a list for friday—some of my very favorite books

Because I’m a writer, I’m sometimes asked about my favorite books, which is a bit like asking an alcoholic his favorite drink. (When I’ve run out of better options, I’ve been known to read textbooks for subjects I’m not studying.)

But we’re barreling toward the misery that is winter, the best time to escape reality with a perfect story. So here’s an attempt to list some of my favorite books of all time.*

*Yes, I’m aware there are many literary achievements and modern classics not included here. As a previous English major, I’ve read most of them, and many of those “great books” really are great. But these are the ones I want to read a second, or seventh, time.

Gone with the Wind — I know, the movie is about sixteen hours long and there’s that one actress playing a maid whose voice could curl wallpaper and Clark Gable looks like your unemployed uncle. But the book was an epic when that meant something.

A Prayer for Owen Meany — “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice–not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God.” It’s the perfect first line, and it gets better from there.

The Bell Jar — My professors would clobber me, but I like this autobiographical novel even better than her poetry.

The Once and Future King — If you have any affection for the Arthurian myth, this classic by T.H. White is the best telling of the story.

A Walk in the Woods — This just might be my very favorite book ever. Don’t read it in public because at some point you will take a drink of coffee and laugh at the same time and snort the caffeine into your sinuses.

Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs (and most of Barry’s early stuff) — Ditto. “The Candy Man, performed by Sammy Davis, Jr. If this song does not make you root for nuclear winter, then you are not human.”

Nobody’s Fool — One of the best by Richard Russo, and that’s saying a lot.

The Time Traveler’s Wife — After I finished this book, I sat quietly for several minutes, then emailed the author to say thank you. I had never done that before and I’ve never done it since.

Little House on the Prairie series — If you don’t like this series (the books, forget the overacted TV show) then I’m afraid we can’t be friends.

Conspiracy of Fools — My favorite type of book is nonfiction that reads like fiction, usually investigative journalism. This complete, and completely brilliant, narrative of the Enron collapse is scarier than a lot of “suspense” novels. (Honorable mention: All the President’s Men)

A Farewell to Arms — Hemingway haters, it’s beautiful.

The Chronicles of Narnia — Of course. Do you think Lewis knew he was writing brilliance, or was it just another day at the office?

The Firm — I know, this isn’t high art but it’s the only book I really “couldn’t put down.” At one point I hid it behind my AP US History textbook during class.

The Westing Game — Okay, tied with Woods. I revisit this every year or two but can’t keep a copy on my shelves because I’m always foisting it off on other people and telling them they have to read it.

A Woman of Independent Means — An epistolary novel, which is a fancy way of saying a novel told through letters—funny, revealing, poignant letters about a truly independent woman and her extraordinary life.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler — Yes, there are several books on this list originally written for middle schoolers. Lots of people can entertain adults, but only the best writers can delight children.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — If you read this book and are not absolutely charmed, I will send you the $10.20 it costs on Amazon. I’m for serious.

Your turn—what books should I stockpile for winter?