Clearly, coming up with a list of just ten books I loved before I started this blog was well nigh impossible. I could easily list over thirty. So I decided to eliminate childhood favorites or books I have done nostalgia posts on. I have no complicated algorithms or anything. I picked books I know I talked up all the time before or books that I remember loving with my whole heart.
1. Monster by Walter Dean Myers: Is there a book I recommended more than this one? Probably not. First of all, it’s a master class in plotting, suspense, form, and character. If you want to discuss unreliable narrators, you have to talk about Steve because, wow, we can not trust anything he writes at all. No, that’s not true. I think we can trust the emotional aspect of his experience. The fear, the confusion, the regret? All real. His version of events? Maybe not.
2. Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates: Okay, if there’s a book I recommended more than Monster, it’s definitely this YA novel by Oates. I saw so much of myself in both Ursula and Matt. This book found its way into my heart and never let go. I haven’t reread it in a while, and I’m realizing that I’m way overdue.
3. Assata by Assata Shakur: I have mentioned this book before. It’s one of the books I read in college that seriously changed my life. It changed how I looked at the criminal justice; it exposed me to a part of the Civil Rights Movement I had been unaware of. The whole trajectory of things I studied in school changed. Love her, love this book, love the teacher that exposed me to both.
4. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley: I read this book when I was in a serious reading slump. Almost 900 pages, it is a behemoth of a book. And you know what? I started it and couldn’t stop. I had absolutely no idea what was going on most of the time I was reading, and I still couldn’t put it down. So immensely readable, so completely engrossing. I still couldn’t tell you what happened in the book (aside from retelling of Arthurian legend from the women’s points of view blah blah). Well, I could tell you that I hated Gwenhwyfar, and that I will never forget the sex scene with Morgan Le Fay and Arthur. Oh! Or the threesome with Gwen, Lancelot, and Arthur. Okay, so fine, I could remember some things. The main thing, though, is that I carried this book on the Metro with me to and from work and read it at every opportunity I could. SO AMAZING. Even if I had no idea what was happening half the time.
5. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen: Not my first Dessen, but probably the one I related to the most. Remy spoke to me with her jaded sensibilities and outlook on love. I loved the relationships between Remy and her friends, I enjoyed her interactions with Dex, and the writing is so good. One of my favorite Sarah Dessen novels and another book I forced on my students.
6. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: What is there to say about Whale Talk? First, it has one of my favorite character names ever (T.J. Jones = The Tao Jones = The Tao “TJ” Jones). Second, I love every single thing about the way the plot is resolved. Every single thing. I love, love, love talking about the ending with people who hate it or are devastated by it because SERIOUSLY it is the best, most complete ending. I do have some issues with the treatment of Carly in the narrative, but this book is amazing. My students love it, I love it, the librarians love it. A+.
7. True Notebooks by Mark Salzman: This book is about two of my favorite things: the power of teaching and the power of writing. This book hit me in the gut, especially because my closest cousin was in jail when I was reading it, and so much of the different boys’ experiences really resonated with me and reminded me SO MUCH of him. Not only that but Salzman’s disappointment with his students when they act out or act up are so universal to the teaching experience even though the stakes here are so high. The journeys some of the young men take are so heartbreaking, but, yes, they need a voice. And he gives them a chance to be heard. So good.
8. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: True story: this is the only Faulkner novel I have ever read. It is also probably the only one I will read (the other ones are really long). I love the structure of this piece; I love the narrative. I love, love the different issues Faulkner deals with in the family. And I love that the mother speaks from beyond. Are you kidding me? I also love that Suzan-Lori Parks wrote Getting Mother’s Body, which pays homage to it (and is also a fun read).
9. Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty: I just love, love the structure and form of this book. I love that it’s told in letters and post-it notes. I love that it’s about losing a best friend and finding a new best friend. Another one I need to reread, definitely. I have read Moriarty’s other novels in this universe, and I think they pale in comparison to this one. Love.
10. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: The way the three narratives in this novel come together blows my mind. The plot is fantastic, the illustrations are stellar, and the message is one of the best ever about identity and assimilation. I love the relationship between Jin and Wei-Chin so much. Also, Jin with that perm will never stop being funny. Ever. EVER.