This second installment of my top 40 books has proved to be a more difficult one to complete. I have no hesitation about the books I've chosen, but I have had trouble coming up with what to say about the books and how to best explain why they landed on the top 40 list. I suspect part of the struggle is that in some cases I haven't picked up some of these novels in more than 15 years. Their stories aren't fresh to me, but I know they left a lasting impact. Without further qualification, here's 11 through 20.
11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This book is on the list because of the memories it evokes about reading it. I can remember virtually nothing of the plot—eek! What an admission. I was a sophomore in college and had gone home to Kansas to spend my spring break with my grandmother and visit other friends. We read it in tandem. I think I might have bought her a copy though I can't remember. She'd read while I was away with friends and then we'd discuss it when I came home. Even though I have total amnesia about the plot, I know I enjoyed the book as we were reading it together. Like smells and songs, books often capture and retain bits and pieces of where I was and what was happening around me when I was reading them. I will definitely re-read Jane Eyre.
12. Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. As old souls are wont to do, I read this book long before I was it's target audience. I read it in college when most women my mother's age were gobbling it up. I'm so glad I read it when I did. It described leading a life full of experiences and simple pleasures rather than filling it with stuff and chasing after unimportant things to keep up with the neighbors. This resonated with me and guided me into my young adulthood. It's written in a entry-a-day format for an entire year, and every few years I pull it off the shelf and feast on its simplicity for the year.
13. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This book was recommended to me when I was a nanny immediately after college graduation. I read some amazing fiction during that period and this story was among my favorites. I remember being taken with the fact that the first sentence tells the entire plot, and the rest of it is spent telling how it happened. I was duly impressed.
14. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Another example of sweeping fiction that took my breath away, opened my eyes to a medical condition that is rife with ethical dilemmas, societal pressures, and general angst for all involved. It is a masterpiece.
15. At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. I had the opportunity to meet this author in person this past fall, which was an extraordinary experience, but this series also fits into the “old soul” category because I was among the youngest readers at the library-hosted author event. This series is about a loving, unassuming Episcopal priest and the cast of characters in his parish and the small community of Mitford. It is so endearing and comforting. I devoured the books in the midst of a lot of life transitions and in the days and months after the September 11 attacks. It was a balm during that time, and I have revisited Mitford repeatedly through the years.
16. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. This book and To Kill a Mockingbird are my favorite books of all time. This writer is a poet first and her word choice is stunning. I am not a great connoisseur of poetry, but I have a deeper appreciation for poets who write prose after this book. These characters became friends and every few years I start to miss them and re-read it. Our introduction to a new character on page 124 is one of my all-time favorite reading moments.
17. Intimate Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire. I love the way the author takes a scene from the New Testament and makes it come alive with everyday details that add color and texture to the biblical moment. He also writes beautiful meditations and prayers that I refer to when I need a fresh perspective on one of those old stories.
18. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. One of my quirks is that I do not like doing what the crowd is doing. So if millions are reading a certain book, wearing a certain style, etc. I will wait until the fervor dies down before I dive in. This was true for the Harry Potter Series. As is typical, once I began reading, I thought it was the greatest. thing. ever. I was especially struck by J.K. Rowling's story. Writing it in a coffee shop with a young child, and having the manuscript rejected, repeatedly. This lady was persistent! This was one of the first author stories that buried itself deep in my psyche, “hmm...MAYBE I COULD BE A WRITER..” What always impressed me with each book was the complete world she created purely from imagination and the level of detail. I also loved the values that were woven into the narrative: the power of friendship, trust, integrity, doing the right thing. I can't wait until Cadence and I read these together.
19. Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. During the year I had a subscription to The New Yorker I became a huge fan of Adam Gopnik's writing, which led me to this amazing story of his time in Paris. I gobbled it up because 1. his writing is glorious and 2. it was Paris. I can't wait to re-read it when I've finished my quota of presidential bios and the Anne series.
20. The Alienist by Caleb Carr. This was a book recommendation from one of my wicked smaat friends. As it was described to me, I wasn't sure if I had the fortitude for it. Crime. Gore. Whatnot. But dang, am I glad that I took the leap. It is an AMAZING novel. The story and characters suck you in. The author created such pictures in my head - I actually imagined the story in sepia tones! There IS depravity and violence, but it is always within the context of the historical period and never gratuitous. I highly recommend it and its sequel.