My All Time Favorites

I rank all my books and keep a list, yes it’s true.  I am also told I’m a hard grader but I like to think of it as having high expectations.  As proof, I have read 296 books and only 17 of them have earned my top rating of a 5.  So here they are, in alphabetical order, along with the briefest of reasons as to why.

1.  A Personal History by Katharine Graham.  She overcame an affair and the suicide of her husband and for 2 decades served as the publisher of the Washington Post.  She’s one tough cookie:  my kind of lady.

2.  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.  This is a coming of age story about John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany.  I love reading Irving, it’s like having a long talk with my best friend.  I never want his books to end. 

3.  Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.  A novel about an opera singer who is captured while performing at a birthday party.  She and the other party guests are held hostage.  This is a story about how bonds of friendship and love can be formed even under the most unusual of situations.  I couldn’t put it down.

4.  Endurance by Alfred Lansing.  Based on the true story of Ernest Shackelton’s Antarctic exploration to the South Pole in 1914.  It’s a story about survival and leadership.  All of the men came back alive.  I think about this book almost every week and recommend it all the time and to the best of my knowledge, no one I know has ever read it.  Challenge!

5.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.  A novel narrated by a 9 year old whose dad was killed in the 9/11/01 attacks.  It was one of the most unusual books I have ever read:  it had photos, drawings and a mystery.  Another book that stays with you for a long, long time.

6.  Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.  This is about the 1996 Mount Everest exploration that ended with 8 men being killed.  My legacy book club read this one and it was by far the best discussion we ever had.  So interesting!  We all wanted to try to climb Mount Everest after that but none of has tried it….yet!

7.  The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert.  This is about Eustace Conway who is a woodsy man who pretty much lives by himself in the woods.  It is NOT normally my type of book but Gilbert tells a great story and makes you fall in love with him.  I am not a fan of her later book “Eat Pray Love” but this one was a page turner.

8.  The Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving.  It’s by John Irving.  Do I need to say more?

9.  Little Bee by Chris Cleeve.  A great story about two women who are joined together by an unlikely event.  Alternates back and forth between them as narrators.

10.  Lolita by Vladimar Nabokav.  Okay so he was a pedofile, yes, but this is a great book and one of the most controverisal novels of the 20th century.  Read it.

11.  Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  The best love story I have ever read.  It poses the question:  Is the only true love unrequitted love?

12.  Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.  My pick for the best “first book club” book.  Historical fiction about Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress with a tragic ending.  It poses great questions about love and loyalty.

13.  Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck.  A 40 year old Chinese woman decides for her birthday she will give her husband a concubine.  Probably my favorite book of all time. 

14.  Suite Francais by Irene Nemevosky.  Irene died at the age of 39 during WWII at Auschwitz.  This book was written around the time of her death and was kept in a suitcase for 50 years.  Her daughter, Denise, couldn’t bring herself to read what she thought was her mother’s personal journal.   She found it, published it and it became a best seller.

15.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Writtten in 1960 about racism this is the only book Harper Lee ever published.  A classic story and that everyone should read at least once.

16. Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks.  Historical fiction set in 1666 in a town facing the bubonic plague.  I love historical fiction, and this was a page turner for me.

17  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  The story of Louis Zamparini who survived 47 days on a raft only to land on enemy ground in Japan.  Another story of survival and overcoming obstacles.   

So what great books have I missed? 



11 Responses to My All Time Favorites

  1. Jen glaeser says:

    Great list, You may have read these and they didn’t make your list, but i would add…
    Midnight’s Children, S. Rushdie
    Soldier of a great war, M Halperin
    Confederacy of dunces, J Kennedy
    Cutting for stone, A. Verghese

  2. lauren damman says:

    1000 white women 😉

  3. Jen, those are some pretty good books too! I have read “Confederency of Dunces” and “Cutting for Stone” and like them both. I like Rushdie so I will read that one too. Lauren, I liked 1,000 white women a lot. We haven’t read that one for book club have we? That would be a good pick! Thanks for weighing in, ladies!

  4. nitha says:

    Impressive list.. got a few more books to read
    I would like to add

    Disgrace by Coetzee (spelling might be wrong),

    Ladies coupe by Anita Nair, my all time favourite…. In India we used to have special coupe that can be reserved before the journey in train for women.. so four women and a ticket less woman travels together each telling her story A must read.

    The prophet by Jibran

    Orlando By Virginia Woolf

    any novel by Dostoyvesky 🙂 🙂

    Memoirs of a Geisha

    The god of small things by Arundhathi Roy (I love the last page of the novel)

    The inheritance of Loss Kiran desai (a short lyrical work, daughter is as good a writer as mother, anita Deshai)
    yes I absolutely love Indian English writing 🙂 🙂 🙂

  5. Peggy says:

    Hi Anne. Sorry to hear about your daughter’s injury! What a disappointment. I was just looking at your favorites list and will definitely put a bunch of these in my QUE! A couple of my favorites that aren’t on your list: The Poisonwood Bible and The Book Thief. I also very much enjoyed The Time-Traveler’s Wife. I liked Tinkers but didn’t love it. I am reading Unbroken right now. We never made it to a Twins game. This summer let’s make it happen!

    • Hi Peggy! I liked both the Poisonwood Bible AND the Book Thief very much as well! Good picks! And Tinkers, I just didn’t get it. Let’s make sure we bring Molly along and hit a Twins game this summer. We need a better season for the boys this year.

  6. Connie Miller says:

    Hi Anne,
    I met you over a year ago on a flight from Miami to Mpls when we were both coming back from vacation. I follow your blog and have read many of the books you have written about. I have also followed Jack’s story and just come across an article about a local boy whose situation is very similar, that I would like to mail to you. I found it inspiring and I think you will too. My e-mail address is Please send me a mailing address for you and I will drop it in the mail.
    Your airplane friend,
    Connie Miller
    La Crosse, WI

  7. Oooh, I love your list, partly because there are some that I haven’t read that seem like I would really enjoy them.

    Some of my favourites:

    The Industry of Souls by Martin Booth
    Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
    The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
    All the Pretty Horses Cormac McCarthy

    Non Fiction
    Wrestling With the Angel by Michael King
    The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund De Waal

  8. Mary says:

    Was wondering if you think Unbroken is an appropriate book for 14 or 15 year old to read?

    • Hi Mary, I was reflecting back on the book before responding to your question. It is quite long and grim and so it would make for a difficult read for your “average” 14 or 15 year old. But if that teenager is interested in the book my guess is that this is an intelligent and curious young adult. The most difficult content is the time in the POW camps and the inhumane way Louis was treated. If the young adult can take that type of thing, then I would say go ahead and have them read it. I hope that helps!

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