There are so many ways to organize your Home Library. Have you tried a “Top 10” list?

I have a special section in my library just for my Top 10 Books of All Time. These may not be the best in terms of literary value, but they are, for one reason or another, the 10 best books I have ever read. The list has changed over the years, but half of the books have stayed at the “top” since I created the shelf nearly two decades ago. It is an amusing collection as well as deeply personal – amusing mostly because it is heavy with a genre I don’t generally read: autobiographies. In fact, it doesn’t at all reflect the actual ratio of genres I usually read… Lesson learned: don’t forget to read books outside of your comfort zone!

My list, in the order they sit on my shelf today, which is to say, in no order at all:

  • The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, Joel Dicker
  • The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Wild Swans, Jung Chan
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  • Me, Katherine Hepburn
  • The Whale Rider, Witi Ihimaera
  • The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
  • Wool, Hugh Howey
  • The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson
  • Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama
  • The Once and Future King, T. H. White

If anyone is counting, that adds up to 3 autobiographies, 2 very different books on Arthurian legend, 1 classic of French literature, 1 historical non-fiction, 1 modern Maori fairytale, the 2nd book in the world-famous, Scandinavian noir trilogy, a recent sci-fi novel that proves the value of self-publishing, and the greatest mystery novel ever (go read Joel Dicker’s masterpiece!).

(Now, as I total that, I realize my list is actually 11… I have no idea when something extra snuck in, but now I can’t possibly figure out what to take out!)

Some of the books are classics that remind me of particular moments in life.

The Once and Future King was the first long book I ever read. I was in grade school, starting it over and over again until I finally could finish it. And I loved every single word, every single time! That book marked my transition from a child-reader to an adult-reader. It was a personal turning point and it still makes me feel proud to think about it, regardless of the fact that I’ve since read many other, much longer books.

Other books are important for both content and physical presence.

My copy of The Mists of Avalon is my mother’s. It’s been rained on, beat up, lost, forgotten, and yet still survives. The book itself is as precious as the tale it tells. It was probably also the first book I read where I became clearly aware of how different the world looks when we re/write our hi/stories to show the power and agency of women.

Speaking of strong women, I have always aspired to be as cool and amazing and confident as Katherine Hepburn. Her autobiography is in parts stunning and heartbreaking, and at times sharp and clever; she never disappoints.

Of newer arrivals to the list, Wool by Hugh Howey is a book I recommend to so many people. Howey made the jump from self-published amateur to globally-acclaimed Author because he did something wonderful and new with the science fiction genre. His heroine is so unexpected, both to herself and to the reader, that it is impossible not to get caught up in her journey. The twists and turns he offers in his post-apocalyptic future are terrifying in their plausibility. While perhaps not the most tightly-written scifi I’ve read recently (see Neal Stephenson, broadly), the readability of Howey’s post-apocalyptic future is well-worth the price of admission.

Books on the Edge

There are one or two books that always sit in the back of my mind that should be promoted to this list, but I just can’t figure out what gets demoted! The 2 contenders (Top Books #12 and #13, I guess) are clear; they stick in my mind; I reference them frequently and recommend them to friends; I continue to marvel at their brilliance. Maybe someday soon I should expand my list…

  • Carter Beats the Devil, Glen David Gold
  • The Southern Reach Trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer

Of the latter, if someone can explain to me how it ends, I would greatly appreciate it. I devoured the entire trilogy in 2 days on a beach in Mexico – it left me breathless! And I have no idea what that ending was…