between Mary Magdalene and Jesus and it’s terrific. All three of these novels have really resonated with me…and are part of the reason that I wrote to Slaughter, something I rarely do. She graciously wrote me back…a handwritten letter which I cherish.