In my office I keep a shelf on which all the literature I love the most congregates. Below, you will see my Top Twelve, in no particular order. Over the course of the next year, I’ll create a page for each book, explaining why I think each is worth reading, . . . and re-reading.
1. Hamlet. William Shakespeare. Yes, I re-read Hamlet. For pleasure. This play has become so familiar to us that we simply underestimate the genius. The layered characters, the rich imagery, and in Act 4, Shakespeare flips his script! Unbelievable.
2. The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Muriel Barbery. “. . . I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is all about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. . . . something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that’s it, an always within never” (325).
3. The Fault in Our Stars. John Green. Read my anti-censorship rant. If you or someone you love has cancer, you must read this book. “You gave me a forever within the numbered days.”
4. Emma. Jane Austen. Everybody loves Elizabeth Bennet, so Pride and Prejudice gets all the love, but this great novel of misinterpretations and misunderstandings is the better crafted book. Austen once wrote of the novel that she had created a “heroine whom no one but myself will much like,” but I think you will find Emma irresistible.
5. Truman. David McCollough. This is how to make a thousand pages of history riveting.
6. The Destiny of the Republic. Candice Millard. The subtitle reads: “A tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President.” A delightful mix of James Garfield, Charles Guiteau, Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph Lister, and Chester Arthur (. . . and Julia Sand!). This is history for people who don’t think they like history.
7. The Thirteenth Tale. Diane Setterfield. A spellbinding Gothic tale of truth, identity, and the power of words. Who is Vida Winter? “All children mythologize their birth . . . . ”
8. Nobody’s Fool. Richard Russo. Russo’s style requires patience, but this novel is worth it. A book filled with flawed, quirky, gimpy characters who somehow forgive each other . . . and themselves.
9. The Shadow of the Wind. Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Another gorgeous and riveting Gothic tale. Who was the mysterious Julian Corax? And why is somebody destroying all his books? “Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.”
10. Never Let Me Go. Kazuo Ishiguro. This book is even better than The Remains of the Day, and that’s saying something. If you can, buy the trade copy that features a close-up of a mannequin-like face on the cover. Look into the eyes. Are these truly the windows into . . . a soul?
11. A Walk in the Woods. Bill Bryson. Plenty of history about the creation of the Appalachian Trail, along with Bryson’s personal narrative of his attempt to walk some of it. In turns enjoyably educational and flat-out hilarious. If you are a camper, you will never look at a Snickers bar the same way again.
12. Mrs. Rumphius. Barbara Cooney. One of the most wonderful children’s books ever written. Three things you must do: go to far away places, live by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful.