My top 100

A list of books I have read and loved, from childhood to the present day. In no particular order, and collapsing series into a single entry. F=Fiction, NF=Nonfiction, J=Juvenile (aka grade school), YA=Young Adult (aka middle and high school)

1. One Art, Elizabeth Bishop (NF)

2. The Song of the Dodo, David Quammen (NF)

3. The Open Door, Elizabeth Maguire (F)

4. His Dark Materials (trilogy), Phillip Pullman (F,YA)

5. Hunger Games (trilogy), Suzanne Collins (F, YA)

6. The Chronicles of Narnia (five books), C.S. Lewis (F, J)

7. Little House books (9 books, if you count The First Four Years), Laura Ingalls Wilder (F, J)

8. Friend of My Youth, Alice Munro (F) — because one of the short stories in this collection, “Differently,” hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it in the New Yorker

9. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (F)

10. Persuasion, Jane Austen (F)

11. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (F)

12. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (F)

13. Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz (NF)

14. American Stories, Calvin Trillin (NF)

15. Remembering Denny, Calvin Trillin (NF)

16. About Alice, Calvin Trillin (NF)

17. Great Plains, Ian Frazier (NF)

18. Family, Ian Frazier (NF)

19. Chronicles of Prydain (five books), Lloyd Alexander (F,J)

20. Blindspot, Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore (F)

21. The Powers That Be, David Halberstam (NF)

22. The Rose In Winter, Kathleen Woodiwiss (F) — I didn’t say these had to be *good* books, much less literary, right? I’m just talking about books that consumed me, stuck with me, that I wouldn’t mind having on a desert island. I (thankfully, I guess) didn’t have huge exposure to Old Skool romance but this one I did.

23. The Nonesuch, Georgette Heyer (F)

24. Possession, A.S. Byatt (F)

25. 92 in the Shade, Thomas McGuane (F)

26. The Truth About Lorin Jones, Alison Lurie (F)

27. A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard (NF)

28. Parallel Lives, Phyllis Rose (NF)

29. Forever, Judy Blume (F, YA)

30. Then Again Maybe I Won’t, Judy Blume (F,YA)

31. Up in the Old Hotel, Joseph Mitchell (NF?)

32. The Future of the Past, Alexander Stille (NF)

33. Jackson Brodie novels (four so far, hope there’s more coming), Kate Atkinson (F)

34.Adam Dalgleish novels, P.D. James (F)

35. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (NF)

36. A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, E.L. Konigsburg (F,J)

37. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken (F,J)

38. Touch Not The Cat, Mary Stewart (F)

39. Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink (F,J)

40. Other Powers, Barbara Goldsmith (NF)

41. Titan, Ron Chernow (NF)

42. Middlemarch, George Eliot (F)

43. The Five of Hearts, Patricia O’Toole (NF)

44. Summer, Edith Wharton (F)

45. House of Mirth, Edith Wharton (F)

46. Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman (NF)

47. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman (NF)

48. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (NF)

49. Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley (F)

50. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (F)

51. Ordinary Love and Good Will, Jane Smiley (F)

52. The Beginner’s Book of Dreams, Elizabeth Benedict (F)

53. Regeneration trilogy, Pat Barker (F)

54. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (NF) — harrowing, superb graphic “novel” that is actually a memoir

55. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (F)

56. A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel (F)

57. Elizabeth the Great, Elizabeth Jenkins (NF) — the biography that started my Tudor obsession, back in the ’70s

58. Song of Ice and Fire (five books so far out of a planned seven), George R.R. Martin (F)

59. The Control of Nature, John McPhee (F) — profiles of places that do just that, from diverting lava flows in Iceland to attempting to tame the Mississippi in Louisiana

60. Off Ramp, Hank Stuever (NF) — collection of reporting so good I’m going to call them essays

61. The Ordinary Seaman, Francisco Goldman (F)

62. Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett (F)

63. The Voyage of the Narwhal, Andrea Barrett (F)

64. The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather (F) — Not one of Cather’s best known novels but I wrote my senior honors thesis on it

65. O, Pioneers!, Willa Cather (F)

66. Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell (NF)

67. A Gentle Madness, Nicholas Basbanes (NF)

68. The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier (F)

69. Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks (F)

70. Practicing History, Barbara Tuchman (NF)

71. The Romanovs: The Final Chapter, Robert K. Massie (NF)

72. Nicholas and Alexandra, Robert K. Massie (NF)

73. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Barbara Tuchman (NF)

74. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O’Farrell (F)

75. The Sealed Letter, Emma Donoghue (F)

76. The Night Watch, Sarah Waters (F)

77. Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne, David Starkey (NF)

78. She-Wolves, Helen Castor (NF)

79. One Day, David Nicholls (F)

80. The End of Mr. Y, Scarlett Thomas (F)

81. Mystery Train, Greil Marcus (NF)

82. Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers (F)

83. The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Janet Malcolm (NF)

84. The White Album, Joan Didion (NF)

85. The Island at the Center of the World, Russell Shorto (NF)

86. The Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner (NF)

87. Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood (F)

88. Amsterdam, Ian McEwan (F)

89. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, Taylor Branch (NF)

90. Leaven of Malice, Robertson Davies (F)

91. The Amenities of Book Collecting, A. Edward Newton (NF) — I own two copies of this book and can’t get rid of either — because I’m not sure which of them was a gift from my father, who was a book collector and who was inordinately proud of having won an undergraduate prize at Swarthmore for having the best library — even though he was a zoology major.

92. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon (F)

93. Aubrey-Maturin series, Patrick O’Brian (F)

94. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Kate Summerscale (NF)

95. The Queen of Whale Cay, Kate Summerscale (NF)

96. Temeraire series (ongoing), Naomi Novik (F) — The Napoleonic Wars … with dragons! Oh, just try it. It’s awesome.

97. Matthew Shardlake series (ongoing), C.J. Sansom (F)

98. Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie (F)

99. The Book of Air and Shadow, Michael Gruber (F)

100. Rin Tin Tin, Susan Orlean (NF)


5 responses to “My top 100

  1. My word, Nan, I have read remarkably few of those!! But I guess that’s the beauty of our *personal* lists: that they needn’t have come from any Canon of Great Works according to the larger world. They’re personal. I’m honored that you chose to take my idea! Thanks. 🙂 I think I spotted only two books in common, can it be? Pride and Prejudice and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Have you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? I recommend it as a readalike for The Spirit Catches You.

  2. boneislandbooks

    I haven’t read Henrietta Lacks though I plan to — long story there about having seen Rebecca Skloot at a Nieman Narrative Nonfiction Conference (a year or two before the book was published), thought she was brilliant, recommended her to a new arts organization in town which hired her to conduct a workshop here — and then she bailed at the last minute. Which kind of screwed the organization and REALLY screwed some poor young woman who had gotten a special grant to attend. And I don’t believe it was some urgent emergency, either. So I’ve always had a weird feeling about her — and guilt in my own responsibility for setting up that disaster. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the book, so I’m hoping to get past that and read it.
    If you like crime, I really recommend the Gruber title, Book of Air and Shadows.

  3. Ralph Morrow

    Interesting. No Hemingway. None of the “popular” writers whom I follow. Of course, no sports. I’m reading The Bronx Is Burning. Almost finished. Have to be on my list.

  4. nan

    Ralph: It’s true, no Hemingway. If I were to include one, it would probably be a toss-up between The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. But I’ve just overdosed on him. No Fitzgerald, either, though I’m perfectly fine with people who consider The Great Gatsby to be the Great American Novel. I think I’m resistant to anyone I was assigned to read in school, especially more than once. I hate Huck Finn to this day and it’s not really the book’s fault; it’s that it was assigned to me about six times from junior high to college. And sports? I’ve read a couple baseball books — one of David Halberstam’s and The Boys of Summer by Roger Somebody? About the Dodgers, right? It was a long time ago — but they didn’t really stay with me. Obviously. I’ve recently acquired a copy of a new novel called The Art of Fielding, set in a midwestern college baseball team. It’s gotten great reviews — so it might find its way onto this list soon.

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