I’m a reader, have been since I was four years old. It’s in my DNA, who I am. I’m the kind of person who loves a good conversation about books, sharing my latest favorites and must-reads and hearing about which books my friends, colleagues, and students are reading. I make annual reading goals, and I keep track of my books on GoodReads. The other day, a friend and I were discussing books, and she shared that she wants to get back into reading. She asked me what my top ten books of all time were. I didn’t know what to say. Only ten?? How can I choose just ten? Ten of each genre, maybe, but ten total? It seems impossible. I’ve given it some thought, and while I know that I’ll be missing out a lot of good ones, here goes, my top ten books, as of March 10, 2022.
I first read 1984 in high school as a required reading book in one of my English classes. I was instantly taken with the dystopian future Orwell describes, thinking that in no way would this ever happen. I’ve since read the book a handful more times, and each time I read it, it becomes more and more true.
I will forever associate The Alice Network with quarantine in Korea. When I moved to Korea in the summer of 2020, I was required to do a 14-day quarantine at a hotel in Seoul. The only book I brought (weight restrictions!) was this one. I started each morning with a cup of tea, curled up in the chair by the window, while I read for an hour. I became enthralled by the story, on the edge of my seat as I learned more and more about the characters’ intertwined lives. Once the book was over, I mourned, wishing I could have had more time with them.
Mrs. Decell, my fourth grade teacher, first introduced me to the mystery From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I was instantly in love with Jamie and Claudia’s adventure, as they ran away from home to live in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I connected so much with Claudia’s character, which made this one of my all-time favorites. I have since read this book aloud to every class I’ve ever taught (and they have loved it too!).
I read The Things They Carried while living in Shanghai, so I would have been in my early 30s. O’Brien’s writing style, sharp and to the point, caught my attention. I’d never read much about war, but reading this book made me empathetic to the soldier’s plight- both physical and emotional. It’s a book I’ve carried with me since then.
I adore memoirs, especially the ones that are real. Angela’s Ashes is as real as it gets, and while I was appalled by so much, I couldn’t put it down. I read this one on a trip to Morocco in 2016, and I remember my friends telling me to put it away and enjoy the scenery, as I read it every morning on the balcony of our riad, but the story drew me in so much that I couldn’t put it down, even for Morocco.
The magic of Matilda is something every child should experience. This was another fourth grade read and another instant classic. Matilda’s powers, combined with her awful parents, hilarious antics, and the lovely Miss Honey, make this a book you want to reread again and again. It should be mandatory reading for all children.
I love a good novel in verse, and Brown Girl Dreaming is a perfect example. I remember reading this one in Hong Kong, during my trip to the Literacy Institute at HKIS. Woodson’s depiction of growing up as a brown girl in the South gripped me from beginning to end. My favorite chapter/poem was “what i believe,” which I have shared with countless others over the years. I have even written a couple versions of my own over the years.
The Joy Luck Club was another required reading book that I fell in love with. I still have my original copy, dog-eared, highlighted, and nearly falling apart. I enjoyed the many interwoven stories of these Chinese immigrant women and their American-born daughters as a teenager, and even more as an adult. When I reread The Joy Luck Club after living in China, it had so much more meaning to me. I was able to make connections to the culture (and I could pronounce the pinyin words correctly!).
If you can get through The Fault in Our Stars without crying, you have no soul. This YA book had me in its grips the entire time, and was one I both wanted to devour as quickly as possible and read slowly so I could savor every last word. I read this book on my trip to Egypt, and I can remember staying up late on the overnight ride across the country, reading by the light of tiny bedside lamp while the train car jostled us to and fro. I wrote lots about this book- my thoughts, quotes I loved- in my journal.
Shel Silverstein is brilliant, and while I grew up loving his poetry (Where the Sidewalk Ends was my favorite collection), I wasn’t introduced to The Giving Tree until I was in college. I babysat a family of three children, Josh, Jessica, and Luke, and one day Jessica asked me to read it to them. We all cozied up on the couch together to read. As I got to the end, tears poured down my face. Jessica, then four, innocently asked me why I was crying. I told her it was because I loved this book. A few months later, I was gifted a hardback copy with a birthday message scrawled inside by the three kids. When I asked Suzan, their mom, how she knew I loved this book, she said Jessica told her.
What books would be in your top ten?