My 50 Favorite Books

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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

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4 thoughts on “My 50 Favorite Books

  1. I love lists of books. Even if I don’t agree with the choices, I love trying to “figure” a person out by what they read. I do have to say, though, that I am never correct or even successful in my assumptions. I have been wanting to reread The House of Mirth and My Antonia. I remember liking both of them as an undergrad, but I have little memory of them other than I remember The House of Mirth having a sad ending?? I just read The Book Thief this summer and cried my eyes out. I was surprised at how I liked Crossing to Safety. I think To Kill a Mockingbird might be one of my top top favorites – kind of like how you loved Charlotte’s Web and The Great Gatsby. Thank you for this!

    • Hi Devin,
      Thanks for your note. I totally agree that book lists tell us a lot about the people who create them. That’s why I love reading lists so much.
      Like you, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my very favorite books. Every time I re-read it, I find sentences that take my breath away.
      I hope all is well…

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