If you’ve been on social media lately, you may have seen the “Ten Book Challenge” that’s currently making the rounds. The general gist of it is to make a list of ten books that have stayed with you over time– not to over-think it, but name the first ten that come to mind. They don’t have to be necessarily “great” works of literary art– that term alone gives me flashbacks to Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, PhD. They simply have to be great in the way that they have influenced your life.
I was challenged by my good friend and fellow Downers Grove South H.S. alumna Julie Miller, and being a passionate bibliophile took her up on it. Without thinking too much about it, I listed my ten. Soon after, my friend Lisa expressed an interest as to why I chose the works that I did, so I told her I’d do a write-up of my reasons.
And here we are.
1. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
When I first read this story as a young child, I hated it. I totally didn’t get it, and thought that the tree was incredibly foolish for letting the boy walk all over her (it?). Why on earth would she be happy being used in such a way? Ugh. No thank you. Move along; nothing to see here.
But. Over time I grew to appreciate this little tale as my own experience of love and relationships grew and developed. Whether you read Silverstein’s parable as an allegory of a parent-child relationship, or perhaps a metaphor of God’s unconditional love– this children’s story is timeless and poignant.
2. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Another book that I first read as a girl, this book is one of the reasons I love gardening so very much. The idea of the hidden garden, full of mystery and romance was incredibly influential to me.
Aside from that though, the major theme of love as the great healing agent rings so true to me personally. That people can change, walls can come down, and when we look past outward appearances and snap judgments that we see the wonderful and lovely humanity in all of us.
(As a side note– I spent the morning before I made this list working in my garden. After the fact, I mused that had I spent the morning writing I probably would have picked a different book in its stead– Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Jo March was one of my girlhood heroes. Either way, both novels have impacted me greatly.)
3. One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
Part poetry, part memoir, Voskamp’s book has created a movement in the Christian world. Her challenge to find gratitude even in the midst of darkness has provided me with much to reflect upon.
As a writer, I am inspired by her signature blend of expressing faith-filled topics with a grace and lyrical style that is more than just liturgy. Rather, her words are art.
As a reader, I am moved to find beauty in all the little moments– God-winks in all their myriad shapes and sizes.
4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
I have a huge love of 19th century English literature, and love all the greats of that era. Austen, Dickens, the Brontës, Hardy. But when forced to choose just one from the genre, I pick the slightly more obscure North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Think similar themes to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but a little more brooding ambience and greater social commentary.
In fact, awhile back I dedicated an entire post to my kinship to the novel’s hero, Margaret Hale.
Throw in a fabulous BBC adaptation of Gaskell’s work (Richard Armitage as Thornton? Shut the front door.), and its place is firmly secured on my list.
5. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Just mention the title of this classic to me and suddenly I’m back sitting in my senior year English honors class at Downers South with the immortal Richard Connaughton. Hands down the most challenging work I studied in high school, it opened my eyes to the power of words to pick you up, swirl around you like a tornado, and leave you utterly changed.
The stream-of-consciousness style explored in the first section of the novel was like nothing I had ever experienced, and as I threw myself into Benjy Compson’s world for the first time, the power of Faulker’s method on my young mind was intense.
6. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
I had a bit of an internal tug-of-war on this one, trying to choose between The Lorax and The Sneetches. Ultimately, our friend the lifted lorax won out.
I’ve always felt a deep connection to the earth, and have pretty strong opinions about our God-given stewardship of this beautiful world we call home. Obviously then, the environmental themes resonate with me. It’s also a favorite story of my budding ecologist, nine-year-old Taylor.
But just as much, I love the idea that even when everything seems dark and lost, there is still hope for the future. Things can change if we have the courage to be the good in the world. I adore that Seuss’ tale ends on that hopeful note.
7. A Quiet Heart by Patricia T. Holland
A book that I reread at least once every year, it’s probably the single most quoted work here on my blog. Of all the wonderful, strong female writers of my faith, Sister Holland’s words have influenced me the very most. (And if you know how much I love other strong Mormon women like Sheri Dew, Valerie Hudson, and Julie Beck, that’s saying a great deal!)
My parents gave me this book for my birthday during a particularly difficult time in my life, and I’m forever grateful that they did. It will make you laugh, ponder, and inspire you to deepen your trust and relationship with God.
8. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
I picked this of Lewis’ canon, though I could have populated this entire list with just his works. Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity— all pivotal and precious books in my library. But I picked The Great Divorce because of the way it has spoken to me personally.
I was first introduced to this more obscure work of Lewis’ by my favorite religion professor at BYU, Richard Draper. The influence of St. Augustine, Milton, Dante, Blake, and George MacDonald mix beautifully alongside the signature Lewis wisdom and wit mix to create a thought-provoking, fantastic tale.
9. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This book has left its footprints on my heart for so many reasons. It reminds me to always consider the important things in life. And that the important things aren’t always what we’d immediately consider as an adult in the modern world. It asks the reader to reconsider exactly what true matters of consequence are, and look at life with more childlike eyes. One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from its pages: “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Also, on a slightly more personal note, my mom gave a copy to my dad of this book as an engagement present. I’ve always thought that was such a lovely and sweet gift. Consequently, I had a lot of meaningful one-on-one talks about “matters of consequence” growing up. 🙂
10. Sacred Writ, including but not limited to the Bible and the Book of Mormon
Such a list would not be complete– nor accurate– without the inclusion of Scripture. Something I am given to reading every single day, these sacred books have had a very real and profound influence in who I am today.
The teachings of Jesus Christ are collectively the singular lodestar of my life. I love Him and worship Him as the Master Teacher and Savior of the world. Because of Him I have experienced peace that passes all understanding. (See Philippians 4:7)