Choosing my 5 favorite books has proven more difficult than I could have imagined. I’ve toyed with writing this for days, starting and stopping over and over as more books from my past made their way from the recesses of my mind, but I’ve settled on the following, as they are the ones I keep coming back to, the ones that have had the greatest impact, the ones I still haul around in boxes everywhere I go.
I realized She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb needed to be first on my list, because I have literally bought this book at least 20 times. When I find it at a used book store or garage sale, I can’t seem to let it sit there, alone on a shelf. I’m urged to buy it, cherish it for a moment, then pass it on for someone else to enjoy. Whether it’s a friend, a family member, co-worker or client, I’ve given so many copies of this book away, I should probably by stock in the publishing company.
I read She’s Come Undone around the age of 16, and was in love and devastated at the same time. Dolores, the protagonist, is perhaps the first character I encountered who didn’t have a happily ever after ending. Life throws shit at her, time and time again, just like it does to you and me. She’s got bad coping skills and she’s not always likable. Because she’s real, as is her story. What she comes to understand, is it is moments of happiness and contentment which make life worthwhile and make the bad times endurable.
At the end, you’re not wishing you were in her shoes or longing for something glorious to happen. Instead, it makes you reflect on your own blessings and realize they are enough for now, that you should stop and enjoy the pleasant moments happening before they are gone.
Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything had to be second, not necessarily because of its profound impact, but simply because of the nature of the book. Bryson takes heavy scientific information and data and presents it in not only readable text, but makes it enjoyable and humorous as well.
From the big bang theory and the extinction of the dinosaurs to natural disasters and climate change, he presents things a layman would struggle to learn and does so succinctly. Since reading this, I have become a huge fan of Bryson’s and his ability to take just about any subject and make it interesting and easy.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, is one of my favorites if only because it makes me laugh over and over again, no matter how many times I read it. Adams’ mastery of language is phenomenal and he uses it to his advantage throughout the book, as well as the rest of the series. The ideas and concepts are original and so off the wall, they become hard to forget. These include such things as dolphins waving good-bye, saying “thanks for all the fish,” the president of the galaxy, whose only job is to distract the public from who’s really in change and what they’re doing and the infinite improbability drive, which at one point causes a sperm whale to form out of nothing and plummet to its death.
Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters is not a great work of literature or even that spectacular of a story, but the first time I read it I was 19, and for whatever reason, it impacted me. I remember having a broken heart after reading it, aching from the characters’ journeys, the betrayal of friendship and love, the irony of the life and where we end up.
It made me look at how people often do things without thought to how they’ll impact others. I had to re-examine myself, my own self-indulgent behaviors and bad choices. I questioned things I’d done and who I’d hurt, sometimes very badly, simply because of my own lack of regard. It made me want to change, to become better, to not walk down the path of recklessness any longer.
Lastly, The Dark Tower by Stephen King had to find its way to my top 5. With a merging of genres, King creates a world that is part magic, part western, and a protagonist, not quite a hero/not quite a villain, one you can’t help but hope for even when you want to hate him. And then there’s the constant stream of the unexpected: the multi-personalities of Odetta, the parallel universes atop one another, the death from laughter, the return to the tower, the appearance of other characters from other novels, King’s own role in the story.
As far as the craft of writing, this is a masterpiece. Between plot twists and turns, character growth and regression, alternate realities and stories within the story, it becomes a mangled piece of art that is by far, one of the best things I’ve ever read.
Although there are so many other books I could have added to this list, I’m satisfied with my 5. I hope I’ve done them justice in my praise, and I look forward to reading more that will challenge them for their positions as my favorite.