So I have been asked many times (particularly since posting some snaps of my bookshelves) what my favorite book is, and as all of you book lovers know, any attempt to pick only one favorite book feels comparable to picking one limb or one finger to keep, in other words in attempting to do this I am always left feeling a great sense of loss for all those books left out that are such a vital part of me. So I’ve decided instead to share a list of some of my favorites (though I know as soon as I post this I will think of 10 that I missed…and then I will finish 10 more that I desperately wish I had read before completing this accounting). My hope though is that some of you will feel a bit more connected when they know that we have shared some of the same favorite journeys, and that some will be inspired to go a on an adventure into new realms which open new magical doorways for them.
LES MISERABLES- Victor Hugo
THE SIMERILION-JRR Tolkin
THE LITTLE PRINCE – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
ALICE IN WONDERLAND &
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS- Lewis Caroll
THE MISTS OF AVALON- Marion Zimmer Bradley
HARRY POTTER (1-6)- J.K. Rowling
HIS DARK MATERIALS (1-3)- Phillip Pullman
SHERLOCK HOLMES- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA- Arthur Golden
THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG- Muriel Barberry
CONTACT- Carl Sagan
ROOTS- Alex Haley
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND- Robert Heinlein
THE ALCHEMIST- Paulo Coelho
THE LONG DARK TEA TIME OF THE SOUL- Douglas Adams
CATCH 22- Joseph Heller
THE SONG OF THE LARK- Willa Cather
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE- Jane Austin
ATLAS SHRUGGED- Ayn Rand
THE REPUBLIC- Plato
SYMPOSIUM – Plato
PARADISE LOST- John Milton
DEVINE COMEDY- Dante
FAUST- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
THE BHAGAVAD GITA
A MOVEABLE FEAST- Ernest Hemingway
THE BLUE SWEATER- Jacqueline Novogratz
THE HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE- Charles Van Dorren
A STUDY OF HISTORY- Arnold Joseph Toynbee
A PEOPLES HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES- Howard Zinn
THE LIVES OF MARGARET FULLER- John Mattesson
BIRD BY BIRD- Anne Lamott
REASON FOR HOPE- Jane Goodall
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME- Stephan Hawking
UNDERSTANDING COMICS- Scott McCloud
MIDDLEMARCH- George Elliot
THE STORY OF THE STONE- Cao Xueqin
AND EVERYTHING William Shakespeare EVER WROTE
PS- favorite poetry books would be a long additional list
Also probably to my own great embarrassment (oh well shame is for the weak 😉 ) I am including an essay, I wrote for an assignment some time ago, which goes into detail as to my personal feelings about one of the books I’ve listed. So if you truly have nothing you’d rather do, I suggest reading one of the books on the above list or feel free to scan through the following. Again hoping perhaps it touches one of those chords of familiarity with someone and they (or you) feel a bit more understood a bit less alone in this whole life journey thing we are on.
With love always,
In truth my life has been forever altered by countless thousands of artistic works, of significant events, by so many words put to paper by so many great minds, and their demarkations aren’t so definitive, these changes happen one flowing into the next, they overlap, their edges bleed. To separate out one appeared to compromise the nature of the change described. This act seemed akin to attempting to isolate the lone drop of water most responsible for turning the tide. Upon first reflection, I worried that to single out but one work or event would be an arbitrary whim, or worse still a calculated act, contrived for effect
I realized then that there is an answer revealed by my reaction to the question itself, a book which helped to cultivate in me this view of the nuanced, multifaceted nature of existence—the novel Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. I read this work in 1997, and though I had read many brilliant, thought provoking novels earlier in my life, Les Miserables was the first which so elegantly provided an example of how to weave multiple views together into one coherent communication. This symphony composed of many movements and singular melodies, was in such sympathy with my nature that I do not think I have been satisfied with a solely singular point of view ever since. Henceforth, truth to me would always lie in the plurality which composes any unity.
Les Miserables, has an exquisitely rich expansive scope. Spanning a significant stretch of time and great distances of space and circumstance. Addressing issues of class and revolution. Displaying changes in perspective, on both a personal and societal level. Examining questions of politics, ethics, economics, justice, love, war, ideas, and ideals. All this shown from many viewpoints woven together in a singular connected flowing line of experience, with a common tonal center. Illuminating how we humans commingle, alter and change each other’s lives irreversibly through our interactions—large and small, intentional and unintentional. Illustrating how inextricably connected we are, how impossible it is for survival or happiness to exist for the one apart from the whole, that only in knowing there is a communal purpose and reason for our lives can we truly be happy as individuals.
Hugo focuses our attention on those aspects of existence that we don’t always see, the lives we are a part of yet know nothing about, the ripples we blindly create, those stories that, too often, have no one to tell them. He even takes this examination to the extreme of penetrating the sewers of Paris— the truly discarded aspects of our world which we attempt to ignore— and through this, again, he finds the ways in which we connect, on both a literal and figurative level. By covering a substantial period of time in multiple lives, he shows that an outcome which appears one way at a given point on the journey may end with a very different result, once again, giving us a perspective on life which we sometimes fail to see.
To what degree reading Les Miserables altered or created in me a new way of seeing, and to what degree it validated an already extant view, I do not know, but because of my experience reading this novel I feel confident that I will never again think that I can truly comprehend something without viewing it holistically, from all angles, acknowledging all its dimensions and its potential repercussions across time. This novel has solidified my view of life as an equation, a formula so precise that even the slightest shift changes the whole organism completely, wherein a single breath, a single smile alters the course of history.