People occasionally ask me how I became a writer; and my standard answer is, “I was raised in a family of readers.”
And over the years I’ve read thousands of books (that I can remember by title and author, that is). Not counting comic books. Not counting textbooks. Oh, and not counting my own books.
So, when I sat down recently to try to list my favorite fifty books, I faced a daunting task. I absolutely love books, and there have been so many good ones that narrowing them down to a list of fifty seems a lot like picking a favorite child or grandchild.
But I did it (not the child or grandchild thing—the book thing). I present below my list, which excludes books I wrote or represented for my clients as a literary agent, which are all, of course, the best of the best. It also excludes the works of Shakespeare because I approach them as plays, not as books, per se.
I’m not saying these are the greatest books ever written (though some would qualify) but that these books have either changed my life or brought me so much pleasure or made me think or are just so flat-out wonderful that they make the top few percent of all the books I’ve ever read.
They are listed in roughly the order I read them (as well as I can remember at my advanced age) and with an asterisk by those I’ve read more than once:
The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Cleary)*
Emil and the Detectives (Kastner)*
My Side of the Mountain (George)*
Portrait of a Prophet (Hall)
A Man Called Peter (Marshall)
In His Steps (Sheldon)*
Winnie the Pooh (Milne)*
The House at Pooh Corner (Milne)*
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Lewis)*
Helps to Holiness (Brengle)*
The Maltese Falcon (Hammett)
With Christ in the School of Prayer (Murray)*
Sit Walk Stand (Nee)*
The Sound and the Fury (Faulkner)
David Copperfield (Dickens)
East of Eden (Steinbeck)
The Pillars of the Earth (Follett)
Spoon River Anthology (Masters)
The Indian in the Cupboard (Banks)*
The Daughter of Time (Tey)*
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Dillard)*
The Writing Life (Dillard)*
Robinson Crusoe (Devoe)*
Knowing God (Packer)*
Pudd’nhead Wilson (Twain)
Bird by Bird (Lamott)*
The Orchard (Robertson)
Treasure Island (Stevenson)
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly (Dawn)
A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving)
Traveling Mercies (Lamott)
The Cloister Walk (Norris)
Women in the Church (Grenz)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Tolkein)
The Contemplative Pastor (Peterson)
A Diary of Private Prayer (Baillie)*
Answering God (Peterson)
Leap Over a Wall (Peterson)*
Hannah Coulter (Berry)
The Challenge of Jesus (Wright)
People of the Book (Brooks)
Jayber Crow (Berry)
Virgil Wander (Enger)
Okay, so maybe it’s cheating to list the Lord of the Rings trilogy as one; but it’s my list, okay? Make your own. And let me know what’s on it.
All the books I ever read
prepared me for these days
when most every comfort’s fled
into a blood-dimmed haze
that admits of no appeal,
no magic bullet cure.
There’s nowhere to look to heal,
but I’m taught to endure
by the friends I’ve never met,
of whom some never walked this Earth,
and I’m bound not to forget
them when I count the worth
of rising once more to the pain,
of choosing once more to remain.
Andrew, thank you for that beautiful morning contemplation. And Bob, I’m right there with you for many of your books! I’m so excited you included Stoker’s Dracula—I see your vampire and raise you a monster, because Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my favorites, read more than once. I would throw in several of Shakespeare’s plays (huge fan of the bard) and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, read on heavy rotation. And, yes, of course, the Lord of the Rings only counts as one book! 📚❤️🤓
Andrew, my long silence is due to circumstances, not indifference. You are daily in my prayers. Friend-husband went home last month, just shy a couple of months of our 59th anniversary. I was grateful that his final illness was blessedly brief because he would have made no better long-term care patient than I would have long-term caregiver. I have no idea why the Lord has consigned you to such an arduous life, but he does have a purpose, and I am grateful to have the benefit of your perspective and wisdom. Thank you for persevering. May he grant you grace and peace and strength.
Andrew, I am so sorry you are suffering. Please keep your words flowing into our ears! I love reading your poetry.
Not wanting to repeat any on you list, I would add:
The Beans of Egypt Maine (Chute)
To Kill a Mocking Bird (Lee)
The Saxon Tales Collection (Cornwell)
The Red Dragon (Harris)
A Long Fatal Long Chase (Alcott)
I think that technically The Lord of the Rings is one book in three volumes so you’re okay. 🙂
So many of the books I love are on this list! I would add:
War and Peace, the Maud translation. It gripped me all the way through!
Peace Like a River – Leif Enger
Vanity Fair – Thackeray’s original is darker than the movie
The Corfu Trilogy – Gerald Durrell – it is beautifully written and also makes me laugh
Thanks for sharing your list, Bob! Since I was under the impression you eschewed speculative fiction, I was pleasantly surprised to see that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Lord of the Rings made the cut! 😀
Bob, what a wonderful and enlightening post. Learning what another reader reads is a joyful experience. Also, one cannot forget Jane Eyre (Bronte).
What a great list! A few of my favorites that I would add are:
Mere Christianity – Lewis
The Count of Monte Cristo – Dumas
The Pilgrim’s Progress – Bunyan
Hind Feet for High Places – Hurnard
The Princess and Curdie – MacDonald
Silas Marner – Eliot
The Pursuit of God – Tozer
Morning and Evening – Spurgeon
Terri Lynn Schump
Andrew, your poem touched my heart. Thank you! Bob, there were some things on your list that I’ve read and remember fondly; some I know I’ve read, but it’s been so long I can’t recall much about them, so, obviously must read them again; and some I’ve jotted down on my TBR list to check out. My own list would include childhood favorites like The Secret Garden (which I still read every spring when green things start poking out the ground), The Black Stallion series, and the Nancy Drew series. I was a voracious reader and could (and still sometimes do) consume a book a day, so I loved it when I could find an entire series of books.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ooooh! My Side of the Mountain, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Dracula, Treasure Island, and LOTR were all favorites for our boys and for us, too!
Oh, great honk! How could I forget Jane Austen (P&P, S&S, etc)?
This is a diverse collection of favorite books. Alan Alexander Milne, James Albert Michener, John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. Thank you.
Damon J. Gray
Interesting, Bob. I just read Virgil Wander last month. I loved it. It made me want to buy an old movie theater. And as I type this, I have The Mouse and The Motorcycle about six inches from my right elbow because I want to read it to my granddaughter.
I can’t wait to read The Mouse and The Motorcycle to my girls! I recently got a trilogy from Audible for one credit….so there, you’re not cheating at all counting the Lord of The Rings in one 🙂
Hiking the Appalalachian Trail changed my life.
The Shack – I needed the message and don’t wanta argue the theology.
Crazy Rich Asians – what a perspective into that whole world. The movie stayed close.
Band of Brothers – prepared me for the movie series.
Team of Rivals – and anything by Doris Kearns Godwin
Anything by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Anything by James Michener
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – to think through my own World-Vision/Worldview
The Art of Racing in the Rain – same thing, and loved the movie.
Heaven – Randy Alcorn
Much of the classics Dan had in his list
And I know I’m well over 50 already and just got started.
Thanks for this, Bob, and I agree with many of your choices. So glad to see you put Walden on your list. I’ve often felt like I must be a second-class Christian for loving this book by a confirmed transcendentalist, but since you’ve got it too, I see I’m in good company! (And of course, LotR is ONE book! I just put it on a list I was asked about and made the same comment!)