Tuesday, August 19, 2014

picking a top ten...is impossible.

I'm biting off a bit more than I can chew in writing this post, but I wanted to give it a shot. I get asked this question a lot, by friends, by classmates, by family members, by parents looking for new reading material for their teenagers, etc. and at this point, I actually do have an answer, but it often takes longer than the person asking expects.

In blog post form, this is yours truly's top ten twenty list of favorite books and why. You'll be surprised - there will probably be a few you've never heard of, and some you have. I'm going to elaborate on each one - the description is *not* a synopsis of the book, it's simply *why* it's on the list, and maybe a quote or two. You'll have to read it for yourself to decide whether it'll be on yours.

Important Note: the Bible is not on this list. And that's because it's not just a book. It's the living, breathing, active Word of God and cannot even be compared with any book written by man. It's Other-Than. Take a deep breath, folks, and let's move on.

Another note: I originally started with ten. That's impossible. Here's twenty. And that was still hard. Cut me some slack. 

Still another note: okay, it's twenty-five. Don't judge.

1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Dickens is *the* classic author, and David Copperfield isn't even his most well-read, well-loved work. I'm actually not the world's greatest Dickens fan, but I love this book like no other. I read it about once a year, straight through over the course of several days. Davy is like an old friend, and I literally get choked up and feel lonesome when he and Agnes leave me at the end of the book, not to return till next time. It's like reading a book about family or close friends - there's nothing quite like it. "My other piece of advice, Copperfield," said Mr. Micawber, "you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

2. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott
Similar to Copperfield, this classic feels like the life story of my friends. And, if you've been around here long enough, you'll remember that Jo is my other personality, the "other me", if you will, so naturally I feel a connection. I fell in love with this story all over again listening to the Focus on the Family radio drama, 'cause their Laurie is the best Laurie. And we all know that he married Jo in the end, 'cause that's how it's *supposed* to be.

3. Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge
Elizabeth Goudge. You either love her, or you don't understand a word. Her style is unique, her perspective likewise, and her characters are ethereal. Zachary Moon might be one of my favorite male "heroes" ever to grace the pages of literature, and that's saying a lot. I identify with him more than Stella, which I think is supposed to happen anyway. I love the style of this story - it's almost like it's written from a child's perspective, with a child's insight. Beautiful.

4. Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot
Changing gears! This book changed my life. Not exaggerating. Mama read Shadow of the Almighty aloud to all of us children at the same time that I was reading it for school in eighth grade. His testimony and devotion awoke a desire in me to know the God that he knew, to get a hold of the faith that he gave up everything for. I knew I wasn't there yet, and didn't want to stop to I got it. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot are two of my greatest heroes of the faith, and I love their story and their steadfastness to the advancement of the kingdom.

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This is my baby. I've worn my copy down to a frazzle, and it goes with me on most trips. It's one of those classics that I re-discover every time I open it up. I still wait with anticipation to see if Elizabeth and Darcy will end up together, relishing every witty encounter and confrontational moment. And then there's Lady Catherine de Bourg - one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. "I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased."

from google

6. After the Dancing Days by Margaret Rostkowski
This book captured me as a fourteen year old and it's consistently stayed on my favorites list since then. It's the unspoken, often unrecognized side of war - the coming home, and the recuperation and readjustment of the wounded veterans. It made me think, as Annie goes through in learning how to love these soldiers and embrace them even if the world and culture have subtly rejected them, about how we are called as the church to love the unlovely - "Man looks at the appearance, but God looks a the heart." In a way, it's sort of a less-creepy Phantom of the Opera. *grin*

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
It's a southern classic - and you've probably all had to read it for school, or have seen the movie (depending on your generation and your family). I'm not sure how correct this is to say, but I want my children to be raised like Atticus raised Jem and Scout. Ha. “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."

8. The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson
Ooof. Heavy reading. I read in one afternoon, curled up on a couch in the common area of my dorm at Ellerslie last summer, and when I stood up, it took me about an hour to get back reoriented and I've never actually "recovered." Which is a good thing. One of my favorite musicals is West Side Story - I've always felt a strange pull to the story, as if it was true, and once I read Switchblade, my heart went out to those people and I understood the culture in a different light. It's no fun to read, really, but there's a reason it's on this list.

9. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
"BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN" Read-aloud time! Mama read this series aloud to us years ago, and all of us older children would probably name this our favorite hands down. We even sent away via Royal Post to get the movie version from the UK (since that's the only place you can get it) and had to change our DVD region to watch it. John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker and Nancy and Peggy Blackett captured our imaginations and we lived on the Lakes with them in our souls for that whole summer. "Stow it, you goat, don't over do it!"

10. Persuasion by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice might be my baby, but this one is probably my favorite. It's painful, kind of like Emma, but much more mature. Less stupid mistakes made by characters out of immaturity, more stupid mistakes made by smart people in love. Which is the same thing, arguably, but at least it looks more mature. *snort* Anyway. I've heard people say it's too slow for them, but I like it. So there.

11. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
It's a doozy, I'll admit. And I've only read the whole thing cover to cover one time. But other sections I've worn the stuffing out of. I love this book...even with it's quirky hundred-page tangents on French history and jargon or little side note about why drowning in mud is worse than quicksand. In case you were wondering. Victor Hugo has eyes into the human soul, and a power with words to express the depths thereof. His characters each are people you've met before - with humor and pathos and emotions that you've seen or felt in others and yourself. It's a masterpiece of humanity - and everyone should read it all the way through once in their life. It's worth it all the mud and sand, trust me. "The next day, attired in his new suit - new trousers, hat and boots, and even, prodigious luxury, a pair of gloves! - Marius set out as his accustomed hour for the Luxembourg. He met Courfeyrac on the way and pretended not to see them. Courfeyrac said later to his friends, "I've just seen Marius's new hat and suit with Marius inside them. I suppose he was going to sit for an examination. He looked thoroughly silly."

12. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
Of course this whole series is one of my favorites. Every single book is special to me for some reason or another. But I picked this one for this list because of Patty's Place and Gog and Magog and Philippa Gordon and Alec and Alonzo and the Reverend Jo and Priscilla and Stella and all the other wonderful characters that make this book such a quilt of color and humor. And of course, there's Gilbert's forget-me-nots and those moments when you want to shake Anne till she comes to her senses....and Diana and roly-poly-Fred Wright and little Fred....so much love, peoples, so much love.

13. Betsy's Wedding by Maud Hart Lovelace
I love Betsy Warrington Ray. I grew up reading the series as I got older, and often it feels like Betsy and Tacy are just an extension of myself. The reason Betsy's Wedding is the book on my top twenty-one list is because it's my current favorite, since I'm, well, almost twenty and that's basically how old she is and so we're sort of thinking on the same page right now. Actually, it was a toss up between this one and Betsy and Joe - which was sort of my favorite book during high school....*sheepish grin* Betsy is quite possibly one of the most believable heroines I've encountered in my travels - be prepared to make a new best friend!

14. Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
I sat here forever trying to choose between Charlotte's Web and this classic...and chose the bugling cob. Because, because, because, because, becaaaaaaaaaause! I've always liked stories about animals who learned to communicate with people. But my favorite part of this story is when Louis sleeps in the bathtub at the hotel and orders watercress sandwiches but only eats the watercress and leaves the bread. I don't know why. Go figure. (I was one of those children who didn't like crusts on my bread anyway)

15. Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher
A story about stories....and hands down one of our favorite history readalouds (right up there with Detectives in Togas and Johnny Tremain) It's a mystery, suspenseful, and left us reeling for hours when we finished it. You know, when your brain is mush and you wander around in a fog trying to return to the real world? It's a gem, folks. And if you're anything like we were as children, you might find yourself playing "Fleshy Khatun" in your make believe. Just saying.

16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Bronte sisters....under-appreciated, but acquired taste. I'm not really a big Rochester fan - but I'm drawn to Jane's loyalty and singleness of heart. Actually, my friend Kate texted me the other day with this profound thought: "It just occurred to me to wonder what on earth it would have been like to grow up with Jane & Mr. Rochester as parents..." I'd NEVER thought about that before. What do you think?

17. Rifles for Waite by Howard Keith
I can't remember exactly when I first read this book - although it was probably during our study of the War back when I was in middle school. Maddie read it first and really liked it, so I read it too, even though it wasn't assigned. It's such a unique perspective on the War Between the States - fascinating angle on the West. And even though it's written from a Yankee perspective, it's done in such a way that even such a die-hard Johnny Reb as myself was able to see his side of the story without feeling jabbed at. Unbiased - the best kind.

18. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
Johnny was the first fictional character I fell in love with. I was ten. He was older than me...even Cilla was older than me...I felt so left behind. I'm glad I grew out of that, but I've never lost that love of this book and the story. When I went to Boston in fall of 2012, I researched and hunted the current location of Fish Street - where the Laphams shop and Hancock's Wharf would've been. It's been developed extensively, but this picture was taken as close to the actual location as we could get...a childhood dream fulfilled! I tried to picture Johnny, Cilla and Isa sitting on the wharf with their feet dangling over the edge, as Johnny told them about his mother's cup....it was almost real...

19. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Okay, it HAD to be on this list. Had to. Catherine at one point had the first two chapters of this book memorized from listening to it on tape (yes, tape) so many times. Maddie and I did too, just not as much as her. E.B. White's comforting voice reading this classic of all children's books is the sound of my childhood, and hopefully my own children's as well. "This is a story about the barn...."

20. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orzcy
I don't even know what to say....but this book is golden. Pure fluff in the sense that it's romantic and dramatic and you kinda know from the beginning how it's going to turn out, but that doesn't take away from the brilliance of the writing and the suspense of the story. "They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere..."

21. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
It's been a while since I read this, but this is like Boxcar Children for grown ups. In fact, it's sort of the grandfather of all mysteries - Wilkie Collins was the first modern mystery author. So it even pre-dates Sherlock Holmes. It's a "big kid" story, but totally worth the agony and frustration and suspense. You'll find yourself yelling the characters "DON'T YOU SEEEEE!?!?!" - maybe even taking a break and walking around to clear your head before diving in again....but those are the best kind of mysteries anyway.

22. My Sergei by Ekaterina Gordeeva
This is a biography/autobiography of the skating pair Sergei Grinkov and Katia Gordeeva. It's one of my favorites - I love Ekaterina's winsome and genuine writing style, you can tell English isn't her first language and her descriptions are so down-to-earth. There is some...more grown-up content, because of the nature of their lives and lack of spiritual guidance, but it's truly an insightful read. I love true stories, and even though I'm sure there's stuff about them she chose not to share, but you can tell she's being very honest and you can tangibly feel her grief at losing her beloved Sergei so young.

23. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
Culture. I am a connoisseur of culture. I study it, I love it, I love being immersed in it. I've traveled quite a bit in my life, been part of a several different unique communities, and each one's oddities and profundities capture my attention and help me understand people better. From conservative Christian denominations, Messianic groups, Mennonites, Muslims, different African tribes, Nicaraguans of every shade, and Jews - I've learned something from all of them, and been intrigued by every life style. The Chosen is an inside look at the Orthodox versus Hasidic Jewish cultures in New York during World War II, covering Zionism and education and community. When Mama assigned it for school, I was skeptical, but ended up reading it twice that semester, trying to squeeze everything I could out of it.

24. Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Yeah, the author's name is Gaston. *Disney moment* Maybe that's why this book is so...odd. It's disturbing, not going to lie, and it's not for everyone. As you know, this musical is my favorite, so one Christmas I asked for the book - you know, just to read it and see if it was as good. Honestly, it's different, hard to compare, but yet it gives you almost a "behind the scenes" look at the show...and gives you a whole new appreciation for Andrew Lloyd Webber and the way he managed to keep the spirit of the story while making it a little more...audience friendly. Warning: you will love Phantom and hate Raoul if you read this book. So if you're a Raoul fan (which I'm not....except if it's Hadley Fraser), avoid this particular piece of literature.

25. Light from Heaven by Jan Karon
Dooley and Lace (my favorite two Mitford characters - aside from Barnabas the Buick) are about twenty/twenty-one in this book, and even though this story really is from Father Tim's perspective, I understand those two so well.... Also, I love Appalachia, and have a huge heart - bordering on an ache - for the poverty and generational bondage in that region. This book really touches on that in a gritty but gentle way. It's currently my favorite Mitford book, even though I miss the Turkey Club and some of the classic moments from the earlier in the series.

Well, there you have it. Liza's top twenty-five favorite books. And pardon me while I go apologize to the rest of my bookshelf for not including them. I'm already working on Part Two with twenty-five more books - so fifty total. Because I'm the blog author and I can do whatever I want so HA. (and I really don't want to hurt their feelings)

What are some of y'all's favorite books and why? Have you read all the ones on this list? What are the ones you'd never heard of? Which ones were you surprised I included? Or surprised I DIDN'T include? 


  1. So glad that you had To Kill a Mockingbird on that list! Such a phenomenal book (and that quote about courage is one of my favorites). :)

  2. *reads the first paragraph, opens the comment box to be referred to as necessary, and settles down for a good time*

    DAVID COPPERFIELD! Yes. You should also read Bleak House. Esther Summerson is like Agnes, but better.

    "I'd look like an idiot standing in a corner smiling to myself for no reason."

    Still have to read Gentian Hill *grabs reading list and adds it on the spot*

    And Shadow of the Almighty was a life-changer for me too.

    Heehee. Watching LBD right now - totally new perspective on P&P. :)

    I read To Kill a Mockingbird almost every year. And every time I read it in Sissy Spacek's voice, because my first introduction to the book was her rendition on Audible.

    I haven't read Swallows and Amazons in years...I should return to that one.

    I like Persuasion too. So that makes two of us.

    Javert. and Jean Val Jean. and Enjolras. and GAVROCHE. and I should stop now before I have a total breakdown about the fates of my favorite characters.

    PHILIPPA GORDON AND PATTY'S PLACE. (I haven't used caps lock this much in years. I must need to get it out of my system.)

    *will not use caps lock* Betsy Ray is something else. I read Betsy's Wedding before Betsy and Joe, because my library didn't have Betsy and Joe.

    I think I might have read the Trumpet of the Swan...once...a long long time ago. Clearly I need to pull it out and dust it off. She says before heading into a year of college with zero spare time for reading.

    Jane is one of my absolute favorites.

    SOME PIG. that time the caps was utterly justifiable. Charlotte didn't use lowercase.

    The Chosen is one of those books that I forget about and then pick up again and wonder how on earth I could have not read this book a million times already because it's so good.

    I still remember racing through Phantom on a road trip. I did not put it down.


    Don't you dare complain that this comment is mammoth, because I could have made it twice as long. Easily. Except that I am starving and must absolutely go find something to eat for dinner.


    Oh, and if I didn't mention one it's because I haven't read it and it is now on my ever-growing list.

    No Lewis or Tolkien??

  3. So I'm not the only little girl who was Betsy Ray and Jo Alcott and smitten with Johnny Tremain. Good.

  4. I LOVE that "Trumpet of the Swan" is on your list! I remember loving it as my teacher did a read-aloud in second grade. I had not touched it till I picked it up a month ago to do it as a read-aloud with my own children. It's genius. I mean really: Louis calls Serena, "the swan of my desiring." Ugh. Swan romance at its best.

    I also LOVE the Mitford Series, but am almost always embarrassed to admit this to people! So glad you love it, too.

    And I love Pride and Prejudice. Of course.

    I'm embarrassed that I've not read so many of your other picks. I'd better get off of Facebook and go pick up a book! Thanks for taking the time to compile this list and to explain your picks.

    Sending you and your family love from North Carolina! (We're in the Triangle now... only 2.5 hours away if you ever want to come for a visit!)

  5. To Kill a Mockingbird is on my all-time favorites list too. Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, the Anne series—they belong in everybody's library. And I love Persuasion too; I re-read it last summer and it was even better than I remembered. Les Miserables is definitely worth the wade-through, and so is Dickens (though A Christmas Carol stands as my favorite of his).

    Johnny Tremain is, I think, one of the best pieces of historical fiction I've ever read. I'll have to show my sister that picture; it's her all-time favorite book now!

    I've read just two Elizabeth Goudge books so far, The Rosemary Tree and Linnets and Valerians. I adored the latter; the characters were marvelous and the writing so beautiful!

    I grew up with Charlotte's Web ("It's my idio-idio-idio-syncrasy!"), but discovered The Trumpet of the Swan a little later on...I wonder, now that I come to think of it, if there's some distant cousinship between Louis' father and the gander? :)