Top Ten Book List

Firstly, I wanted to plug Thorny's post on the value of mothering. It's from a few days ago, and it got the ol' noggin cranked up to write a post on a similar topic, but that hasn't happened yet. Anyway, I encourage everyone to read it whether you're a parent or not, because she's got a lot of good things to say in there.

Secondly, I've been tagged! Whoo! Steph made a list of her ten favorite books and now she's making me do it. As if I need my arm twisted to do such a thing. I love reading and I love lists and I have a napping baby and a pile of dishes I don't feel like washing and a piano that I don't feel like practicing (although I had a very insightful piano lesson this morning, which I also want to write about soon), so now seems like the perfect time. It seems I also love run-on sentences.

I haven't been reading much lately, which is ironic, considering the subject of this post. When you combine the sleep-deprivation I've had of late with the intellectual rigor of recital preparation and physical exhaustion of taking care of a 7.5mo, all I can muster up the energy for is cookbooks, food magazines, and knitting blogs. It makes me feel sad and shallow. Were it not for the whole "being in grad school" thing, I would be afraid of turning into a smaller, messier version of Martha Stewart.

Enough with the excuses! Here's my list (in no particular order):

1. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. HA! Just kidding. I actually thought that book kind of sucked, and here I'd had all this build-up before reading it. Granted, the feminist religious stuff was pretty cool, but the prose read like a bad movie script, and I kept envisioning Tom Hanks running around the Louvre and it just didn't work for me.

OK, here we go for real. By the way, I'm not doing the link to Amazon because I quickly get impatient with links, and I know if y'all really wanted to find these books, you're capable of going to Amazon or your library or local bookstore and finding them yourselves. It's called self-reliance. :)

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I get this from my mother. She read it to me as a middle schooler when I was home sick, we've seen all the film adaptations (there are four) multiple times, and I've read the book myself at least twice. I don't think I know any book as well as this one, and it gets better every time. The characters are interesting, the dialogue is clever, and Jane Austen was such a forward-thinking woman of her time.

2. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. If I had to choose one, I would say The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the six that are currently out, but I don't like choosing. Anyone who thinks these books are like LOTR lite (half the calories!) is SO off-base. I've read all the books at least three times, including once out loud in the car to my brother on a road trip, and I never, ever get tired of them. The wizarding world Rowling created is so imaginative and so engaging that every time I read these books I want to be a young witch at Hogwarts with a wand and some butterbeer. I also have a crush on Sirius Black. The reason I keep returning to the Harry Potter series, though, is because of the way Rowling treats issues of power, choices, and personal integrity.

3. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. This book is the biography of Paul Farmer, a brilliant doctor who runs a free clinic in Haiti, has developed an effective treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis, and started Partners in Health. This is quite possibly the most inspiring book I've ever read. I also think it should be required reading for everyone in medical school.

4. Dress Your Family in Courdoroy and Denim by David Sedaris. I put this on the list because it's so damn funny, but there's really no reason Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day shouldn't be in this place instead.

5. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. This is my desert island cookbook. It's not a vegetarian cookbook (he's written one, but I haven't looked at it yet), but there are a lot of meatless recipes in there. It's not the kind of book you curl up with on a cold winter evening with a cup of hot chocolate, but it's chock full of good information, and I probably use it more than any other cookbook I own.

6. This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow. The author is a nutritionist by training who decided to try and grow all her own produce in her backyard in New York. She succeeded for the most part. This book totally changed my thinking about what we eat. She makes a case not only for buying organic, but buying locally grown food, which is almost more important. Her tone is a bit condescending - after I read it, I felt guilty about every cup of coffee I drank for a good month - but if you can get past that, you learn a LOT about the environmental and economic impact of the decisions we make about the food we eat.

7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver is a native Kentuckian, the kind that makes me proud to call Kentucky my home state (unlike certain members of Congress, but we won't go there right now). I've read every blessed book this woman has written, even Holding the Line, which is a history of the women of the Arizona mine strike in New Mexico in the early 1980s, and was written in her days as a journalist. While it's hard for me to choose just one book out of her ouevre, I settled on The Poisonwood Bible because I've read it more than once and I think it's brilliant. The story is compelling, her prose flows like honey, and most of it takes place in Africa; these are all assets in my opinion.

8. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall-Smith. Yeah, I know. Another series. There are five or six of these out by now, and they are about Mma Ramotswe, a woman of "traditional build" living in Botswana who runs a small detective agency with her assistant (whose name inexplicably escapes me right now). These books are a fast read, not heavy emotionally or philosophically, but they're far from shallow. McCall-Smith has a gift for writing about Africa in a beautiful way that neither ignores the terrible problems plaguing the continent (AIDS, poverty, war) nor dwells on them. Mma Ramotswe loves her little country of Botswana, and if you read these books, you will too.

9. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. This book is subtitled "Instructions on Writing and Life," and it's just that. I don't aspire to be a professional writer (thank the heavens, you're thinking), but I want to be a better one. As in all of Anne Lamott's non-fiction (I've not read any of her fictional works), she is funny, inspiring, and full of truth. Bird By Bird is also realistic about the writing process and how difficult it is, and how you get through the rough patches and writers' block and all that. It's apropos to the work of being a musician, so this is a book I actually own.

10. Ack! Am I at #10 already? Memoirs are one of my favorite genres, so I need to have at least one on this list. I like to read about real people's lives and how they perceive them. I'm going to cheat because I've read three really good memoirs in the last year or so, and I can't really say one or another is my favorite. Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood by Jennifer Traig, A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland Indiana by Haven Kimmel, and The Prizewinner of Defiance Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Suze Orman and Terry Ryan. What do I look for in a good memoir? That it be funny, poignant, quirky and well-written, and these all fit the bill.

I'm sure I'll think of books I should have put on this list but didn't. As it is, I'm publishing this post a whole day after I started it, the dishes still need washing, and Daniel's morning nap is long over, so this is what you're getting. Before I leave you, though, it's tag time! Joe? Pam? I know y'all love to read! If you can find a few minutes in your busy lives (I know how busy you are), share your 10 best!


Jenn Hacker said…
Fine, don't tag me. Be that way... [sniff, sniff} Ha ha. Anyway, I've read most of the items on your list and agree that they rock! As for the Austen, have you seen the A&E adaptation of it? My favorite! Colin Firth is the perfect Mr. Darcy! And have your read The Jane Austen Book Club? It's really good, and funny, and sad, etc.

Now I'll have to post my own reading list (even if you didn't tag me!) LOL
pamigelsrud said…
Wow, Suze! I've read all your favorite books except #5,6,8, & 10. I've even read your fake #1!! My dad and I listened to Mountains Beyond Mountains on CD on the way to and from Boston last time I went. I am actually leaving for another Boston trip momentarily and this time I'll be driving alone and since I couldn't find a decent book on tape at our small library branch nearby, I'm bringing a tape to learn beginning Russian!! Anyway, I will write more about my favorite books later, but I'll start with saying that I LOVE Russian literature!!! I'm finally almost at the end of The Brothers Karamazov and I'm LOVING it. I've read War & Peace (Tolstoy), Anna Karenina (Tolstoy), Notes from the Underground (Dostoevsky), The Demons (Dostoevsky), Crime & Punishment (Dostoevsky), The Cossacks (Tolstoy), and what else? I can't think of any others off the top of my head. I'm addicted. I've got to read everything Dostoevsky ever wrote and I think I'm going to also move on to Dead Souls (Gogol) and Fathers and Sons (Turgenev). I also love the short stories, like "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" (Dostoevsky), "The Nose" (Gogol), and various other Chekhov, etc. So, it's not that I don't love other authors. Austen, Eco, Rankin, and Tolkien are some favorites that come to mind. And I did enjoy the Harry P books quite a bit and I like Barbara Kingsolver and Jane Hamilton, too. But I'm sort of obsessed with Russian literature for some reason. I love it. I need it. I need to know more about it. Maybe I need to go visit. : )
Suze said…
oh, jenn, i don't know why i didn't tag you, but i should've! can't wait to read your list!!
Steph said…
Well, shit. Reading your list is making me want to rewrite mine. Can I maybe do a top sixteen? Because 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 9 could all pretty easily have gone on my list. In fact, some of them almost did. Basically, the whole process of having to rank really, really good books is pretty silly. Yet oh so fun! And I was kicking myself for not tagging Joe, so I'm glad you did it.
Suze said…
p.s. Jenn, hear that? It's the sound of drool dripping out of my slack-jawed face at the mere mention of Colin Firth's portrayal of Mr. Darcy. How many times have I watched the pond scene? How high can you count?
Thorny said…
Hey, thanks for mentioning me!

BTW, my absolute favorite vegetarian cookbooks are by Jack Bishop, who works with America's Test Kitchen/Cooks' Illustrated. He's got some great recipes in there, and one of them (I think it's "Vegetables Every Day", but I could be mistaken) basically lists a bunch of veggies in alphabetical order and then gives recipes for each. It's the first time I've ever seen a recipe for kohlrabi. (Though I have yet to give them a try - they could be awful for all I know.)

One of these days Hubby and I will join the kids in their vegetarianism, but for now we just dabble in it, some weeks more than others.
Jenn Hacker said…
If you listen carefully, Suze, you can hear the sound of my drool going "plop" down onto my desk in syncopated rhythm with your own! Colin Firth, like Sean Connery, just gets better with age... [dreamy sigh]

Oh, and I'll be posting my favs list soon... But I think it would have to be my top 20 or 30; I couldn't possibly restrict myself to only 10!!!

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