30 July 2007


Recently, 23 Degrees asked me what I thought was an insightful question, so I am using this post to answer and to invite others to do the same. In a comment responding to a recent post about how much I love my books, how those ordered shelves lined and heavy with books me feel happy and at home, he asked:

So...what are your top ten titles? Top three authors? Which books have you read more than twice?

I know I am in good company when I say that this is not an easy question to answer. Narrowing my collection down to a few vital titles and authors has not been a simple task. So here, my friends, is my best attempt at answering this question. I invite anyone reading to post their own response and leave a comment here when you do!!

Top Ten Titles
In no particular order, these are books that -- for a variety of reasons -- I cannot forget. They are an indelible part of me; I continue find it remarkable that I find myself on these pages and that no matter how many times I open them, I find something new. It is tempting to write about the unique impression each left on me, but this would require an essay for each!
  • The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  • Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller
  • Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  • Middlemarch, George Eliot
  • Life is a Miracle, Wendell Berry
  • Backlash, Susan Faludi
  • A Million Little Pieces, James Frey
  • A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis

Top Three Authors
This was by far the hardest to narrow down! But when I think of authors who challenge me and teach me the most, these three take the cake.
  • Jane Austen
  • C. S. Lewis
  • William Shakespeare

Books I've Read Twice (Or More)
Sadly, this list is not comprehensive. But as I peruse my shelves, these are ones that I remember so clearly turning toward again and again.

  • The Boat Who Wouldn't Float, Farley Mowat
  • Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen
  • The Narnia Series, C. S. Lewis
  • Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis
  • A Million Little Pieces, James Frey
  • The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
  • Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich
  • In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen
  • Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor
  • The Outlander Series, Diana Gabaldon
  • Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller
  • The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard
  • Wicked, Gregory Maguire
  • Ahab's Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund

So, readers ... it is your turn now. Consider yourself tagged. What are the books you love, the books that have shaped you, the books that have become a part of your soul? I am deeply curious ...


  1. It's an interesting thing to think about after all the books you've read in your life...it makes me think! What are some of my favorites? And what would I read again and again! Definitely food for thought or at least to chew on! (:

  2. It was great to read what books and authors compose the richest portions of your life. I heartily concur with your placement of Austen and Lewis at the top of your list!

    I see a lot of titles here that are on my list, too (Persuasion, Blue Like Jazz, Pride & Prejudice).

    I'm curious about your inclusion of Million Little Pieces. I've been wanting to look into that book. What do you love about it? Does the controversy it spawned affect your view of teh book at all?

    Like I shared with you before, I've been meaning to do a post on books but haven't gotten the time for it yet. (It requires taking a picture first!) When I do, I'll link back to you.

  3. Thanks for posting these, Kirsten. Insightful.

    Maybe I better exclude Harold and the Purple Crayon from the list I am making. ;]

    (Just dropped in, will be back.)

  4. Hello Christianne!! As I know you are someone who is a voracious reader, I am eager to know what titles & authors make it on your own list.

    I am so glad you asked about A Million Little Pieces. I read the book a few months before the controversy erupted over this particular title. While I understand how many readers felt duped by the events in the story being borrowed, fabricated, or embellished, the truth for me is this: as a story, it is easily one the most powerful & moving I have ever read. The voice in which this story is told does not just narrate events to the reader & illustrate a personal addiction in a raw & graphic way, but draws the reader into to the very psyche of a mind, a body, & a human soul very much addicted to every drug you might imagine. I felt that I gained insight & understanding to a world which (thankfully) is completely foreign to me.

    I hope I am not misunderstood: I believe the truth is important. This was published as a memoir & not a fictional account (even the author seemed to disagree with it initially being marketed this way), so I can comprehend why the controversy erupted the way it did. But I also believe James Frey is an author who wanted to tell a story. It was inspired by true events in his life, some events fabricated, some events, borrowed. As someone who has never faced a substance addiction, I take the word of those who have been there that this is a pretty spot-on glimpse into the mind of an addict in recovery. I may be stepping out on a limb here, but I think story can be its own kind of truth in that even if not entirely factual, says something true about a soul, about life in general, and about how we handle or avoid personal pain. Does this make sense, or do I sound like I'm entirely off my rocker.

    So. There is my opinion. If you do read it, I'd love to know your opinion, especially as someone who has inside knowledge about the world of editing & publishing!

    23 Degrees -- I love your comment about Harold & the Purple Crayon! I am anxious to know what would make your own list.

  5. I like your idea that story can be its own kind of truth. I think the thing is to perhaps market such a book in a way that doesn't pretend to be "the facts". So, maybe we need a new genre? Semi-fictional memoir?

  6. ahh... another jane austen lover. i don't have time now to do this tag, but jane austen and charlotte and emily bronte are definitely on the top of my list!

  7. LL -- I agree, this may identify the need/possibility of a new genre of literature. The problem was not so much that the book was not factually accurate as to that it was marketed as a memoir (which one would expect to be based on factual events). I think there is some responsibility to readers (whether on part of the author, publisher, or both) be clear on what kind of literature it is. The fact that this piece was published as a memoir was misleading.

    Blue -- What intelligent woman does not love Jane Austen? The more I read her (and about her), the more admiration I have. And ah, I see that if we were to go to coffee & chat about books, we'd have PLENTY to talk about!! :o)

  8. Do I feel like a dumbo or what - yeah - although I'm at the library and checking out books right now - i'm not a 'huge' reader. But a question like this doesn't surprise me from you Kirsten - I remember when I was reading "Babysitters Club" and you were reading "Clan of the Cave Bear" - bit of a difference in the quality of literature there.

  9. I think it would have solved the problem for a short author note to be placed at the front of the book that says the events were a compilation of experiences that the author and those he knows faced during a distilled period of time in the author's life, and that the ultimate aim is to reflect an accurate depiction of what it's like to live inside the skin of an addict. What I mean is, the attention should have been drawn to the truth of the story itself, not the truth of the author's exact experience. Kinda like what you already said about a story being true even if it doesn't represent real life events in a no-nonsense journalistic way.

    This whole narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction, personal memoir genre that's erupted since th 60s with Truman Capote's In Cold Blood has always given latitude for some creative license on the part of the storyteller, by virtue of the fact that telling a journalistic story in more of a story fashion requires adopting some storytelling skills that had heretofore been used solely in the fiction genre. So, I guess what I care more about is the aims of the author (is it to tell a play-by-play exact representation or to represent an idea of a thing?) and whether he accomplished that well, using whatever tools were at his disposal.

    I love how you described why you love this book. It makes me want to read it even more. It sounds like you value some of the same things I value in reading a story, be it fiction or nonfiction. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  10. PS: Ilse, your comment made me laugh out loud. I totally get what you mean! (I read my fair share of Babysitter Club books in my school days, too.)

  11. Ilse, you totally crack me up!! I was always pulling "grown-up books" off the shelves and reading those. Funny thing is, I tend to read more popular literature now (those books at which I once turned down my nose) than ever before.

    Wow, Christianne!! That was as comprehensive a response as I could have hoped for. I think an author's note would have been helpful & could have saved Mr Frey a lot of controversy & headache.

    He said in interviews (after the whole Smoking Gun expose, of course) that he did not intend it as a memoir, but a collective account of an addiction & recovery story told from one central character that was based on himself, but that the publisher wanted to market it as a memoir. I imagine there are 2 (or 3, or 12) sides to that story.

    So it sounds like there are definitely some lessons for authors & publishers alike here in terms of how a book is marketed to the public. And as I said before, I can understand why Oprah & so many readers were angry with him for not being clear that this was not an entirely personal & factual account of his experiences. I get it. On the other hand, I think it a shame that this incredible story (written in a voice like none I have ever read before) is being overlooked or dismissed because it is not (as you describe) a no-nonsense journalistic-type retelling of his life.

    Ah, BOOKS!! Look how they have us going. This makes me wish we could get a Torrey-style discussion going!!

  12. So this is non-book related...I love your new layout too! Green is very mellow and soothing! (:
    It rocks!

  13. I am currently reading Barack Obama's book Dreams from My Father - which is his life story about race and growing up bi-racial. Its fascinating, and gives you a real insight into what it is like to be bi-racial - which is something I encounter everyday with the kids I work with. But I also have Harry Potter book 3 and 4 waiting to be read (yeah, I'm a bit behind).

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  15. I'm back...thanks again for your post. I am going to grab a few of these titles, especially ones that appear on both lists, and see what what the big kids are reading.

    I accepted your invitation and posted my top titles as well. Honestly, I felt kind of exposed making my lists: I didn't think book titles could reveal so much about me save that I need to bend a few more pages than I have been the last few years.

  16. Oooh, I've been meaning to read that Barack Obama book, too. Actually, I did check it out from the library last fall but then never opened a page. I think I even got a late fee on that book I never read. Grr.

    RE: a Torrey-style discussion . . . My dear Kirsten, you need only try to get one going. I'm sure many would participate under your very able leadership. :)

    RE: Mr Frey's book . . . I'm sure, for the publisher, they pushed the memoir approach because it's more sensational than "a story that rings true, based on collective experiences." Hey, this reminds me of that book most teenagers read in high school called "Go Ask Alice," written by an anonymous author and supposedly her firsthand account of getting caught up in the drug and sex culture of the 70s (I think). Makes me wonder if it's a similar thing -- was it the author's actual play-by-play experience or a "true" story compiled for "true" effect and published anonymously to make it more accessible?

  17. Ilse - I've been interested in grabbing that Obama title also. He is a public figure that fascinates me; there seems to be something very charismatic & JFK-esque about him.

    I think it's important not so much to read these heady/impressive titles as to read, period. Not to say that the quality/content of what we read doesn't matter, but that reading exposes us to worlds other than our own and (I think/hope) teaches us to think critically about such things.

    Thank you for posting your titles, 23 Degrees!! Look at what you have started. I agree, what we read and the titles that move us most do say a lot about who we are, what incites our passions, and may perhaps say something about our wounds & sensitivities. So, I mean it sincerely when I say thank you for sharing.

    Christianne -- It has been so long since such a discussion, but I think I could get my sea-legs back easily enough! This has been a week of much sleep-deprivation (and consequently sub-par mental activity) for me, so hopefully once well-rested, I will be back up to snuff.

    I agree with you on the reasoning behind marketing the title as a memoir. If readers knew the events were borrowed from the collective experiences of several addicts, it would not have nearly the sensation and drama as one addict going through the whole range of experiences described in the book. I am such an idealist when it comes to literature, I am saddened that even a book can be driven & shaped so commercially.


  18. So, friends ... here are a few questions for you:

    What do you think it is that draws us as humans to read the written word (or to write, for that matter)?

    What is it (for you) that makes a book stick with you/stand out?

    What do you think qualities a piece of literature needs to possess to make it endure?

  19. I'm coming in late, and this will be short due to sleep deprivation, but I quickly wanted to say:

    Love the new layout, Kirsten! Of course, as far as I am concerned, you can't go wrong with green.

    I love the discussion on Frey's book. It makes me think about all those "historical" movies or "biographical" movies. We watch them knowing that the movie makers have taken the basic tenets of history, left our the boring stuff, sprinkled in some fiction for the sake of telling a good story, and maybe even added a little bit of their own agenda. Yet, no one gets all worked up over the fact that they claim to be historical.

  20. That is such a good example, Christin!! I was thinking of how no one gets worked up over fictional stories set in a milieu of actual historical events. It gives that history a very human face. Very important to remember, I think.