Books and lists: they’re two of my favorite things, so what could be more fun than compiling an A to Z list of my favorite books?! This proved to be easier said than done: my first road block was discovering that, to my knowledge I have not read a single book starting with the letters X or Z . . . so I had to ditch my initial post title (Favorite Books from A to Y just doesn’t have the same ring to it). I also found that many of my very favorite books begin with the same letters, making some of my choices downright excruciating (who knew that so many beloved books have titles beginning in H and W?). But for the sake of the post, I pushed through the challenges to compile this fun list
To be clear, this isn’t the Top 24 I would have chosen without the imposed constraints. But these books do span the alphabet, and they are truly some of my very favorites. And on a related note, I’m thinking of petitioning the Powers That Be to start utilizing some of those underrepresented letters for future book titles!
And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie: Ms. Christie is undeniably one of the greatest storytellers of all time, perhaps the greatest writer within the mystery genre, and this book is the cream of the Murder Mystery crop. And Then There Were None blew my mind when I read it as a preteen, and it has maintained its Top Five status ever since.
Beartown, by Fredrik Backman: Before reading this book, I never would have expected a book about hockey to make my list of favorites, but this beautiful novel is so much more than a sports story: complex characters, thought-provoking themes, and exquisite storytelling made this one of my most-recommended novels of 2017.
The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci: This cozy mystery is an anomaly for Baldacci, who is best known for his political thrillers, but I adore everything about this book, from its sweet romance to its unique train setting and wonderful Christmas vibes.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown: Brown’s work has transformed the way I view myself and my relationships. This book in particular taught me so much about the power of vulnerability and the role it plays in overcoming shame.
The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, by Richard Rohr: This book was my introduction to the Enneagram. It’s not an easy read but provides a wealth of insightful and practical information about one of my pet subjects.
Faith and Doubt, by John Ortberg: With this book, John Ortberg quite literally saved me during a personal faith crises. I was going through a difficult time and listened to the audiobook on repeat until the words fully began to sink in. Ortberg helped me understand that doubts are an acceptable and even necessary part of a healthy faith, which led me to make peace with many of my faith questions and struggles.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn: This isn’t the most high-brow pick, and it probably isn’t even the best of its genre, but it was my introduction to the Unreliable Narrator/Domestic Noir/Psychological Thriller world and therefore will always be a favorite. Gillian Flynn’s characters are so deliciously despicable, it hurts.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner Azkaban, by J. K. Rowling: Another unoriginal pick, but I couldn’t not include Harry Potter on this list. It was challenging to choose just one book from the Harry Potter series, but Azkaban was my favorite of all seven books after my very first read through the series, so I’m sticking with it. (For the record, omitting runners-up The Help and The Hiding Place from this A-Y list was the hardest editorial decision I’ve made in quite some time.)
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith: This book captured my heart when I read it for my Reading Challenge last year. The story is hilarious and heartwarming, and the journal-style narration is brilliant.
Jesus Calling, by Sara Young: A friend introduced me to this devotional when we were in eating disorder treatment together in 2011. At the time, I had never read anything like it and felt as though each daily reading was written directly to me for that specific point in time. I’ve read through the entire annual devotion more than once now, and I’m continually amazed by the Lord’s ability to use Sarah Young’s words to speak into each day’s struggles.
The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom: It was slim pickings for the letter K, but The Kitchen House definitely earned its spot on this list. The book offers a unique look at plantation life and opened my eyes to a world I had known little about.
Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch: This is the only picture book on this list, but it needed to be here. Love You Forever is my favorite book of all time. I loved it as a child, and it took on new meaning when we brought Charleston home. It was the first book I read to him as a newborn, and we still read it together at least once per week (and we always both cry at the end). Not only does this simple but beautiful story give words (and pictures) to my love for my child, but the book’s lovely depiction of the circle of life has helped me make peace with the growing pains involved in watching my little guy grow up.
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden: I felt like such a grown-up when I read this book in college, because it was one of the first unassigned books I read that wasn’t a mystery or legal thriller. I was captivated by the Japanese culture, which continues to fascinate me today. Such a beautiful book on so many levels.
Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry: Lois Lowry is one of my favorite middle grade authors, and since Gone Girl stole the G position from The Giver, I wanted to include another one of Lowry’s wonderful books on this list. Though I’ve now read numerous books about the holocaust, I believe this was my introduction to that horrific time in history. I have always been impressed with Lowry’s ability to share about the atrocities of war from an age-appropriate perspective.
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser: Every writer needs to read this book. Aspects of it were uncomfortable for me, as Zinsser made me aware of just how many mistakes I make with my writing, but he offers excellent advice on conveying stories and ideas cleverly and succinctly.
Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, by Jodie Berndt: I just adore this book, which has given me so much guidance in my prayers for Charleston. My dad is currently praying his way through this book and I love getting texts from him about his specific prayers for my brother and me. Though it didn’t make this list, A Praying Life is another excellent book on prayer that would make a great companion read to this one.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain: This is the book that made introversion cool again. I know I’m not alone in citing Quiet as the book that helped me come to terms with my own introversion and view it as a gift rather than a burden. A must-read for every introvert, and for the extroverts who want to better understand us quiet souls.
Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles: Amor Towles’ writing is impeccable. Reading Rules of Civility (as well as A Gentleman in Moscow) was like spending time with a mesmerizing painting that threatened to pull me right into the frame. The story is remarkable, and the themes and characters are complex, poignant, and moving.
The Shack, by William Paul Young: This is a controversial novel, but one that resonated with me on so many levels. The Shack deepened my understanding of many spiritual topics such as the trinity and God’s sovereignty, all delivered through an unforgettable story.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: I realize that this is just about everyone’s favorite novel, but I refuse to apologize for my unoriginality. It’s a classic that I just can’t quit. Even the disastrous Go Set a Watchman couldn’t dissuade me from my love for this book, or my admiration for Atticus Finch.
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, by Kevin Rose: Having grown up within Christian culture, this book caught me by surprise and gave me an understanding of how my faith (and its various manifestations) may look to an outsider. This book completely altered the way I relate to nonbelievers.
The Visitation, by Frank Peretti: Frank Peretti is a genius. He has a remarkable ability to share stories that are completely fantastical while also utterly believable, and his books gave me my first true glimpse at spiritual warfare as it possibly exists in our world today. It’s been years since I read this book, but the themes have never left me.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio: I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve recommended this book, to kids and adults alike. It features strong themes of compassion and courage, with some of the greatest characters to exist in middle grade fiction. I haven’t seen the movie, as I’m afraid it could never live up to my love for the book.
Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin: I didn’t like this book nearly as much as my first Zevin novel (The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry), but it is a strong read that is both funny and poignant and gives flesh to the problems of misogyny and the corruption of power.
Wow, there were so many difficult decisions involved in compiling this list! I guess having too many beloved books is a good problem to have! What books would make your list? Any of your picks match mine? Let me know about them!