Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what books my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your Profile page, paste rules in a new Note, cast your 15 picks, and tag people in the Note, upper right-hand side.)
1. Brian Morton – The Dylanist
This book was essentially about me. I can’t really say enough good and interesting things about it; from the structure, to the characters, to Morton’s uncanny, amazing ability to embody the mind and body of a woman from childhood to adulthood through various relationships and mistakes, this book, now out-of-print, could be one of the most impactful, personal books I’ve ever read.
2. Carol Shields – The Republic of Love
The best book about love I’ve ever read. Shields, who dabbles often in biography and whose books often have braided narratives, seems to take a simple ‘boy-meets-girl’ storyline and plays with the well-worn conventions of that story. What seems unbelievable and difficult to grasp soon becomes a beautiful story about two people, “casualties of love” as Shields describes them, who realize through mishaps and coincidences, that they are completely in love with one another after just one short encounter. It is the only “realism fairytale” I’ve ever completely bought.
3. Carol Shields – The Box Garden
Carol Shields tends to find unusual happenings in the most mundane of people, thus making an ordinary life out to be an extraordinary adventure. Because she seems to regard everyone’s little life as a story that is worth telling, it makes the reader evaluate their own existence and find extraordinary happenings in their own life. None of her books balances ordinary and extraordinary better than this one.
4. Brian Morton – Breakable You
At first glance, the old Jew-falls-in-love-with-Muslim-in-NYC storyline feels trite and ridiculously overdone. However, in this novel Morton makes the romance less about religion and politics, and more about the people behind these stereotypes. Morton’s female protagonists are so likable and three-dimensional and well-embodied that they almost seem more comfortable and realistic than his male characters, who are usually mean-spirited, selfish or closed-off. In this novel, we see one of Morton’s male characters’ walls come down in a way that is sad and yes, sentimental, but so balanced and beautiful. I love his books and this one is totally unforgettable.
5. Lloyd Jones – Mister Pip
The dangers of the imagination in this small island village are so intense, yet because this story is narrated by a child,the reader knows of the threat while the protagonist does not. And that makes this one of the saddest novels I’ve ever written.
6. E. Annie Proulx – Brokeback Mountain
The movie is better than the novella in my opinion, but damn… Proulx writes some good poetry. And because we can get into the characters’ heads more in the novel, that also adds this extra-textual layer that the movie, though superior to the novella, can’t quite duplicate.
7. Jean Thesman – Where the Road Ends
My grade six teacher read this to my class and it changed my reading life forever. The book is about a 12-year old girl who is the oldest of three foster children. After a strange and negligent disaster happens, she has to be strong for her “family” and keep their secrets for as long as possible so they don’t get separated. Because I was nearly twelve at the time this book was read to me, I could imagine the burden placed on this girl (whose name is Mary Jack) and perhaps that’s why it’s affected me to this day. It was one of the novels that made me realize I wanted to write.
8. Kit Pearson – Awake and Dreaming
THEE novel of my childhood. Kit Pearson wrote the books that all writers of my generation should have read when they were growing up. Literary, believable and immersing, all of her novels made me want to write. But I think this one specifically, because it is one of the few childhood novels I read that was actually ABOUT writing, particularly held significance for me. I was a shy loner like the protagonist, Theo, and when a mysterious stranger suggests that perhaps she could be a writer and she thinks of how great it would be to emulate the heroes who wrote the books SHE adored, I realized that maybe I could do the same.
9. Kit Pearson – The Daring Game
Another of Pearson’s books that was really a shining beacon for me was this one. I loved the idea of being in a boarding school and breaking rules and learning about the codes and conventions and politics of this school. I loved and related to the displacement that Eliza, the protagonist felt, and I loved her relationship with the boisterous and unpopular Helen; Helen is misunderstood and troubled, which the book implies but not really states outright and it is thus a very subtle book that lends a lot of credit to child readers.
10. Joseph Boyden – Three Day Road
The best novel about war that I’ve ever read by far and definitely one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. There’s gore and depression and insistent torture and misery, which goes along with ducking into trenches and being shot. But above the physical pain there is rivalry between two best friends and an indescribable painfully real psychology to this novel that amazed me in that I couldn’t believe Boyden wasn’t involved in WWII.
11. Madison Smart Bell – Anything Goes
The title says a lot about this book; anything does go. In that really nothing happens in this novel; a family secret is revealed, friendships are made and broken, some people get in bar fights, one-night-stands come and go, and the protagonist, Jesse, realizes his talent as a musician and grows metaphorical feet over the novel’s timespan. But the loose meandering and travelling and character comings and goings make this book essentially plotless and that’s what I loved most about it; writing a book with no plot is bold but if it manages to be captivating, it really says a lot about the passions of the author. In this novel, it’s done beautifully.
12. Heather O’Neill – Lullabye for Little Criminals
While some people complain that the perils of Baby, the protagonist in this novel are underscored by the fact that it is a first-person narration and thus, we know that she’s going to ultimately survive, I think that adds to the novel’s unbelievable impact.
13. Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
In a braided narrative, there are always characters’ stories that you care about more than others and yes, this book is no different; but the tragedy of Mr. Singer’s life and its lack of give-and-take, and the scene in which Mick Kelly “grows up” and learns what it means to be an adult, and realizes the life choices she must make in a difficult time in her life and society as a whole, are TOO moving. Carson McCullers is almost TOO good. She has created a novel that can move mountains with whispers. And at 22, as a woman in a time when women couldn’t do all the things they can now, that is a huge achievement. I effing love this book.
14. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
With a book (and movie) this iconic, there isn’t new ground to cover. But this book deserves all of its decades-long hype. It’s triumphant and genius and beautiful and just, and the astounding care that went into a novel like this, both on a technical and emotional level, cannot be surpassed. I would challenge any writer to not have this novel on a list of their most influential books, or any advid reader to not enjoy what this book has to offer on all levels.
15. J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
From the first sentence of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, to the last sentence of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I’ve been hooked and fell deeply in love with Rowling’s amazing series. What Rowling lacks in wordsmithing, she makes up for in the most dynamic plot and storytelling I’ve yet to read. And this is never better demonstrated than in The Prisoner or Azkaban, Rowling’s total masterpiece. This is a great novel; we see budding romances and teenage awkwardness paired with familial love, time travel, injustice, revenge, a ‘wrong man’ narrative that would make Hitchock proud, a (though, slight) blurring of the lines of good versus evil… Azkaban is Rowling at her strongest and fiercest.