I had meant to post this closer to International Literacy Day, on September 8th, but things got away from me. This past week was Banned Books Week and a few of these have been banned before.

This was not an easy list to write and there are way more books than these that have stuck with me over the years. These are just some of the first ones that jumped out while looking through my bookshelf.

Here’s my list of books that have stuck with me and why, in no particular order.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee.

I know a lot of people would avoid this just because it is forced on kids in schools and because it has so much hype around it. But, seriously, this is a really great book. I was not that interested in reading it myself, but somewhere along the way I ended up with a battered, marked up, old copy. I finally got around to reading it back in 2005 or so. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in the south, but I can really identify with so much of it. The characters in this are fantastic. Boo Radley and Atticus Finch are the perfect heroes. This book is a great tale of compassion and of learning to judge less by a person’s appearance than by their actions.  I have now read it multiple times and plan to always have a copy on my shelves.

 

I Know This Much Is True, Wally Lamb.

I read this book during my first semester of college in 2006. I was 19 and my classes were two hours apart. I would curl up in my car and read between classes. This book was one that sucked me in. I could not put it down. I have read Wally Lamb’s other books and this one is the best, in my opinion. I know I must have looked crazy to people who walked past my car- scrunched up in a Suzuki Sidekick bench seat, tears rolling down my face, clutching a book. I don’t care. It was worth it. If you have family issues (who doesn’t?), then you can find something in this story to identify with. It’s almost 900 pages long, but I read it in less than a week. If you’ve ever felt responsible for the actions of someone else, or sought forgiveness, you’ll find something in this that tugs at you.

 

Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer.

This book was my introduction to Jon Krakauer. I have now read all of his books. “Read” may not be the proper way to describe it, actually. I devoured his books. I don’t know what it is, but Krakauer has a way of making me spellbound. I picked this up thinking that I would take it on a trip to Greece. I read over two hundred pages within a few hours. This book didn’t make it out of the country because I had read it so fast. The events recounted are horrific and tragic, yet fascinating. A part of what drew me to this was the physical and mental strength a person must have to undertake a challenge like climbing Mt. Everest. Those are people I can admire and want to learn about. Krakauer writes about people who fight for what they believe. It may not be pretty, and it may not end well, but these people were brave. I was so drawn into this true life story that I was recounting parts of it to family members to the point that I know I must have annoyed them. Krakauer writes with intelligence, grace, and honesty. He doesn’t show judgement towards the people he writes about. He just tells their stories. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

 

Jane EyreCharlotte Bronte.

When I was a kid, I obsessed over Pride and Prejudice so much that I would read it over and over. I would read it aloud because I loved the writing and the way it sounded so much. I didn’t think I would ever find a book that I loved as well or better.* Then, in my adult years, I warily picked up an old copy of Jane Eyre. And, uh, OH MY GOD. I adore this book. I couldn’t make myself put it down. I stayed up late into the night, glued to the pages. It’s endearing and suspenseful. Jane is an admirable character. She stuck to her principles no matter what. That’s a hard thing for anyone to do, but in that era, a woman like Jane is amazing. Mr. Rochester is an intriguing leading man. I cannot say enough good things about this book.

*(No worries, my Pride and Prejudice obsession still exists- I have at least four copies of the book in various places. I used to keep a paperback of it in my car in case I was out somewhere and needed something to read.)

 

 

ArchangelSharon Shinn.

The first time I read this, I was in middle school and I thought it was just wonderfully romantic. I bought it because I had fallen in love with the cover. That’s how I picked my books when I was a kid- by the cover- and I can’t say it really did me any wrong. That’s how I discovered and fell into a passionate affair with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. (The Fifth Elephant cover had me at “oh- hello“.) Archangel takes place inside a fascinating fantasy world. I have read it so many times that I’ve lost count. I am not a fan of religious themes in general, but this book isn’t preachy. It allows you to have your own belief on the subject and submerses you into its fictional world very well.

 

The Passion of ArtemisiaSusan Vreeland.

I am drawn to tales of strong women. I was 12 or 13 when I read this for the first time. It left a huge impression on me. As an aspiring artist, writer, and a girl wondering about her place in the world, Artemisia captivated me. She was surrounded by people who constantly pushed her down and tried to make her small. She followed her passion anyway. On seeing Caravaggio’s Judith:  ”She was completely passive while she was sawing through a man’s neck. Caravaggio gave all the feeling to the man. Apparently, he couldn’t imagine a woman to have a single thought. I wanted to paint her thoughts, if such a thing were possible — determination and concentration and belief in the absolute necessity of the act.” This book was one of my first experiences in thinking about the emotions inside a painting. It helped me to learn to really look at art. It also showed me an example of how a well-written piece of fiction can express beauty, love, hatred, terror, and betrayal.

 

Selected Poems and Letters of Emily Dickinsonedited by Robert N. Linscott.

Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost pretty much got me through middle school and high school. I identified more with Emily, though. This particular addition of her work I used to carry around with me. I highlighted my favorite passages, most of which have faded now. She made me feel like I wasn’t alone. If there was something bothering me, I could usually find a poem in this book that addressed it. The poem most likely wouldn’t solve the problem, but I always felt better knowing that someone else had felt the same. Emily writes beautifully and with passion. Even now, I can open this book and find comfort within. Here’s some words that are coated in faded yellow highlighter, that the younger and older versions of me are deeply drawn to:

“There is no frigate like a book

   To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page

    Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take

    Without oppress of toll;

How frugal is the chariot 

    That bears a human soul!”

 

 

HauntedChuck Palahniuk.

I can’t say this one is here for great reasons. But if you ask me what books have stuck with me this tends to be the first one I think of. Appropriately titled, this book will certainly haunt you. This is one of the most f*cked up things I have ever read. And I’ve read most of Palahniuk’s work, including Rant (not to give too much away- but Rant has a lot of incestuous rape). There is a horrifying story in here that even now, years after reading it, I can recall vividly and with a shudder. This damned cover glows in the dark. When I read this, I reached a point where I couldn’t leave the book on my nightstand as I usually would. I mean, who wants to wake up, groggy and disoriented, to that screaming face glowing at them? Especially after putting the words inside this book in your head. I am warning you- you can’t unread this.

 

The Kite RunnerKhaled Hosseini.

I came across this book before it exploded everywhere, before all the hype, before the movie. It was just a book, on a shelf, in a store, asking me to read it. This book is heartbreaking and, at times, physically painful to read. It is the ruin of innocence and a tale of redemption. Like any good book, it took me to a world that I will never truly experience in my life. It’s the story of a boy who made hard choices and now, as a man, is trying to reconcile who he is with what he has done. Hosseini is a great writer and this book led me to read some of his other books. A Thousand Splendid Suns is an absolute favorite of mine. He knows how to write strong women, and strong characters in general. He knows that people are flawed and never perfect. We make decisions and have to live with the consequences. That’s what Hosseini explores in his writing and he does a great job of it.

 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly CloseJonathan Safran Foer.

I found this book in my college bookstore years ago, when it first came out. I had not read Everything Is Illuminated yet (which is a good thing because I didn’t like that book). Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has amazing lines in it that take your breath away, bore into you, become part of who you are. It makes you think about… well, everything. It will make you sad and then the next page will make you laugh out loud. You would think that a book about a boy who lost his father on 9/11 would be depressing, but I actually found it uplifting. Oskar is a kid that I would like to meet and have a chat with. Definitely worth reading multiple times.