This is an ongoing list of my favorite books in no particular order, as I remember them. See also The Guardian’s 1000 Novels.
Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl: He writes about the psychological effects of being in Auschwitz and on our natural desire to find meaning in life. This book reminds me that we have the power to shape our responses to what happens to us in life.
The Highly Sensitive Person – Elaine N. Aron, PhD: This was the first book that helped me recognize that I am not as unique as I feared. I am an HSP, a highly sensitive person; someone more reactive to stimuli than others. Along with 15-20% of all people, I can concentrate deeply, sense subtleties, and delve deeply. Sigh of relief.
Letters To a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke: “Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.” I almost felt he was talking directly to me when he said a writer is someone who can’t help but write.
Being Perfect – Anna Quindlen: As a perfectionist, I find this book to be useful in reminding me to explore new things and try to learn more about myself, even if I’m not the best. Do what makes YOU happy, not anybody else. I’m such the quintessential people pleaser.
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity – Julia Cameron: Just for the idea of morning pages alone this book is awesome. Great for getting in touch with your creative self.
When Things Fall Apart – Pema Chodron: Face fear, anger, and loss of control by letting go. Our continuing efforts to establish security for ourselves prevents our deep experience of the joy of living. Her book is about unpretentious openheartedness.
Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman: We share a birthday so I already feel a kinship to Walt, but I also love his openhearted love of nature.
The Feminine Face of God – Sherry Ruth Anderson and Patricia Hopkins: This helped me define what is sacred in my life. The idea of feminine aspects of faith really speaks to me.
Journal of a Solitude – May Sarton: Kind of a meditation on striving to get to a calm mind. I identified with her depression and her writing.
Possession – A.S. Byatt: literary romance, mystery, poetry… what could be better?
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy: I don’t know why I love such a tragic novel. I just do.
The Razor’s Edge – W. Somerset Maugham
All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs – Elie Wiesel
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide – Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century, they write, detailing the rampant gendercide in the developing world, particularly in India and Pakistan. This is where we got the idea to raise money for a school in Cambodia.
Writings From the New Yorker 1927 – 1976 – E.B. White: Just so quaint and humorous.
The Power of One – Bryce Cortenay: Definitely in my top 5.
Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton: I didn’t know anything about apartheid before reading this book in high school English.
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe: I love Achebe. It was written just two years before Nigeria gained political independence and describes African life from within. Very compassionate and elegant.
Sister Carrie – Theodore Dreiser and Maggie, A Girl of the Streets – Stephen Crane: I LOVE rags to riches stories.
The Age of Innocence (or anything else) by Edith Wharton: So romantic and yet so disappointing.
The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White: Respect for all living things; cycle of life and death. Plus it reminds me of my mother reading it to us at bedtime when we were young.
The King’s English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller – Betsy Burton: Behind the scenes of a bookstore in SLCity. So fun!
“The Waste Land” – T.S. Eliot: modern and medieval in one; spare in hope. I think I like it for some of it’s key lines.
Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov – Stacy Schiff: Mrs. Nabokov was a crucial presence by her husband’s side, editing and translating. Such a great love story.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity – David Allen: My Bible.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott: Anecdotes and good advice; very encouraging. FUNNY!
Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojurn at Shakespeare & Co – Jeremy Mercer: Once again, my favorite bookstore. Full of struggle and dreaming and tales of this charming store and its owner, George Whitman.
The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory – David Plouffe: For the way I followed this campaign and all the hope that was tied up in it, I loved this book. It was so fun to read and such an insight into how political campaigns work. I felt the win all over again.
The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall – Ian Bremmer: I’d never read a book like this – a look into what makes countries stable and the difference democracy makes, comparing Cuba to the U.S., for instance.
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier – Thad Carhart: It is so fun to learn how a piano is made and to be let in to this romantic world.
Lydia Cassat Reading the Morning Paper – Harriet Scott Chessman: I have to admit that I was drawn to this beautiful and tender book because I loved the cover. Here’s a synopsis: “Inspired by five Mary Cassatt paintings of Cassatt’s older sister, Lydia, Chessman (Ohio Angels) paints her own intimate portrait of the admirable Lydia, chronicling Lydia’s thoughts and feelings as she models for Mary in Paris in the late 1870s and early 1880s. All the while, Lydia is conscious that she is dying of Bright’s disease, and her thoughtful contemplation of her life and dashed hopes give shape to the tale. Lydia, who is in her 40s, never married the man she loved was killed in the Civil War but she reveals a sharp, sophisticated awareness of desire in her observations of her sister Mary (May), and May’s lover, the painter Edgar Degas.”
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion: I was somewhat preoccupied and fascinated with Didion’s mourning for her husband and her vulnerability. Her feeling that nothing made sense to her was so real to me.
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Lucy – Ellen Feldman
Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman
The Wal-mart Effect – Charles Fishman: The reason I hate to set foot inside a Walmart. Explains how they put companies out of business, put profit over people and the environment, and generally bulldoze anything and anyone in their path.
84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff: 20-year literary correspondence with Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. Love of old books. I could read it over and over and over.
Call Me By My True Names – Thich Nhat Hanh
Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism – Cornell West:
Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling – Ross King
The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough
Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales – Oliver Sacks
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery: This was my grandmother’s favorite book and I have her copy.
Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman – Alice Steinbach
Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Post-Pardum Depression – Brooke Shields
Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean – Paul Thereaux: I love to travel and in reading this, I felt like I was right there with him.
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters – Mark Dunn: So clever. Certain letters are dropped as the book goes forward and it’s great to read the story and see how Dunn accomplishes this.
Einstein’s Dreams: Alan Lightman: fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905. He imagines different possible worlds. Interesting how time shapes our lives.
Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman: Brian Sibley
Anything by Elizabeth Berg, Jane Green, Jodi Picoult, Susan Vreeland, or Anita Shreve.