The Best of Books

My favorite books
Photo courtesy Studio 934 on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/orlandolane/

I love books. I always have. As a child I begged my mom to teach me to read. She said they would in kindergarten. When that didn’t happen (my kindergarten taught us math, the alphabet and social skills) I swore I’d never step foot in a school and taught myself to read that summer. Greek myths quickly became my favorite.

Since then I’ve read thousands of books. I once asked my stepdad if there was a job where all I would have to do was read. He said that a file clerk would be a good job (note, never ask career advice from an adult who can’t keep a steady job).

I’m an omnivorous reader. I love fantasy, science fiction, westerns, nonfiction. I spend so much time looking for new ideas that I have the headings of the Dewey Decimal System memorized.

I thought I’d just share with you some of my favorites here:

My favorite book of all time: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This isn’t a book about Jean Valjean. You don’t even meet him until page 60. It’s a book about society. If you remember that, the unabridged novel makes sense. It’s an incredible tale, full of satire, wit, and an incredible theme about the fight between justice and mercy. This is one of three stories that have made me cry. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Best Title: The Jewish-Japanese Sex & Cook Book and How to Raise Wolves by Jack Douglas. I’ve never actually read this book. But I want to. Amazon lists it for $300. See what a great title can do? I have read another book by Douglas, My Brother Was an Only Child. I was hilarious. I found it at a library book sale, but I made the mistake of loaning it to a friend and never saw it again.

Best Nonfiction Book: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales. This is a fascinating book. Gonzales examines the behaviors and attitudes of fighter pilots, people lost at sea, people lost in the woods, and other situations to find out the psychological characteristics that set apart those who make it through situations from those who don’t.

Best Opening Line: from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: “It was a pleasure to burn.” It’s short, concise, and draws the reader in. What is burning? Why is it being burned? Why is the main character burning something enough that he has dissected the process enough to decide it was pleasurable?

Best Closing Line: from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” I love this line because Dickens, in one sentence, sums up the nobility of Sydney Carton’s death, and its almost redemptive quality in relation to the rest of his life.

Best First-Person Voice: World War Z by Max Brooks. If you have seen the movie, I’m sorry. The only thing this book has in common with the movie is the name. This is a smart, satirical book. It’s presented as a collection of oral histories of survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Everything is in first person, and every voice is unique. It’s great. I’m not a fan of zombie novels, but I’m a great fan of this novel.

My Favorite Author: Patrick McManus. He’s a humor columnist for a fishing and hunting magazine, but he’s absolutely hilarious. I once sat at the kitchen at 10 p.m. reading his account of raising chickens in the attic and the trouble it caused with the family priest. I laughed so hard I woke my wife up. After I read it to her to explain my laughter, she busted up too. I double dare you to read “My First Deer and Welcome to It” with a straight face.

Best Character: Temeraire from His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik. He’s a dragon drafted by the British to fight against Napoleon. He also goes on a personal crusade to obtain equal rights in British society for dragons. He’s smart and naive, and terribly loyal to his captain. I love this dragon.

Most Noble Character: Uncle Tom from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I know the term Uncle Tom has become a pejorative term in the black community. It means someone who kowtows to white people, but Uncle Tom was a man of deep faith, who stuck to his faith in God in the face of deprivation, mockery, persecution, and ultimately, martyrdom. His death made me cry.

Most Inspiring Book: The Book of Mormon. I read this book as a teenager and it has changed my life. It’s a record of God’s dealings with those who lived on the American continent anciently. It is another testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Most Inspiring Book That Isn’t Scripture: Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I read this in high school, and it spoke to my INFP, Granola soul. Thoreau loves nature, and takes a slightly more jaundiced view of society. I love his thoughts on simplicity, possessions, society, and civil disobedience (his thoughts on this last topic gave Gandhi and Martin Luther King the core philosophy behind their protests). My poor wife has had to endure me saying things like, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation,” and I have threatened to wear a T-shirt that says, “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion” the next time she arranges for us to go to a timeshare presentation.

Best Example of Showing Not Telling: Ernie Pyle’s description of a walk along Normandy Beach in Brave Men. He missed the actual battle, being stuck far back in the line of ships, but he makes the reader know the terrible price we paid to land in France and the ultimate victory of that battle by examining the debris left on the beach. “There was another and more human litter. It extended in a thin little line, just like a high-water mark, for miles along the beach. This was the strewn personal gear, gear that would never be needed again by those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe.”

That’s only a few of my favorites. Share some of yours in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “The Best of Books

  1. Jessica Payne

    I’m a John Green junky. I loved The Fault in Our Stars, and Paper Towns, but I think my favorite line comes from Looking for Alaska, “We need never be hopeless because we can never be irreperably broken.”

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  2. My all time favorite book is Jane Eyre. We didn’t have to read it in high school but I thought I should read it while in college and I loved it! I love Jane and how she is true to herself no matter the circumstance.
    I also really enjoyed This Is My Words and how the author builds the setting up where I felt I was in the world she built.

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  3. Jane Eyre is top pick. I remember reading it in 7th grade. I felt like such a grownup because I was able to read and enjoy a book that was really rather difficult. It got me hooked on books like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Little Women and Dracula.

    Another favorite is the Harry Potter series. This is likely the major nerd in me coming out, but I think the writing is fascinating. I enjoy seeing how J.K. Rowling painstakingly created an entirely new world and managed to keep consistency with the smallest details. Plus, it’s really fun to read. That series has one of the most horrid fictional characters ever (Umbridge). The fact that Rowling was able to make me hate someone, who doesn’t exist, so thoroughly earns extra points from me.

    The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch made me cry. A lot. It’s one of the few books that I cried most of the way through but still felt uplifted at the end. It’s beautiful. honest and incredibly heartbreaking. I also really enjoyed A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of my Husband Daniel Pearl. I read this in a journalism class and it horrified me. But it is really well written and it changed my perspective on journalism and the career as a whole.

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