Well, I had in mind to do a “My Top Ten Favorite Books of the Last Five Years” list, but I’m terribly afraid that my memory will allow something great to slip through the cracks. Therefore, to do a list I’ll be happier with, I’ve decided to do something rather different. I’m sitting here in my room, where I am often found writing for “Ginger Musings,” and from my perch atop my bed, I see a bookshelf to my left of medium stature, two much larger ones to my right and the smallest at the furthest right side. It’s been a while since I’ve looked through all of them, so any attempt at a count of how many books I have off the top of my head would be arbitrary. However, what I am going to do is scan through them and pick my favorite books from that selection. Some books I’ve probably read beyond that whimsical five year limit, some I’ve read recently and some undoubtedly will not even be within this selection, as I read from the library, borrowing from others and the like too.
Also, I should note, I am someone of many tastes. I enjoy genre books, literature books, nonfiction books, political books and everything in between and not so easily classified. I do not discriminate in my list. It’s designated “my favorites” for a reason. I like what I like and if that means it’s something of pure escapism or something a literary academic would applaud; such makes no difference to me. Certainly, there’s a discussion to be had of, “Well, can you really put something like Harry Potter alongside a literary masterpiece like Moby Dick?” Even though I’d most likely answer in the affirmative, I’m not quite interested in “genre vs. literature” for the purposes of this list.
Nevertheless, I will indeed differentiate between comic book or graphic novel and the other books on my shelf. I’ll save a list for those.
With that said, I shall thus refer to my following list as, “My Top Fifteen Favorite Books in My Room.”
After rounding up a plethora of books of all types, I am a bit overwhelmed now with how to order this bad boy. I figure, about the same way I usually do, whimsically…
- The Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
- Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
- Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
- The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson
- Heaven Knows I’m Miserable by Andre Jordan
- Just How Stupid Are We? by Rick Shenkman
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
- This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
- The Vanished Man by Jeffery Deaver
- The Twelfth Card by Jeffery Deaver
#15 – On Writing by Stephen King
Oddly enough, this was the first Stephen King book I ever read. Among all of his great and acclaimed works of fiction, this was the first one I settled in on. And it’s undoubtedly had an influence one me ever since. As a would-be-great writer, this book is invaluable in imparting writing wisdom from one of the most successful writers in modern history. I normally have an aversion to writing help books, but I assure you, this one is very much worth it. Plus, interspersed with the valuable writing tips, is the life of Stephen King. As I expected, he’s very candid. He talks openly about his drug and alcohol abuse, his troubles getting published and his accident in 1999. I would highly recommend this to any fan of Stephen King, any fan of how-to write books, and any fan of memoirs.
#14 – Mankind: Have a Nice Day! A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks by Mick Foley
Yes, yes, I can hear the audible groans because this is a wrestling book by a wrestler. However, not only did he not use a ghostwriter nor a computer (he handwrote it), but it was a New York Times #1 Best Seller. That’s not indicative of quality necessarily, but it was a big deal after its 1999 release. If some aren’t familiar, Mick Foley is the wrestler known for hardcore antics in professional wrestling, which brought him fame, but also a slew of injuries like half his ear ripped off in a wrestling match in Germany or second-degree burns in “Death Matches” in Japan. This autobiography is expansive, covering his life, emergence into the wrestling business and career thereafter up until the pinnacle of his success in winning the (at the time) WWF Championship. It’s a must-read for any wrestling fan, as it’s often been cited as the greatest book by a wrestler, and really, anyone that likes autobiographies and a compelling story will get something worthwhile out of this.
#13 – The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
I’m sure many have seen the 1973 film of the same name. I have and it’s my second favorite horror film of all time. I went backwards for once and read the novel after seeing the film. If anything, surprisingly, I found the novel to be more horrifying and frightening than the movie, which I found utterly terrifying, so that’s saying something. Blatty wrote both the book, as noted, and the screenplay of the adapted film, so there are many scenes and bits of dialogue that are verbatim, but, nevertheless, there’s something far more visceral about reading it than seeing it, which seems counter-intuitive. As one of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahnuik said of the book, “Even yet, this is not why I ultimately choose the book as the better blunt of the brutality. It is something that words do no justice for; it is only felt, and I felt it so strongly that I could hardly bear it.” He’s damn right.
#12 – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955, this play by Williams stands the test of time for me. The setting of the Deep South in Mississippi on a plantation with the complex characters of Brick and Maggie (known as the “Cat”), I was immediately drawn to it. Obviously, with a play format, the dialogue has to be exquisite and Williams snaps about at a feverish pace. Brick has become one of my favorite characters in any work of fiction with his objection to the social norms of his time, yet his inability to go the full gamut and embrace his lover, Skipper.
#11 – Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright
I had this book recommended to me by a friend because even though I consider myself an atheist, I still find reading, discussing and engaging about religious topics intellectually titillating. And I’ve read scores of books on both sides of the debate and have yet to encounter one with the common sense, the easy prose, and the ability to condense complex ideas into simple understandings like N.T. Wright’s work here. Obviously, there are many points of disagreement I have with it from a theoretic theological standpoint, but that doesn’t prevent me from appreciating what he was able to achieve here: a wonderfully engrossing defense of his religious principles as Christian man.
#10 – Shutter Island by Dennis LeHane
LeHane has a prose style unlike anyone I’ve ever read; it’s so distinctly his, crackling with mystery, intrigue and uncertainty, that one can’t help but devour the pages filled with rich characters, standout dialogue, and action pieces that are some of the best I’ve read. Great film adaptation as well.
#9 – A Foreign Policy of Freedom – ‘Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship’ by Ron Paul
Perhaps no other book has influenced my political persuasion as this book did. I would say it’s accurate to classify matters of foreign policy, war and the like, as my main passion in politics and society. Therefore, I find this book to be the definitive guide to the ludicrously peculiar nature of our foreign policy, if you’re interested in the United States’ foreign policy that is.
#8 – 11/22/63 by Stephen King
And here is another Stephen King book and a recent one of his at that. As someone enamored by history, I find the 1960s in particular one of the most fascinating decades in American history. There’s just so much for one to sink their teeth in from the assassinations of JFK, his brother, Martin Luther King Jr. to the Civil Rights movement to the Vietnam War to the moon landing; there’s an abundance of fascinating material there. Thus, King’s book, dealing with the assassination of JFK, but with sci-fi elements of time travel infused with King’s distinctive style had me hooked. No doubt, as with most of his books, it’s enormous, but I had no trouble finishing it rather quickly.
#7 – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
Another play has found its way on to my list and this one is extraordinary. I still think about it from time to time because it was that potent, that gritty, and that real. In other words, those are some of my favorite ingredients in any medium. For a play that deals with the breakdown of marriage and some difficult themes, to have been published in 1962, before the ‘60s had been in full swing yet, is exemplary for “pushing the envelope.” Again, as has become a theme so far, the film adaptation is a must-see as well; Elizabeth Taylor in particular has never been greater.
#6 – Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
Haley’s generational book standing at nearly nine hundred pages is daunting indeed, but oh so worthwhile. It’s a novel filled with such rich, complex characters that feel undeniably authentic. There has been doubt cast on the historical accuracy, as well as issues of plagiarism, but even so, that aside, I found it ensconced my younger self’s attention unlike any book prior.
#5 – The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
I’ve spoken at length about this book in other musings, but I find it worth reiterating has much of an impact this book has had on me. As indicated by those other musings, I often pontificate on the themes and issues Bernhard manifests in his central character, Michael. Additionally, consider what he did. He took a character that is automatically reviled by everyone, a Nazi, and made them a sympathetic character. Bernard’s ability to do so is the work of a masterful writer and quite the tour-de-force. I’ve softened on my harshness towards the adaptation and have grown a fondness for it as well; therefore, it too gets my recommendation.
#4 – The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
There is no one book I can point out and say that it is the best of the best of the Jack Reacher series because there are seventeen books to which I own and have read all of them. There is no way I’m tasking myself with the unenviable process of narrowing it down to just one. I love this character because he’s not only an ass-kicker, which personifies the idea of “book escapism” but he’s smart, analytical and minimalistic. To the latter, there is something endearing and charming about a man that only needs a toothbrush and the clothes on his back willing to step in and institute his own brand of justice.
#3 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Above all else, story, dialogue, twists, whatever else, characters are what I care about most when reading a book. I like great characters and Hosseini provides that in abundance here with his debut novel set in the ever-tumultuous Afghanistan. Amir, the main protagonist, his childhood friend, Hassan and Assef, the main protagonist, are all complex, fascinating characters. There are moments in the book where I had tears, I applauded, I yelped, I screamed in anger and threw the book down in frustration and so forth and so on; the point is, the book is a brilliant roller coaster of emotions. Not to mention, given Hosseini’s personal history, he does a marvelous job of bringing Afghanistan to life and have it serve as the perfect setting for these characters and what they go through. I cannot recommend this book enough.
#2 – Columbine by Dave Cullen
I’ve also written extensively about this book and again, it’s another one of those books I contemplate from time to time because it has become so engrained in my consciousness. First off, I cannot help but gravitate towards serial killers, rapists, pedophiles and the vilest of individuals in our society. I know, yes, that sounds really off-putting, weird and creepy and whatnot. Yet, they are fascinating precisely because they are so beyond the pale of normal human behavior that it’s almost necessary to examine them in full to see what motivated them, what drove them and why we couldn’t stop them or see it coming. In that respect, Cullen’s gives us an exhaustive and enthralling case study into the minds of the two shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, effectively erasing all the myths and misconceptions about both and really getting at understanding what drove them. Cullen argues convincingly that Harris was a textbook psychopath that in many ways, manipulated the angry depressive, Klebold.
However, this book would not have been what it is and would not have had the lasting impression it has had on me if it did not juxtapose the evil acts of those two killers with the awe-inspiring heroics of those in the school and the survivors therein. I am legitimately getting chills simply thinking about them, as I write about it. Student Patrick Ireland and teacher Dave Sanders in particular will leave your eyes watering. And on top of these two already dense, complicated parts, Cullen also deals with the police response, the media reaction to the shooting and so forth in almost lawyerly fashion to show what they did wrong and what they could have done right. Overall, driving these interplaying concepts and stories is Cullen’s beautiful, almost unbearably intimate prose. At times, I felt like I too was a student, hiding, praying for my life under a table, as I hear Eric’s footsteps, the glint of the gun he waved around; it’s a must-read on a multitude of levels. I am saddened by my inability to properly do this book justice.
#1 – The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Say what you will, but no other book or series of books have left an impression on me quite like the Harry Potter series. It is equal parts fun, funny, infuriating, loving, maddening, enthralling and undeniably a page-turner. Within the vast universe created from the mind of Rowling, there is an indescribable amount to admire whether the distinctive characters that you come to love or hate, the expansive settings that you wish you could go to, the action pieces that excite or terrify, and the overall – to use a pun – magic that this series imbues you with.
Yet, of course, beyond the pure escapism of the series itself, there are heavy themes at play such as coming-of-age, understanding and accepting responsibility, dealing with death, the follies of too much power, the dangers of propaganda and lies, the overriding need for love and friendship, and I could go really go on and on for a while now. My point is simply this, some may scoff at the idea of this series proclaiming my top spot, but I can think of no other series of books that has made reading so enjoyable and so necessary while also carrying with it such important messages about society and life.
Every book in the series deserves its own critical eye and has its own worthwhile parts, but as a whole, there’s nothing better, as I see it.