This list is getting kinda old, and I’m not sure that ALL of these books would still be in my all-time top ten (except Watership Down, which will always hold top spot). So, for more recent titles, check out my yearly Top Ten lists and think hard–what books would make YOUR top ten?
Category: Jen’s Top Ten Books of ALL TIME
Watership Down by Richard Adams
This is my hands-down favorite book of all time. I think I’ve read it about 15 times since I was a kid. It’s about this community of rabbits (yes, you read that right, rabbits) who are forced to leave their warren when it is bulldozed over to make a construction site. So starts their adventurous search for a new home. On their journey, they meet a suicidal warren of poetry-spouting rabbits, discover asphalt roads, and are forced to join a military warren run by the Hitler of the animal kingdom, General Woundwart. Adams manages to make these rabbits the most human animals you ever met, without them losing a bit a their rabb-ability. They love, fight, and tell stories about their own folk heroes, but they never speak English, stand on their hind feet, or in short, act like anything but rabbits. It’s just the most amazing book, and I recommend it to everybody. Don’t be put off by the length–you’ll be completely absorbed until the last page.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Before all the Oprah hoopla and the big movie whoop-de-doo, I read this book for a creative writing class in college, and we were supposed to study Morrison’s intricate pattern of structure and characterization. Forget that! I was so wow-ed by the power and lyricism of the story that I finished the book long before anyone else and walked around in a stupor for days afterward. Beloved is the story of a female ex-slave, Sethe, who mourns the fact that she murdered her child in order to save the baby from a life of slavery. In fact, she mourns so much that her grief becomes manifest into a body of a young woman named Beloved–a ghost the same age that Sethe’s dead baby would have been had she lived. With powerful storytelling skills and flashbacks that are woven better than in Pulp Fiction, Morrison brings home the meaning of love, hope and pain all gift-wrapped in this little book.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
What’s not to love? A dashing, brooding older man, a plain but intellectual young woman, a spooky old house and a crazy lady in the attic! All the elements you need to make this classic story of love and loss completely unforgettable. I only regret that I waited until college to read it–don’t make the same mistake–check out this book and others by the Bronte sisters today!
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
No matter how many times I read this book, even though I KNOW how its’ going to end, I still end up bawling for this tale of puppy love between a hill boy and his two coon hounds. I mean the kid saves money for like TWO years in a coffee can to buy these puppies! It’s enough to break your heart–and it does, on a regular basis(I read it at least once a year). It’s got a lot of old-fashioned sweetness and determination, with some murder, a wild cougar, and a thrilling car chase, I mean coon race, thrown in. This novel does away with the syrupy morality of both Black Beauty and Shiloh and gives you a real feel for sincere connection that can happen between people and animals.
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
Birdie is torn between her two parents–one black, one white, as she grows up in the racial war-zone of 1970’s Boston. Her pain deepens when she realizes that her parents, who can no longer get along, intend to separate her from her beloved sister. Her black father is taking her sister to live with him in Brazil while Birdie and her white mother, who is on the run for some of the political crimes she has committed, are leaving Boston to travel around the county, hiding from the authorities. While I have not personally had the experience of being biracial, Senna really made me feel the confusion, ambiguity and even guilt Birdie felt in denying one side of her heritage and “passing” as white with her mother. Senna herself is a biracial child, and her novel has a very autobiographical feel to it. Read it along with James McBride’s autobiography, The Color of Water, which is a memoir about his white mother. Good stuff…
The Facts Speak for Themselves by Brock Cole
This book is the definition of the word “raw”. It’s so unflinching and plainspoken that the facts of the story are all that’s need to speak volumes, and at times, scream. Linda is a thirteen year old that has been taken out of her incompetent mother’s care after one of the men her mother has been involved with kills another–over Linda. But that’s just the beginning of the facts that Linda has to tell. Linda’s been dragging around the consequences of her mother’s actions for years, including taking care of her two younger brothers and one of her mother’s many lovers, an old senile man that her mom just ups and leaves with her for weeks, alone. Linda accepts these facts with the resigned air of a person who has been an adult for a long, long time. After reading this book once, I knew I would never forget it. Sweet Valley High may come and go, but The Facts will always remain the same–powerful.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
I love this book on many levels–first of all, it’s hilarious. The main guy in this story, Rob, is a total slacker who owns and obsesses over a record store in England. His day-to-day dealings with customers and his dorky employees will have you laughing so loud, your stomach will hurt. Secondly, it’s a love story–Rob is stressing about commitment, so he dumps his long-time girlfriend, and in typical guy-fashion, immediately gets jealous when she starts dating someone else. And lastly, it’s just a great slice of Gen-X slacker-ism. Rob is obsessed with music, bands and making mix tapes, forget paying bills and acting like a grown-up (I love Rob so much because he TOTALLY reminds me of how my best friend Rick used to act in college). After I read it the first time I went right out and recommended it to as many friends as possible. Read it. You’ll love it. I promise. And don’t miss the movie version, starring John Cusak and the pitch perfect Jack Black.
The Dark Light by Mette Newth
I included this title because I thought about this book for days after reading it and I think the plot is completely different from almost anything that I’ve ever read. Tora is a thirteen year old girl from a close-knit family in 19th century Norway who is struck down by leprosy and forced to move into a leper colony. While there, she meets Mistress Dybendal, a mysterious rich woman who makes life hell for everyone else but learns to love Tora and teaches her how to read. The irony here is that as Tora weakens and her body gets sicker, her mind travels by books to places far beyond the walls of the hospital and even the little life that she knew before. Just a beatiful book, and even though it’s sad (leprosy is terminal, you know) the overall feeling of the story is hopeful and forgiving. I hope I don’t sound melodramatic when I say it changed me a little. Maybe you’ll come away changed a little too.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Stanley Yelnats (yes, his last name is his first name spelled backwards) is incarcerated at a juvenile detention center called Camp Green Lake on false charges of robbery–he is accused of stealing the sneakers of a famous athlete. Never mind that the sneakers fell out of the sky and into his innocent arms–right or wrong, Stanley is in deep. Like five feet deep. At Camp Green Lake (where there is no lake) all the prisoners have to dig a big hole each day–the warden says it will make them better boys. But once Stanley finds out that the warden is really looking for something, and the something has something to do with the famous outlaw Kissing Kate Barlow and Stanley’s “no good dirty rotten pig stealing great great grandfather”, well, Stanley starts to question whether he the master or slave of his family’s bad-luck fate. The plot is WAY too complicated and twisted to go into in this short space, but let me assure you, this book is totally cool and quirky an every little thing falls neatly into place at the end, like a huge mental jigsaw puzzle. This book also won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and well deserved! So, go out! Read this book! Report back to me!
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
Last, but not least, I must put in a plug for my old favorite, the girl who lives on the coast with the most, Weetzie Bat. If you’re at all familiar with my site, you’ll find that Block’s books pop up on at least three of my lists. I won’t go on and on here. Check out my reviews of Weetzie Bat on the Best Riot Grrls Reads list, and if you like what you see there, look for Baby Be-Bop on the Closet Club list and Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys on the Deadheads and Mosh Pits list. I love Francesca Lia Block. I love Weetzie. And if you read Weetzie Bat, you’ll love her too.