It was with some shock that I realized the other day that I’d never made a top-ten list of books, either for a blog post or for my own amusement. Or both. The reason is simple: I always get distracted. I agonize over whether a series counts as just one spot on the list. I expand the list to fifteen or twenty books. I decide that I really need to reread that one book to see if it makes the cut.
As a result, I get sidetracked. But no more! I went forth, fearing no darkness, and made the following list. No shields were splintered, but much hair was pulled in frustration as I realized how short a top-ten list really is.
And no, a whole series doesn’t count as one place on this list. That’s cheating.
10. Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The length of this book – only one hundred and fifty pages – always surprises me. How did the author fit so much into so small a space? Luke is “among the hidden”, a third child (or Shadow Child) in a world where families are only allowed two kids. For the longest time he isn’t even sure if there are any other Shadow Children but then he meets another one, Jen, who tells him about the outside world and convinces him that he shouldn’t have to hide. In Haddix’s usual style, there’s not a word out of place; every sentence, cliffhanger, and reminiscence has a purpose. How I wish I could list all her books here.
9. Girl, 15, Charming But Insane by Sue Limb. The protagonist, Jess Jordan, is what you’d get if you stuck me in a book. I delight in dorkiness and Jess is certainly up there. She’s clumsy and a troublemaker, with aspirations towards being a comedian. Highlights of the book include Jess hanging out with her death-obsessed grandma and her whole school accidentally seeing a video of Jess referring to her boobs as “Bonnie” and “Clyde”. It’s entirely possible that you have to be a weirdo like me to enjoy it. If you are, it will be one of the greatest books you’ve ever read.
8. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. I only picked this up because it looked like it might be set in my home state of Indiana, land of the boring flat farm fields. When I realized that it takes place in Montana, I almost chucked it on the Don’t-Bother-Reading pile. Except. The blurb told me that Cam is a lesbian growing up in a conservative town; she gets outed and sent to an ex-gay camp. I kept reading and saying, “Oh my god, this is me!” more and more often as the story went on because I could relate to her that much. This book is so vivid. After I finished it I was surprised to find myself still at home because it felt like I’d spent the last few years experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of Miles City, Montana. The author’s descriptions are that good. I don’t even care that this book gave me nightmares because I’m just happy to have found it.
7. The BFG by Roald Dahl. This is one of the first long(er) books I remember reading on my own. It follows Dahl’s usual plot of child-in-terrible-circumstances-discovers-something-wonderful-and-magical, but in his hands that plot never gets old. Sophie, an orphan, runs away to Giant Country with the Big Friendly Giant (or BFG), and their adventures include eating Snozzcumbers, distributing dreams, and defeating the other horrible giants.
6. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. Forget The Hunger Games; this is Collins at her best. Like a modern-day Alice in Wonderland, Gregor falls down a hole in New York City and discovers a world of pale-skinned people and giant speaking animals – rats, bats, mice, spiders, cockroaches, and more. It portrays little kids (like Gregor’s sister) incredibly realistically, which isn’t surprising considering that it’s a kid’s book. What is surprising is its treatment of violence, since its intended audience is about ten years old. When Gregor arrives the Underland is on the brink of war and Collins doesn’t sugarcoat things. I didn’t want to read The Hunger Games for a while because I just didn’t see the point when I already had this awesome book.
5. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson. After his father died Bryson, who was born and raised in America but had spent his adult life living in Britain, revisited the States and wrote about his experiences. In The Lost Continent, one of his earliest books, he had two goals. The first was to see the places where his father took them for family vacations (and see how they had changed) and the second was to find the perfect small town. It doesn’t sound like much and it doesn’t sound like it would be funny but this book has kept me amused for hours, laughing until my sides hurt, with Bryson’s wisecracks and sharp-tongued comments. As a fellow Midwesterner, I love his observations of the people from our region. Although perhaps not for everyone – Bryson can be a bit grumpy at times and he swears a lot – this book and its author made me realize that I too wanted to be a comedian or humor writer someday.
4. Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller. The first in a series, this book is very difficult to describe. Basically, it’s like Gregor the Overlander – there’s a city beneath NYC – but with almost all girl characters. It’s very feminist. There’s spying and mysterious plots to kill royal families. And a lot of illegal breaking-and-entering, forgery, and whatnot. One of my greatest regrets is that I live in the real world and therefore can never meet Kiki Strike – or can I? The story feels so real.
3. All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen. As with Miseducation, I found this one randomly. It’s a steampunk mashup of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest; the main character, Violet, disguises herself as her brother in order to attend a male-only scientific academy. I must have read it twenty or more times, each rereading leaving me with something new to appreciate: Ashton’s delightful witticisms, Jack’s flirtations, Fiona’s hilarious failure to understand that the world is not a stage, Miriam’s independence. It’s like Harry Potter for older readers, honestly, with many of the same elements just made more complex.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. I read this at age eight and over the next eight years read many other lovely books, but this remained my unbeatable all-time favorite until I read Lord of the Rings at sixteen. That’s how much I love this book. Harry’s third year at Hogwarts is my favorite. Prisoner of Azkaban has frightening creatures, young friends squabbling and old friends reuniting, secret passages, independence, mentor-like teachers, and above all the perfect mix of light and dark. Really, what more could you want?
1. The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien. Just as the trilogy was getting too long and ponderous for my tastes, The Two Towers ended and this book began. It’s like Tolkien said, “Hmm, what does my writing need more of? …ADVENTURE!!!” and then proceeded to stuff it with as much as possible. His characters fight armies of ghosts, disguise themselves to sneak into battle, climb Mount Doom, and set each other on fire. The language is beautiful and thankfully not as wordy as his usual but most importantly, the pace is unstoppable with cliffhangers left and right. Perfect book. Everyone should read it.
And there you have it, my top ten list of books. It’s almost easier to define it by what it is not. I wanted to include many more fantastic authors. Anthony Horowitz, Oscar Wilde, E. Lockhart, C.S. Lewis, George R.R. Martin, Agatha Christie, Peter Abrahams, Maggie Stiefvater, and Lois Lowry are all missing. If I could snap my fingers and turn ten into fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five, I would. Alas, math doesn’t work that way. This list is so much more than a bunch of numbers, titles, and names. It represents hours of single-minded focus on pages, of laughter and tears, of happiness. What are your top ten favorite books?
Now that I’ve actually made this list, I’m apt to change my opinions within twenty-four hours. Got any good books for me to read?