During our trip to Maine last week, we visited several independent bookstores in the mid-coast region, including hello hello books in Rockland, Maine. Nothing makes me happier than being in a good bookstore that is connected to a coffee shop, especially one that makes a yummy iced cold mocha. So, mocha in hand, I walked into hello hello books, and when I saw that they carry The Believer magazine, it was clear that we would not leave empty handed. One of the books we bought is Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores. Yes, it’s a book of lists, but with a twist. Read This! is a collection of favorite books by independent booksellers around the country.
It’s like visiting 25 bookstores and asking the knowledgeable booksellers: What do you recommend? As Ann Patchett writes in the introduction, “There is no greater joy for a bookseller than introducing a reader to a book they will love for the rest of their lives. Those of us in this business are, after all, matchmakers by heart.”
Each list has 50 titles along with a few notes about the selections. The lists are a mix of adult and children’s titles. Novels primarily, but with some nonfiction and poetry included. It’s worth picking up and carrying along on your next trip to a library or bookstore.
Of course, I couldn’t resist the challenge. For the past few days, I’ve been compiling my list of favorite books. It’s harder than it sounds. First, committing favorites to a limited list necessitates leaving books off that I really love. Just because Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin is not on this list, does not mean that I don’t love it with my whole heart and recommend it to lots of young people.
Here are the rules I set for myself:
1. The list is all fiction. No poetry (leaving Jane Kenyon off was painful) and no nonfiction. So many good books – especially biography and memoirs – that are among the high points of my reading life, but for the purposes of this exercise – no go.
2. A book is a book. No categories of books for children and books for adults. I wrote down the 50 books I love the most. Period.
3. Except for the first two titles on my list, the books are not ranked. The “lower 48” are loved equally. The first two stand alone.
4. Two items are short stories. They deserve their spots among the novels here.
5. I was honest. The list is not edited. The books are all special for various reasons – the characters have taken up residence in my heart. It might have been tempting to list Moby Dick rather than The Velvet Room, an out-of-print children’s novel, but the truth is that Zilpha Keatley Snider’s book played an important part in my childhood.
Here’s my list:
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Lark & Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
A Big Storm Knocked It Over by Laurie Colwin
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Zen Shorts by Jon Muth
The Three Questions by Jon Muth
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
The Cradle by Patrick Somerville
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
The Giver by Lois Lowry
A Mere Interlude by Thomas Hardy
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk by Ben Fountain
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Three Junes by Julia Glass
Jim the Boy by Tony Earley
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly