The idea for this first came to me at the request of a friend. Placing more faith in me than I probably deserve, she asked me to write about/recommend my top favorite books. I don’t have a set list of favorites. Being the bookworm and avid reader I am, my list of favorites is never ending. Below, though – in no order other than my random memory – I have tried to include the ones that have made the most impact (and that immediately came to mind).
Without further ado, then.
1. The Harry Potter Series – J. K. Rowling
While I don’t have set favorites, I know this will forever be my number 1. My first series and my childhood. I remember being as proud of myself as could be for reading those huge books and not thinking it was a chore. Hogwarts and Harry never fail to keep me entertained and included in this amazing world of theirs. Sirius and Dumbledore impart their wisdom, and Hermione reminds me a bit of myself when it comes to books. These are books about friendship and family, loss and grief, and, yes, good and evil. If you haven’t read them, already, you’re about a decade late so get to it. And, no, the movies don’t count.
2. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Another book I always recommend. P&P is not just another romance in Victorian England. It is a humorous take on a society’s values and traditions. It is an exploration of our biases and prejudices, of how we see ourselves and others. Most importantly, it is the book with one of literature’s most timeless heros and heroines. Mr. Darcy is every girl’s dream, and Lizzy Bennet is who we all want to be. You root for them when they are at their worst and in the most unlikely times. Ignore all stereotypes about Austen and pick this up. You won’t regret it.
3. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Childrens playing and superstitions against the backdrop of a racism-infused South. It is a book that hits especially close to home in the way it tests the strength of morals and principles in the face of society and the majority. When Atticus Finch decides to take on the case of a black man charged with raping a white woman, he is not only standing up to the community at Alabama, but to entrenched racial ideas. Told from the perspective of his 10 year old daughter, To Kill A Mockingbird is a true classic, with analogies, humor, depth; it is a story that is timeless. Its sequel is set to release this summer and I still cannot decide if anything can ever live up to it…
4. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
If you want your heart broken, your eyes reddened and your face soaked with tears, this is the perfect book for you. Set in Nazi Germany, it is a book about the plight of Germans and Jews alike, but most importantly, it is about a young girl’s discovery of and relationship with words. This is probably why I love it so much. Other than the fact that it will tug at your heart forever, this book perfectly explores the power and limitations of a book. It underscores how discourse is essential to everything. It pays tribute to words, and I will forever be grateful to Zusak for that.
5. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
A poet at heart, Plath infuses her only novel with beautiful writing. Her streams of consciousness take us into her character’s head and show us what it is like to have depression, having suffered it herself, and her descriptions and comparisons are as vivd as can be. It is not a sad or wallowing book, though, but a young girl’s journey as she embarks on the “real world”, hindered not only by the world’s obstacles, but also by her mental illness. The Bell Jar has some of my favorite quotes of all time. Even if you do not (thankfully) struggle from depression, you will find it hard not to relate to Esther Greenwood at some point in the book.
6. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. – Adelle Waldman
A contemporary piece of fiction that has joined the ranks of classics in my book. Waldman expertly delves into the male brain and psyche, offering us the other side of the story as we join Nate in his quest for the one. We laugh and cry with him, but we sympathize with his partners because we’ve been them at one point or the other. It’s fresh to see things from the perspective of the guy, because we’re so used to the girl narrating and gossiping, and resigned to the idea that guys don’t share or talk. I wholeheartedly recommend this to both males and females. Girls, it will be interesting. Guys, you’ll be surprised at how Waldman nails your voice!
7. We Were Liars – E. Lockhart
Around 120 pages, a book to finish in just a few hours. I know I did. Then, I badgered everyone I knew to go read it as well. I will only tell you that the narrator’s voice is so strong and distinct it will capture you from the first few lines. Her descriptions, thoughts and flair for drama are brilliant and will definitely have you hooked. I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers. Just a tiny favor: let me know when you’re done with it!
8. The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan
Less a story than a manifesto, this book is written as a series of dictionary entries. As you read through them, your own experiences will come to mind, as you understand what the character is going through. It won’t take long to finish, but I can guarantee you will keep coming back to it for random quotes, consolation or simply to know that it’s not just you. My copy is only a year old, and is already battered and washed up. From someone who treats her books like prized possessions, this definitely says something.
9. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
This book was my initiation to Hosseini’s work, and it was among the first books to show me that there many other interesting things to write about than American culture. It showed me the value of writing about where you’re from and what you know. Mainly a story about growing up and knowing better, it also encompasses a great deal about history, politics and the people that get squashed in the middle. Redemption, salvation, starting over and staying true to one’s roots. It is a masterpiece. Hosseini’s two other books A Thousand Splendid Suns and And the Mountains Echoed are also beautiful. I heartily recommend them, the first being his female-dominated novel, and the second dealing with loss, grief and never letting go.
10. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Probably the best I know in showing how wild and destructive, yet eternal, love can be. If there were ever two people made and suited for each other, they were Cathy and Heathcliff. But it’s more than just their love story. It is the internal struggle between heart and mind, the fanaticism of religion, the judgement of outsiders, the payment of consequences by others. We may not be as rootless as Heathcliff or as wild and passionately unreserved as Cathy, but their story could just as easily be ours, changing a few details.
11. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
I am guilty of having initially judged this book by its cover. A young adult romance novel named after its two characters: big deal. Once I decided to give it a try, though, I understood what the whole fuss is about. It is NOT just another teenage love story. It is a cry against teenage categorization and a call for teenagers to be themselves. It is an embodiment of what being young and in love is like, one which pays tribute to old music, comics and people who stand out, without ignoring or understating the real problems of life we all know exist. Oh, and it is brilliantly written. I finished it in a day because I literally couldn’t put it down.
These are, more or less, what came to mind when I thought of recommending books. Be sure that this list is by no means complete and will continuously be updated and added to, even if only in my own head!