What’s Your Favorite Book?

January 4, 2010

I just spent an hour as a guest on a conference call for Spencer Reynolds’s wonderful reading group, Book Readers Club.

Spencer has been leading this group, dubbed “Where Dedicated Learners Come Together Every Week,” for some five years now. Participants hail from all around the nation and meet on a live conference call once a week (though many catch the discussion later via podcast) to read and discuss their given book of choice.

This week was the final week of their reading of The Go-Giver, and they had invited me to join them. I did.

After reading a selection (we took turns; two members read Chapters 12 and 13; I got to read Chapter 14 and thus close the book!), we discussed the book for a good half hour. They asked all sorts of intriguing and excellent questions. The one that I did not have a good answer for was the very last:

“What is your favorite book?”

Geez. You’d think I’d know.

At first I gave a lame answer (“That’s like being asked to pick your favorite child, and I have four kids”), but then mentioned two that I love: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, and John Steinbeck’s great sweeping classic East of Eden. Then I followed that with another lame answer: “It keeps changing; I guess my answer would be different depending on what day you asked.”

After hanging up, I thought, Hey, that’s not true.

The books that have had the most impact on me are timeless, and they don’t change from day to day. I still remember the very first book I read on my own: Little Bear, by Maurice Sendak. The impact of that one will never go away. (I think I have modeled my life, more or less, after Little Bear’s.) The Narnia series and The Odyssey (as well as the Bible) I encountered as a child, and their impact has been huge and lasting. (No single book has had a more earth-shattering, life-changing impact on me than The Last Battle, the last of the Narnia books, which I read when I was ten.)

What is true is that the list keeps growing. I read East of Eden only recently (five or six years ago), and all of Neil Gaiman’s writings more recently still.

So, after some minutes of reflection, here is the Director’s Cut of my answer to that question: not one but ten favorites, the books that have had the most impact on me thus far, as a writer and as a person. These are listed chronologically, according to when I read them, longest-ago first.

It’s kind of a weird mix, but there you go.

The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis
The Bible
The Odyssey, Homer
The Tempest, William Shakespeare
Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, R. Buckminster Fuller
As a Man Thinketh, James Allen
Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
Stardust, Neil Gaiman

What are your favorites?


  1. Kelly Watson

    You would enjoy a book called “The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books” edited by J. Peder Zane. I peruse it every few months or so looking for new books to read.

    Personally it’s near impossible to choose 10 favorites (it’s like choosing your favorite children!) but here are a few off the top of my head:

    Clockers by Richard Price
    A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
    Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg

    I am reading East of Eden for the first time right now and am really enjoying it.

  2. Ann Carter

    Hi John — What a fascinating list. My favorites seem to be “for the year”. This past year it was “True Compass” by Teddy Kennedy. I’ve always been fascinated by that family, and his book gave a completely different perspective; from the eyes of the youngest child.
    My all time forever favorites are by A.A. Milne. The wonderful adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin. I have them all and re-read them every now and then when I want a break from today’s reality !! Thanks, Ann

  3. C. Spencer Reynolds

    I saw you post about our Book Readers Club (Google Alerts rock!) and wanted to thank you personally and chime in on this discussion. I am glad I got you thinking and inspired this post in a way…

    Favorite books, an ongoing growing list for me as well, would include:

    -Through The Eyes of the Dragon, by Stephen King (this is the first book I ever remember reading and loving as a child, he wrote this for his daughter and it is not his usual style of writing)
    -Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
    -Every Vince Flynn book for Action
    -Every Malcolm Gladwell book for business thinking
    -The Psychology of Achievement (audio program) by Brian Tracy (My single favorite motivational book ever!)
    -The Secrets of The Power of Intention (audio program) by Wayne Dyer (My most listened to audio inspiration program ever!)
    -The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball

    That made me think… I am certain I have missed MANY, but that is top of mind today.

    Anyone interested in joining our Book Readers Club, it is an open forum for anyone to join and read or just listen live or later. Find us at http://books.spencerreynolds.com

  4. jdmann

    Thanks, Spencer! I also loved The Eyes of the Dragon, wonderful book! My first Stephen King was The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and is also quite unlike his other books, not horror or grisly at all, though not for young children like Dragon.

    Ditto on Gladwell — love the man’s writing and insight!

    Note to self: read Vince Flynn! I’ve heard him on interview, sounds fascinating.


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