I’m a writer, which means I’m a reader who loves his books.
Now, as I’m prepping for the launch event of my own novel, The Bean of Life, I thought I’d share my Top 5 Books of All Time – so far.
5. Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
Few books have inspired me more than this one.
Without Krakauer’s heart-breaking account of the 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy, I would never have written “Climb to the Bottom” or a number of other stories.
It is a gripping and poignant portrayal of the true cost of climbing the world’s tallest and most dangerous mountains. Reported with journalistic precision and human tenderness, Into Thin Air follows Krakauer’s doomed team up the mountain where traffic jams and hellish storms await them.
I have reread their journey at least 4 times because it is an addicting drama and brings you close to the soul of a climber without the cost in treasure and life.
4. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
As an English teacher, I’m exposed to many of the “classics,” but none of them have probed by spirit like this one.
Fitzgerald’s shining work explores the deepest themes of human existence with a literary scalpel, and when he’s finished, it’s your own haunted heart on the operating table.
I love this book not because it’s a classic, but because Fitzgerald clearly wasn’t worried about greatness – he simply ached to tell the truest story possible. By casting Nick Carraway, not Gatsby, as the narrator, he conveys the deeper truth that we are often observers who learn from the rise and fall of others.
Sure, Gatsby was “great.”
But to Nick, he was a cherished friend who is to be admired, pitied, and mourned.
3. Sphere, by Michael Crichton
As a child, no author influenced me more than Michael Crichton.
My gateway drug to reading was Jurassic Park, which led me to other Crichton thrillers like Congo, The Andromeda Strain, and Sphere. And it was this third story that I gleefully plagiarized in my 5th grade notebooks, writing my own tales of thrilling survival in the most harrowing of settings.
Sphere puts a team of researchers at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to research a sunken vessel that is much too large to be a boat. The team discovers that is a 300 year-old spacecraft, and once they are inside, they locate a mysterious house-sized “sphere.”
Their obsession with the sphere begins a survival adventure that will make you ignore your family for hours as you tear through the final 200 pages, desperate to learn what happens. It’s a white-knuckle scientific thriller that will inspire you to do your own research and attempt to pen such a heart-pounding yarn.
2. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Recommended by a friend in the summer of ’08, I took a chance on McCarthy and never looked back.
The Road is about a man and his son who must travel a long road toward the coast. The world around them is reduced to ash and decay, obliterated by an unexplained apocalypse. There are no chapters and no quotation marks. And you will never read such stirring, sorrowful and beautiful prose in your life.
Made into a decent film, The Road is a purely literary experience. McCarthy knows how to paint with the brush of language and gives you more than enough to make a thousand movies in your mind.
Despite the darkness and sadness, the book is simultaneously thrilling and motivational. When I read The Road, I wept many times, mostly out of grief but occasionally with redemptive hope. I recommend this book to people all the time, and it has absolutely shaped my voice and style, especially in stories like “The Exile.”
1. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
There is Watership Down, and then there is every other book.
I love no book like I love this book. It is and always will be my favorite. I first read it in the 8th grade and, unlike most required literature, it won me over – especially the second half.
To the uninitiated, Watership Down is the story of a group of rabbits who flee from extermination to find a new home in the English countryside.
You read that right: Rabbits.
These are not “bunnies.” They are survivors – creatures who think, reason, philosophize, worship, plan, trick, laugh, mourn, and fight.
And the heroes of this story will stay with you forever.
To say more would spoil the genius and delight of the journey. Watership Down is a book about journeys and the cost of taking them, and the act of reading it is its own journey. One could say the first parts are “slow.” Yet the early chapters are filled with running, hiding, forming friendships, establishing character, and facing countless enemies.
And then it only gets better.
So yes – my favorite book is about rabbits.
But it’s really about heroes.
So I hope you read it.
What Are Your Top 5 Books?
Agree with any of mine? Disagree? What are your Top 5 Books?
Share in the comments below!
Cover Image: “Watership Baum,” Michael Herzog – Creative Commons