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Of all the books I’ve read, there are a few that stand alone at the top of an imaginary mountain in my mind. These books took me on a journey, made me cry or laugh or curse, and they taught me something that, no matter how long it’s been since I read them, I cannot forget. For this list, I don’t offer you a huge summary of the books. I simply want to give you the title, a quote from it that I feel is indicative of the overall vibe of the book, and what the book taught me, in one word.
What makes me qualified to offer this list to you? First, I am a reader. And I own it. At last count on Goodreads (a social media site for book lovers that I joined in March 2012), I have read 493 books. This is only inclusive of the books I’ve read or remembered that I read since I joined the site in 2012. Before that, I was a voracious reader as a child and teen. I am sure the actual number is closer to twice that, but I refuse to add a book as “read” unless I am certain I read it.
Not only am I an avid reader, I have, in the past few years especially, made an effort to diversify my reading. I try to balance my reading among fiction (and its many varieties including classics, science fiction, young adult fiction, children’s, realistic fiction, urban fiction, etc.); poetry; nonfiction (biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, essay collections, self-help, and special topics); and the more recently popular genres of graphic novels and manga. My top ten list reflects mainly classics, science fiction, poetry and young adult fiction, perhaps because these genres are the ones that most change the world by changing society, its opinions and mindsets.
Finally, in college, I majored in English, taking such courses as the “History of the Novel” which included reading the longest novel in the English language (Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, if you’re interested) and perhaps the most debaucherous (Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, if you’re interested). After a few years in journalism, I made the leap into teaching. I am now a high school English teacher of British Literature, which has led me to a much wider understanding of the fundamental classic texts of our English language and our history – texts such as Beowulf (which I will go to bat for any day); Shakespeare’s beautiful sonnets and inspired plays; and the young Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Throughout all of my studies and readings, I find that certain texts endure. Certain texts touch a large swath of humanity and are hard-pressed to be forgotten. Some of the texts on this top ten list are already included in conversations of canon. Some are a bit newer, a bit fresher, a bit more intrepid on the literary scene. But I have faith in them, because they put faith in me. Each of these books added to my faith in humanity and in our shared stories. The human experience, nay, the human heart, beats in the same way for each of us. Our stories may be different, but our spirits are the same. We feel the same emotions – hope, loss, sacrifice, and mind-boggling awe; we fear the same events – being forgotten, being pressed down by powers outside of our control; and we desire the same needs – for redemption, adventure, realization of our true identities, and to be understood by others. These things aren’t only found in books, but they are chiefly found in books. And that is just one reason reading must not be lost on us.
Without further ado, I present to you my top ten favorite books of all time. Please let me know your top ten, as well as what you think of my list. I am always willing to listen to other readers!
Top Ten Favorite Books of All Time
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
For you, a thousand times over.
One-word lesson: Redemption
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.
One-word lesson: Mind-boggling-awe (I know I cheated there.)
11/22/63 by Stephen King
“Yeah, but what if you went back and killed your own grandfather?”
He stared at me, baffled. “Why the f*** would you do that?”
One-word lesson: Hope
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.’
‘Where we going, man?’
‘I don’t know but we gotta go.”
One-word lesson: Adventure
Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg
Out of your many faces
Flash memories to me
Now at the day end
Away from the sidewalks
Where your shoe soles traveled
And your voices rose and blent
To form the city’s afternoon roar
Hindering an old silence.
One-word lesson: Memory
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.
One-word lesson: Identity
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.
One-word lesson: Understanding
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about.
One-word lesson: Loss
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.
One-word lesson: Sacrifice
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
We are the choices we make.
One-word lesson: Power
Molly A. Tessnear is a high school English teacher at Hunter Huss High School, as well as a published poet and writer. Find her on Twitter @MollyATessnear where she tweets about books, teaching, family and zombies. To subscribe to this blog, scroll down on your phone or go to the right side of this page.