In the summer of 2007, I attended the Columbia Publishing Course. One of the tasks we had to complete before we started was to make a list of our ten favorite books. “My desert island, all-time, top-five” as Rob from High Fidelity would say, which means no separate lists for fiction and nonfiction, or children’s and YA and adult, just ten favorite, full stop. Naturally we all agonized over these and spent the first week discussing each other’s lists; it was a great icebreaker.
What does “favorite” mean? We each had different definitions. For me, it means I’ve read it (or listened to it) more than once. It means if I see it in a bookstore, I will reach out and touch its spine, even if I already have a copy (or more than one) at home. It means I’ve recommended it to others, probably many times.
It’s been a decade since that first list, and I wondered how different my list would look if I made it today. Which books on the original list would still be there if I made a new list? I’ve read a lot of books over these past ten years – 1,200 books is probably a low estimate – have any of them become favorites? And could I find the original list, to compare?
Turns out the answer to that last question was yes, because I may be a pack rat with a Depression-era mindset who saves kitchen string, but I am a highly organized pack rat; I found the list in less than fifteen minutes. Actually, what I found was a much longer list, divided into sections (children’s/YA and adult) with stars next to ten titles.
May 26, 2007
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Face on the Milk Carton/Whatever Happened to Janie?/The Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney
The Boggart by Susan Cooper
The Bean Trees/Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
The Brothers K by David James Duncan
Griffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock
The careful reader will notice that there are more than ten books on the list, because I used series to sneak extra ones in. I’m a little surprised at some of the books that aren’t there – A Wrinkle in Time, The Perks of Being a Wallflower – but a list of ten means tough choices.
[Note: This has been in my drafts folder for nearly a month, because I kept trying and failing to winnow my new list down to ten. But no one has set this assignment for me, and I have as much space as I like, so…fifteen it is!]
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
*The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
*The Bean Trees/Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
*Griffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock
*The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
*The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
To A Fault by Nick Laird (poetry)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Likeness by Tana French
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Honorable mention to Maggie O’Farrell, possibly my favorite fiction author I’ve discovered in the past few years without a book on this list.
What are your all-time favorite books? Are you made of sterner stuff than I, and able to keep your list to ten?