At the beginning of the year some writer friends and I set up a mini book club where we committed to reading each other’s top three “books of our lives”. These are not just books we love or mean a lot to us, but the kinds of books that feel like they get right into the marrow of who we are. Some books do that, though most don’t, and of course it’s a deeply personal thing, dependent on a number of factors independent of the book itself. Sometimes books come into our lives at just the right time, elevating the book above “favourite” to something more like sacred.
I’m excited to have the chance to share these books with my friends and also to read the books that they feel have had a similar effect on their own lives. The only downside was narrowing my own personal list down to three.
As I have more space here, I’d like to expand my list a little more. They are the books that made me feel grateful to be a reader, desperate to be a writer and more aware of what it means to be a person. They’re the books that shaped me. Aka, the books I force on people when they ask for recommendations.
1) Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut Jr
“Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”
War. Time travel. Aliens. Dresden. Truth. Satire. Hilarity. Sadness.
2) Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
“Thank God for books and music and things I can think about.”
Intelligence. Lack of. Wisdom. A mouse. A man. ALL. THE. TEARS.
3) The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
“Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember.”
Religion. Africa. Racism. Colonialism. Post-colonialism. Wisdom.
4) Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”
Women. Wartime. Friendship. Loyalty. Bravery. Fly the plane, Maddie.
5) My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece – Annabel Pitcher
“My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece. Well, some of her does.”
Cry. Cry some more.Then recommend it to everyone you know.
6) Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
“We fly forgotten as a dream.”
Wisdom. Grace. Truth. Religion. America. Racism.
7) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
“I said, I want to tell you something.
She said, you can tell me tomorrow.
I had never told her how much I loved her.
She was my sister.
We slept in the same bed.
There was never a right time to say it.
It was always unnecessary.
The books in my father’s shed were sighing.
The sheets were rising and falling around me with Anna’s breathing.
I thought about waking her.
But it was unnecessary.
There would be other nights.
And how can you say I love you to someone you love?
I rolled onto my side and fell asleep next to her.
Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you … It’s always necessary.”
Quotable. Hilarious. Devastating. Strange. Sad.
8) Maus – Art Spiegelman
Essential. Life-changing. World-view-shifting.
9) The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
“Wonder. Go on and wonder.”
Strange. Confusing. Brilliant. Caddy.
10) On the Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta
“What do you want from me?” he asks.
What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.
Everything YA can and should be.
Aaand a shout out to STATION ELEVEN, which I read a couple of months ago and adored. I would have added it to this list, but feel I should allow a grace period of a few years before calling something a “book of my life”. But Station Eleven is utterly wonderful and you must read it.
Have you read any of these? What would be the books of your life?