Tangent first. I kind of hate it when people ask me what my favorite book is. Every time someone asks me that, Drew Barrymore's line from Ever After comes floating through my head: "I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens." Really, I have so many favorites. And favorites in every different genre and category. Also, my love for a book fluctuates over time. Sometimes I really love a book right after I've read, but then I tend to forget about it. Other times, I don't so much care for a book when I first read it, but it stays with me in a way I couldn't predict. These books below are perhaps not my favorite books of all time, but they are books that have stayed with me in one way or another, and so I want to share them here.
1. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanaukin
Oh, people! If you want to read a beautiful book about marriage and Christianity and the hard parts of life, THIS IS THE BOOK! Honestly, I've been trying to get my husband to read this book for years, because I want to discuss it with him so badly. It's beautiful and amazing. The fact that it's a true autobiographical story just makes it that much more powerful. Also, if you love C.S. Lewis, this is a must read (the Vanaukins meet Lewis and become friends with him, then correspond with him when they leave England, and he figures heavily in the development of their faith and relationship). I just really, really, really wish they had chosen to have children, because I would've loved to see how that would have affected their relationship, and it was super interesting for me to read what Lewis advised on that topic. Warning: the end will leave you crying with gut-wrenching ugly sobs. But it is still so, so, so good.
2. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
I come from a family of runners. Every single one of my siblings ran track or cross-country in high school, every single one of them has run a marathon (more than once), and my husband fit right in with them when he joined the family with a marathon under his belt as well. I... do not run. In fact, I hate running with a passion. But this book! It almost quite nearly convinced me to start running. Whatever your feelings about running, if you enjoy fun, journalistic, creative non-fiction, this one is a fabulous read. Honestly, this is the book that got me interested in non-fiction as a genre. I'd really never read much non-fiction before (certainly not for pleasure), but after reading this I couldn't shut up about it and enthusiastically told everyone I knew about this book for a solid year (maybe longer). It's so much fun.
3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Okay, I will freely admit that this book is not for everyone, but I have to say that this book BLEW MY MIND when I read it. Maybe you've heard about or seen the movie? I read this book long before the movie came out, and I'd been pestering my husband to read it too, but it wasn't until he saw the trailer that he became super intrigued and picked up the book himself. And guess what? It BLEW HIS MIND, just like I told him it would. I haven't actually seen the movie, because I already know there is just no way possible that any film could ever do this book justice, so there's no point. No point at all. Just stick to the book. It is literary fiction, and it is weird and innovative, and I advise you to proceed with caution, but if you have even the slightest stomach for literary fiction, this is a MUST READ! This book was my gateway drug, and I've read all of David Mitchell's other books (he came out with a new one last fall that I'm dying to get my hands on). He is completely brilliant-- in my opinion the most brilliant author alive today. I don't recommend all his books (he can get graphic), but this one is just so incredibly fun and amazing and innovative, and there just aren't even enough adjectives to describe it.
4. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
This book! Oh, this book! I've only read two of his books, but Wallace Stegner might possibly be my favorite author of the twentieth century, and this is definitely my favorite of the two. This story follows the friendship of two couples from when they meet as young newlyweds through old age and death. It is semi-autobiographical, and I don't know how much about the other central couple is true or fiction, but the relationships in this book are beautiful and complicated and deep and so REAL. This book is a fabulous look at both marriage and friendship and life, and I love it for being so relatable. Their relationships have highs and lows, but in general these are happily married, happy people, and I can't tell you how much I loved seeing that portrayed in literary fiction. I read this book a few years into my marriage when we were still at the point of trying to figure out how to make "couple friends" which is honestly so much harder than making just one-on-one friends, and the friendship between the two couples in this book made me jealous. There is so much good stuff here.
5. Quiet by Susan Cain
Introverts, unite! (or stay safely home and away from each other in solitary happiness). I am an introvert, but for most of my life I've felt guilty about that, like it was a flaw that needed fixing. I felt like I was failing at being a good human being because I struggled to talk to strangers, was uncomfortable in large social settings, and always preferred to stay home rather than go out on the weekends. Bless Susan Cain for this incredible book, because it literally changed my self view-point. This book allowed me to stop feeling guilty about my introverted tendencies, accept them, set boundaries, and appreciate my strengths. It was also a good read to help my husband understand me better, since he is far more extroverted and one of our most frustrating ongoing arguments involves the amount of social activity in our lives (never enough for him, a little too much for me). This is a seriously good read for anyone who likes to understand human nature better. If you want the condensed version, see her amazing TED talk here.
6. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
I'd never heard about this book before stumbling across a free copy of the audio version, but after I'd listened to it I wondered why I'd never heard about it before. This is one of those books that left a really strong emotional impact on me, but in an uplifting positive kind of way. Really, this is quite a breathtaking story, and I learned so much about South Africa (fascinating, turbulent, troubled little country) and boxing (far more than I ever wanted to know), and boys at boarding schools (terrifying). This is a great story and inspiring read.
7. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Okay, this one is more textbook and less pleasure read, but it is so incredibly brilliant and fascinating that I can't help recommend it to anyone who has the patience for it. This book outlines the most fascinating theory for the development of modern civilizations, and gives the best explanation for WHY some countries and societies developed to send men to the moon, while others still hunt for food with spears. It's fascinating, totally world-view changing, and really intellectually stimulating while still being enjoyable to read (no, really, it is enjoyable). Highly recommend.