As an avid reader and English teacher, I have gotten the following question all too often: “What is your favorite book?”
Funny enough, I’ve always found this hard to answer and when I am asked this question, it’s like I’ve never read anything before in my life. When I was younger, there was hardly a moment where I wasn’t holding a book. I read at home, in the car, on the way to class, and even during class (mostly math). Based on my general nerdy love for popular fandoms such as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, most people assume that she who must not be named and Tolkien take front and center – but it’s not totally true. I mean, I am currently watching LOTR as I write this post (Two Towers), but I digress . . .
My favorites list has changed in the past few years and, with the more books I read, will probably never stay the same. So, in no particular order, here are five favorite books I’d highly recommend.
5. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Summary: A talented painter, Basil Hallward, accidentally gives up the secret behind his newfound inspiration, an inspiration that presents itself as the young, beautiful, and innocent Dorian Gray. Lord Henry, Basil’s slightly corrupted and very much cynical friend, finds Dorian’s innocence intriguing and introduces him to the shady aristocratic world, despite Basil’s reservations. However, Dorian’s little bubble breaks once Lord Henry tells him that his youth and beauty will not last forever and, in response, Dorian decides to do whatever it takes to stay young and lovely forever – at least on the outside.
I stumbled upon Wilde’s masterpiece when creating a lesson for my first interview as an American teacher and it has become both a classic and staple. First, the beautiful writing and presentation of language were enough to draw me in on the first page. There’s something very romantic about Wilde’s prose, especially when he is setting the scene. I mean, you’ve got aestheticism, mystery, obsession, and murder all in about 200 pages – what is there not to enjoy? Like a lot of Wilde’s works, there’s a lot to unpack in small places, especially Lord Henry’s one-liners. The relationships in the novel, after appearing as innocent and trustworthy, are in fact messy and tarnished by greed, lust, or pride.
I’ve read a few more things of his since, but Dorian Gray has stuck as an overall fave. However, I’m only speaking about the novel. I haven’t found a reputable and cringe-less adaptation (even though I love Ben Barnes). Plus, the meme community is absolutely timeless for Dorian Gray.
4. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Summary: An American man living in Paris struggles with finding acceptance with feelings and relationships in his life, particularly with Giovanni, a beautiful Italian bartender he meets at a gay bar. As their relationship develops, they spend most of their time in Giovanni’s tiny room where David grapples with his desires at the cost of alienating himself and complicating the already torn connection with his alcoholic father and girlfriend, Hella.
This is the most recent novel I’ve finished and, when I finally put it down, I had so many thoughts bouncing around in my head I didn’t know what to focus on. I hate David, oh, I hate him so much, but – I understand him and, even if I don’t agree with his character’s decisions (he takes ghosting in the pre-cellphone era to a new level), I see why. There’s something about his character’s struggling identity that draws you in. Very early in the novel, you know the fate of David’s relationships and slowly start to piece everything together. In Part Two, everything starts to fall apart and it’s a beautiful, frightening mess that’s hard to turn away from. Watching David feel connected to his sexuality and then lie about it to others, and even himself, is frustrating and heartbreaking.
I’m picking up more Baldwin and I am loving everything. Writers don’t always compare to each other but if you’ve never read Baldwin, think of Hemingway’s simplistic style minus the overbearing and silent toxic masculinity.
David might not be great at outwardly expressing his emotions to others around him, but Baldwin does a fantastic job illuminating his struggle on the page. In fact, I may be starting to prefer Baldwin for this reason.
3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Summary: Young Catherine Morland wants nothing more than an adventure like the ones she has read in her Gothic novels. Finally, she gets a chance to travel with a family to the city of Bath, where she is introduced to Recency society. While there, she meets the Tilney family and is invited to spend time in their old, mysterious abbey that seems to have a dark past – but not everything is as it seems.
I was assigned Northanger Abbey in a Jane Austen summer course in college. It was also the same class that I wrote Austen fan fiction for my final and received the highest grade, so sometimes being an English major was fun. I mean, technically Austen’s novel is regarded as a parody for the typical Gothic novel, but I still love it all the same for all those dramatic reasons. When I first read it, I was at an age that I connected to Catherine’s plight – I wanted to travel and see the world for myself, discover new lands and uncover fascinating and haunting mysteries. However, there’s something very humbling to be learned from her experience. In addition, it’s also less daunting and a bit easier to read than Austen’s other novels. Also, Henry Tilney is an underrated Prince Charming. I would take him over Darcy any day.
Book Tilney is pretty dreamy, but I also think it’s probably because movie Tilney reminds me of Lee Pace.
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Summary: The end of the world has come and gone and father and son must survive in a barren wasteland that was once America. Day after day, they walk the road south in search of food and shelter, with nothing but the clothes on their back and a broken shopping cart. No matter how hard it is, they must keep surviving and keep carrying the fire.
I also first read this novel in college and loved every moment of it. McCarthy’s approach to this story was different than anything I had ever read before, both stylistically and literary, and he influenced me in a time where I was trying to find my niche in writing. The relationship between the father and his son, despite never knowing their names, brings hope in such a desolate setting. The more read, the more you learn, and the more you hurt and love with them. The writing itself is just *chef’s kiss*.
Photo by haleyincarnate
1. Atonement by Ian McEwan
Summary: Amidst the start of World War II, 13-year-old Briony is a zealous girl with a large imagination. She watches her older sister, Cecil, fall in love with the young housekeeper and gardener, Robbie, but misunderstands their passion for aggression. One night, Briony creates a lie that follows the three of them for the rest of their lives.
There’s a lot to this book I would love to say more without giving spoilers away. It’s also beautifully written, with imagery that will make you swoon but also shiver with disgust. It’s a love story as well as a war story that deals with guilt, forgiveness, and (of course) atonement. Perspective plays a big role in this novel and you can’t help feel sad for Briony’s skewed innocence. This is also a novel that I read after watching the movie and loved it even more. Usually, the book is always better than the movie, but it’s a really good movie. James McAvoy and Keira Knightly are the couple we’ve always wanted but will never have.
Of course, it’s hard to narrow it all down and there were a few I tossed around for a bit. So, here are five honorable mentions.
1. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It takes a whole village and a lifetime to build a cathedral. This one is a bit of a slow burner with around 800 pages but, if you like a large array of characters all eventually connecting with each other too, this one is for you.
2. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Sometimes a good war story doesn’t have to be true.
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I read this book during a time I really needed it, so it will always be a favorite.
4. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
5. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
My TBR stack on my nightstand is getting pretty high, but that’s never going to stop me. I hope that over this summer I can dedicate more time to rekindling that love for reading I had so many years ago.
Have a favorite book that needs to be shared? Leave a comment!