Not in any particular order, these are my ten personal favorite books. Keep in mind the list is subject to change.
- The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
The German author, Michael Ende, created a fantasy classic with this unforgettable story. Bastian is a mild and weak willed boy who is struggling to find his place and to rectify his relationship with his father after the death of his mother. Fate leads him to “The Neverending Story”. Reading the book Bastian finds a deep connection with the characters on the page. The deeper he gets into the book, the more Bastian comes to realize his own importance and the part he plays in the “Neverending Story”.
- We the Animals by Justin Torres
A series of vignettes tracks the upbringing of three young boys in upstate New York. The raw and unapologetic tone of Torres’ prose matches the chaotic and absurd nature of the family whose lives the reader will become absorbed in. This is a family that can be described as perfectly dysfunctional. The three “little animals” will capture you and wrestle you to the ground.
- Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Everyone thinks their family is the weirdest, but there are few who could compare to the Binewskis, a traveling circus family. Geek Love tells the story of this family who value uniqueness above all other things. To be ordinary is the greatest burden they could ever imagine. Aloysius “Al” and his wife Crystal “Lil” make a living out of being freaks and thus test the boundaries of nature to produce children they know will be viable oddities for continuing the family trade. Through all manner of genetic manipulation, including the consumption of radioactive material, the couple eventually produce five children with abnormalities befitting the circus life. The story is told from the perspective of Olly, the fourth child who was born an albino with dwarfism and a hunchback.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas lives in a town where there is no sadness, no pain, and no envy. The people are free of all negative emotions because of a social law called “sameness”. At first glance the world might seem like a sort of utopia, but in truth, because the people of the village are devoid of negative emotions, they also have no comprehension of positive ones. Love does not exist, there is no concept of color, and any fun is strictly controlled. What the people of the village have can hardly be called living, but they do not know any differently. Only one person knows what life could be like. Only one person carries the memories of life outside the village. Now, as Jonas comes of age, it is his duty to take up the mantle of “Receiver” and hold the responsibility of protecting the memories. What he does with them is up to him.
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Lily Owens is haunted by a vague and incomplete memory of the day her mother died. After circumstances with her abusive father become too much to handle and the arrest of her maid Rosaleen, there is nothing to stop the pair from escaping and running off to Tiburon, South Carolina following a message scribbled on to the back of an image of a black Virgin Mary. Trailing after clues of her mother’s past, Lily is led to the pink home of the Boatwright sisters. Lily is unsure of her mother’s connection to the sisters, but she spends her time learning the beekeeping trade and helping the Boatwrights with the production of honey. Lily comes to learn many secrets about the bees, the black Madonna, and ultimately herself.
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Morgenstern has created a circus that exists outside of time and space. Le Cirque des Rêves, or the Circus of Dreams gives no warning of when it will appear, but when it’s black and white tents are raised there is always an eager crowd waiting to explore the curious world within. In the circus, everything and nothing is an illusion. The powers the performers hold are real. Unbeknownst to the audience, the circus is in the middle of a deadly competition that has repeated itself since the circus first came into being. Celia Bowen and Marco Alistair are locked in a battle of magic to prove themselves worthy. When love intervenes it becomes clear that this contest can have no winner.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
A textbook definition of an unreliable narrator, the character nicknamed Chief Broom tells the story of what took place in an Oregon psychiatric hospital. The hospital is described as a sinister place where surveillance cameras and microphones are hidden in unexpected places and the patients are kept compliant with pills filled with who knows what. It is hard to take our narrator at his word however, because as far as the reader knows this man is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” brings into question the notion of sanity, tracking the antics of Randle Patrick McMurphy, a patient who claims to only be in the ward of his own will to escape a prison sentence, but can the reader trust a mentally ill person to admit their insanity? Reality is only a matter of perspective in this novel.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Death has seen all of the most painful and violent moments of history. His job is a difficult one, but someone has to do it. At one particular moment in history during WW2 death is kept extraordinarily busy. The world is rampant with grief, but among the turmoil, Death finds beauty, hope, and love. It isn’t often that Death finds a human that captures his interest, but a fortuitous moment leads him to witness a small theft which catches his attention. Liesel Meminger picks up a book on grave digging at her brother’s funeral and pockets it for herself thus sparking a long career of book thievery. Following Liesel throughout the course of the war, Death and Liesel learn the importance of storytelling, and the power of words.
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
In the era of the Great Depression two migrant field workers venture across California in search of new work. The pair are an unusual partnership who could not be any more opposite from one another. George is a small man of bright wit and sharp intelligence. Lennie is a huge man, and contrasting to George’s craftiness, is dim and childlike in nature. George acts as a sort of caretaker for Lennie and although the two are often at odds, their friendship is unbreakable. They both share a dream of having a farm of their own, and their hard work has put them closer than ever before to achieving their goal, but Lennie’s nature often lands them in trouble.
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
A young shepherd named Santiago believes there is meaning to be found in a recurring dream, and after consulting a fortune teller, sets forth on a journey to find treasure in the pyramids of Egypt. Along the way he has many encounters of chance and learns about “personal legends”. This is a concept based around the idea that, “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.” Santiago’s adventure serves to prove that the universe is on his side.