As the other Lisa said to start her list – there are books and then there are BOOKS. Books that bring you to places, and or eras, you will never visit on your own, books that change the way you view the world and books that were placed in your hands at the time in your life when you needed that exact book the most.
We thought it might help you to determine which of our recommendation to heed or ignore if you knew a bit about us. And what better way to know us than to know what books have shaped us/meant a lot at various points of our lives.
So while it is hard to winnow, here are some books that have been important to me (and a brief reason why) along the way. I find it interesting how many of my books and Lisa’s books overlap or are just a shade different (e.g. we pick different books by the same author).
So my picks, listed in a somewhat chronological order of their entry into my life:
- The Chronicles of Narnia (all of them) by C.S. Lewis – I read and re-read this series throughout elementary school and loved it each time. Truly contributed to my love of all things British.
- The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg (1967) – My favorite book from elementary school.
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett – The first book to show me the beauty of England and the possibilities of special places and unlikely friendships.
- Mystery of the Green Cat by Phyllis Whitney – Read again and again as a child. Made San Francisco familiar to me before I ever moved there.
- Trixie Belden Series by Julie Campbell – Read and Re-read as an seven, eight, and nine year old. I could not even remotely relate to the perfect Nancy Drew, but Trixie’s flaws and obnoxiously curly hair made me feel right at home.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – The amazing Mrs. McPherson (yes teachers, you are remembered years later) introduced my eighth grade English class to this classic, which resonated so well as a 12 year old and continues to awe me today.
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck – Given to me by my father in High School. I think I learned all the nuances of good and evil from this book.
- Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver – About the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my grandparents were raised and where I loved to visit as a kid. Of course, this book is based upon a real life murder, but that aspect only made me want to be a lawyer someday.
- The Wasteland by TS Eliot – My Orville Redenbacher look-alike Freshman English professor showed me the joys and insight of great literature with this.
- Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – Just good books.
- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner – Read while living in California and near Wallace Stegner territory. Taught me how beautiful language can be and how a story of an ordinary life can be so meaningful.
- Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough – As an asthmatic, I have been fascinated by Theodore Roosevelt ever since a caring teacher told me he also had asthma. McCullough’s portrait concentrates on how the man who became President was formed. I loved that angle.
- And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts – Read while working for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in the late 1980s.
- Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing – Read while backpacking Europe. My first glimpse at this writer and the questions life offers as you become an adult.
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Read while suffering from my first broken heart. It helped somehow.
- My Antonia by Willa Cather – Read while living in Seattle and a bit homesick for my grandma’s MidWest.
- Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough – Gorgeous, insightful, interesting and diverse essays read as I tried to decide whether leaving the West Coast for DC was the right choice. I interpreted his essay about DC as a sign.
- Truman by David McCullough – Read as I crossed the country in my car to start graduate school in DC. Helped me form a better picture of this President and how to live the best life you can.
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – Read as part of a graduate school course on multiculturalism and wow — what insight into so many things in this slim volume.
- The Tempest by Shakespeare – I was lucky, very lucky to study this with an Oxford Don and somehow the fact I had never read this particular play made it more spectacular than the others I was lucky to study with her.
- Twilight Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith – Saw and then read this play while thinking hard about racial relations myself. Amazing theater.
- Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell – Read on an amazing trip to China that I was lucky enough to take. Served as a perfect guide to Shanghai.
- Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind – Read as part of a project for a job in Cambridge, MA. This book so clearly illustrated the obstacles faced by bright students from tough neighborhoods, and has haunted me ever since.
- Harry Potter series by JK Rowling – Reminded me as an adult of the magic of stories for children and adults.
- Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan- Important audio book for me and my two sons. It combines Greek myths and real life, relatable kids – perfect.
- Counting Coup by Larry Colton – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of Montana’s Crow Indians and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream.
- Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann – Given to me by a friend, and read when I needed a reminder that books could be gorgeous and uplifting.
- The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea – Read as I waited in Bogota, Colombia to bring our second son home from his orphanage. This saga, written in gorgeous/lyrical prose, shows a history of Mexico that until this book was unknown to me.
- West with the Night (1942, 1983) by Beryl Markham- Read as a newish mom longing to travel a bit. This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century.
- Hunting and Gathering (2007) by Anna Gavalda – Introduced to me by my dear friend Lisa. Time spent with this group of Parisians is well spent. Was the first book in a long time that left me feeling happy about the world when I finished it.
- How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – Read because I saw it on a shelf in a bookstore somewhere, and loved because through laugh-out-loud and sometimes painful humor, Mr. Thurston, of Jack and Jill Politics and The Onion, speaks about serious and important aspects about race in this country and does so with intelligence and compassion and humor. And, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am appreciative of the source that started that thinking. And I think about this book often when race issues hit the news.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Sept. 11, 2007) – Many High Schoolers across the country have had to read it as part of required reading lists or projects because it tells the story of the Holocaust as narrated by Death. You should read it because it will change you, because it is well-written, because it reminds you in the heart of the worst darkness there is hope and there are good people. And ultimately, it is about the power of books and stories – that is why it makes my most meaningful list.