A recent Writer’s Digest article challenged readers to share the top ten books that have never left them. As someone who has spent the bulk of her life reading, writing and thinking about books, only one word came to mind: impossible. How could I limit my list to ten books without including everything Jane Austen, Hemingway and Dickens ever wrote? Would my list be a list without A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or How Green Was My Valley? If you want to get technical, The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High should be included, because to this day, Stacy McGill and Jessica Wakefield are just about the coolest girls I can think of off the top of my head. But a challenge is a challenge, and if my favorite feisty heroines of fiction have taught me anything, it’s that action is the only way of getting somewhere. I thought about pouring through my bookshelves and Goodreads trying to create some scientific formula for selection, but I decided to just go with my gut, which has led to the following list. Science was never my strong suit anyway.
1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
My favorite, favorite book of all time. I love Scarlett O’Hara. I love Rhett, and Mammy, and Melly. Ashley—well, sometimes I want to strangle Ashley and find some kind of support group for the women who love him, but, you know. He’s okay. As many times as I have read this book, I never fail to find something new to love. I also never fail to blubber like a baby through half of it. Every time, I think things may end differently. Every time, they don’t. And every time, I keep going back for more. I can’t imagine my life without it.
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I remember reading this for the first time and being dumbstruck after I put the book away by the realization that Heathcliff—this person who had consumed my every thought, who I had loved and feared and pitied and understood—was not a living, breathing human being. I still can’t wrap my mind around it. I keep thinking that one day I’ll see him gambling at Mohegan Sun, ranting to Hareton about one tree growing as crooked as the other. But that’s just crazy. Heathcliff would never let Hareton out of the house.
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Again, does poor, plain, obscure, little Jane really only exist on the page? Because I could swear we went to Lowood together. This book is perfect, and “Reader, I married him” may be one of my favorite lines in literature.
4. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The first time I read this book, I was a freshman in high school and I had never met a narrator like Holden Caulfield. He was so casual. And he talked right to me! I never knew you could do those things in a novel. So yes, Holden, I did really want to hear about it—about all the phonies and the secret slobs and the David Copperfield kind of crap. I still do.
5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I was eight years old when I first met the March sisters and I loved them immediately. I wanted to take part in their plays. I wanted to ice skate with Laurie. After what happened with Beth, maybe I didn’t want to go visit the Hummels. I’ve revisited this book more times than I can count in my life, and I have related to all four girls and called each of them my favorite, at some point or another.
6. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
I read this book every summer and it never gets old. Neither does my love for George Emerson. I’ve never been able to look at violets the same way again, and Lucy Honeychurch is kind of my hero.
7. Winds of War by Herman Wouk
There are books, and then there are books. I firmly believe that this novel, along with its sequel, War and Remembrance, should be required reading for all Americans. It provides a thorough and compelling depiction of World War II through the eyes of one naval family, and I find myself thinking of the characters—even the most minor ones—constantly. It’s also really helped me with Jeopardy! over the years.
8. Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk
Two books by the same author when I only have ten spots? Either I’m crazy, or Herman Wouk is just that good. I’ve grown up with Marjorie Morningstar, and like Marjorie, I will always pine for the dashing Noel Airman and his crooked elbow. I still can’t believe his Broadway career didn’t take off.
9. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I don’t think my life would be the same without any of Jane Austen’s novels, but Sense and Sensibility is my absolute favorite. Yes, I love the Dashwood sisters and Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars, but the real star of the show here is Willoughby. I can’t tell you how many years I’ve spent defending this cad to anyone who will listen. That’s called building a great character, and that’s why Jane Austen is Jane Freaking Austen.
10. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
I have always loved books, but Outlander is a flat out addiction of mine and I should probably seek help for it. But I can’t, because I love Jamie Fraser too much. So call me a bloody, thick-heided, stubborn Scot, but leave me alone because I have to think of a way to get to Craigh na Dun so I can travel to the 18th century.
Books. Aren’t they the best? Can you narrow your list to ten that have stayed with you?