35 Years, 35 Favorite Books

I love book lists: ticking off what I’ve read from newspaper and website selections, comparing my “best-of” choices and prize predictions with other people’s, and making up my own thematic inventories. Earlier in the year I spotted Desert Island-style 100-book lists on Annabookbel and A life in books, as well as Lonesome Reader’s reconsideration of the 100 favorite books he’d chosen half a lifetime ago. For my 35th birthday today, I’ve looked back at my “Absolute Favorites” shelf on Goodreads and picked the 35 titles that stand out the most for me: some are childhood favorites, some are books that changed my thinking, some I have read two or three times (an extreme rarity for me), and some are recent discoveries that have quickly become personal classics. I’ve listed these in rough chronological order of when I first read them, rather than ranking them, which would be nigh on impossible! Perhaps I’ll revisit the list on future significant birthdays and see how things change. Interesting to note that this works out as about two-thirds fiction and one-third nonfiction.

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  1. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
  2. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
  3. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  4. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  5. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  6. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  9. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  10. Possession by A.S. Byatt
  11. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
  12. Sixpence House by Paul Collins
  13. A History of God by Karen Armstrong
  14. Conundrum by Jan Morris
  15. The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg
  16. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  17. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
  18. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  19. Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty
  20. Secrets in the Dark by Frederick Buechner
  21. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  22. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
  23. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  24. Caribou Island by David Vann
  25. To Travel Hopefully by Christopher Rush
  26. We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
  27. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  28. Leaving Alexandria by Richard Holloway
  29. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
  30. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  31. Want Not by Jonathan Miles
  32. Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton
  33. F by Daniel Kehlmann
  34. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
  35. March by Geraldine Brooks

Are any of these among your favorites, too?

41 responses

  1. Happy birthday, and thanks for the mention. Coincidentally, it’s also my birthday although I’m not 100 (yet!). Have a lovely day!

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    1. We have the same birthday?! How did I not know that? Hope you’re having a lovely day despite the dreary weather. (I wasn’t sure I could actually come up with as many as 100 desert island books. I only have about 65 books on my favourites shelf.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I bet you could! Cake is on the horizon after a brisk walk. I hope it’s on yours too. My treat was a trip to the Oceania exhibition on Thursday so I’m trying not to mind the weather.

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  2. I’ve only read 5 of the books that made your list. Anne of Green Gables books are my all time favourite. They’are my go to when things get too much. I read them with a big smile on my face.

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    1. I think I’ve only read the first book multiple times, so I’m calling it my favourite rather than choosing the whole series.

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  3. I love this, and happy birthday! I love A Tale for the Time Being and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant out of these.

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  4. I’ve read lots on your list but as to the books that would also make mine, just Anne of Green Gables and Owen Meany. Looks like a fun exercise – I might try it.

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    1. I knew you were an Irving fan. I don’t unreservedly love all (or even much) of his stuff, but Owen Meany was a knockout.

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      1. I don’t like all of his books (In One Person and Fourth Hand were low points!) but I do always appreciate his care and empathy for his characters (particularly children, which is why his last book was terrific).

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  5. Happy birthday! I’ve really liked a lot of the books on your list, but I think the only one that would have a chance of making mine is A Tale for the Time Being – and then, I’d have to re-read it (I had a particularly brilliant proof copy of this one that accidentally incorporated some of the author’s final copy-edit notes, which just added to the weirdness of the whole thing). There’s a couple where I’d pick another title by the same author as the one that really got to me, not necessarily due to quality but simply because it made a greater impression (Prep rather than American Wife, Villette rather than Jane Eyre, the Emily books rather than Anne of Green Gables).

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    1. That’s fun that we have some overlapping favourite authors 🙂

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  6. Oh no Rebecca – this is going to mean another batch of books added to the TBR mountain!!

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  7. Meant to add – so good to see Christopher Rush on your list. I haven’t read all his work but his book Will is terrific!

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    1. I’ve read that plus his three memoirs and some Christmas stories. A very underrated author!

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  8. I remember when you read the first 8. I read “March” for Book Club several years ago, BTW. Your list is special to me. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself.

    Sent from my iPhone

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  9. Happy Birthday! Hope you’re having a lovely day despite the wetness.

    What a lovely list – Several I’ve read and loved there, notably The Silver Chair – by far the best Narnia book, but also several to note and add to my wishlist, like We, the Drowned and the Ozeki. (BTW, I’m adding The Chronicles of Narnia to my Desert Island Books – how could I have left them off!)

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    1. I read the whole Narnia series over and over as a child, but I do remember The Silver Chair being my favourite.

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  10. Thanks for sharing your list! We share some common loves; Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, but I actually really enjoyed reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Journals. I’m a big fan of all Margaret Atwood’s writing, but particularly Handmaid’s Tale (long before it became a mini series). I also love Margaret Laurence; The Diviners and Stone Angel. As a child I loved AA Milne. Hope your birthday has been splendid!

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    1. Ooh, I didn’t know LMM had published journals. I’m a big fan of writers’ journals (e.g. Madeleine L’Engle and May Sarton), so I will have to look out for those. I also loved The Stone Angel.

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      1. They are called “The Selected Journals of L.M Montgomery” and there are 4 volumes.

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      2. And they are being reissued in unabridged versions, which are even more amazing!

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  11. Happy Birthday Rebecca! Owen Meaney would be on my (slightly longer!) list too.

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  12. Happy Birthday! the 35 list is a great idea – don’t think I’ll be following your footsteps, ‘cos I’m in my 7th decade. I also loved the Anne of Green Gables books; ditto the Ruth Ozeki. And – just when I’ve purged my TBR pile – you’ve given me some new authors to explore i.e. Christopher Rush.

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  13. Happy birthday Rebecca! March and A Tale for the Time being for me and probably Far from the Madding Crowd as well.

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  14. I’m quite embarrassed to say that I’ve read only 6 of these. But of those, yes, Brooks’ March and Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany are among my favourites too.

    Was it really difficult to winnow these to 35? Would I be allowed to do 64?

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    1. I had 70 or so titles on my favourites shelf. It wasn’t so difficult to cut down to the absolute favourites. I might actually find it hard to get up to 100 for a desert island library!

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  15. Oh – and since we were talking about short stories last week, I remembered another collection that was excellent: The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis

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    1. Added to the TBR. Thank you!

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  16. Happy (belated) Birthday, Rebecca! I hope you had a lovely day.

    Middlesex would probably make my list too, along with The Chronicles of Narnia – I have such lovely memories of discovering the series as a child.

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  17. I’ve read many, though not all of these. My memory of ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is of being given it one Christmas when I was about 10, and reading every page of it that day, laughing uproariously the while. You couldn’t get me away from Durrell’s books after that (especially ‘The Bafut Beagles’), though I haven’t read him in years now.

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    1. I was introduced to Durrell’s and Bill Bryson’s books by my husband. They are now firm family favourites. I’ve read 10 or so Durrell books but still have plenty to get to.

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  18. Although I’ve read 17 of them, mostly I’ve really liked them rather than loved them, but I can still see where they could be favourites, if you know what I mean. The first one I don’t recognize at all so I’m going to put a hold on that one and take a look. We share a love of Anne (and I reread the first volume more than all the rest as well, then 2-4 often but not as often, the others being less interesting to me at the time) and Flaubert’s Parrot and The Blind Assassin. The one on your list which I read most recently was Middlesex, which I thoroughly enjoyed just earlier this year (it was on a list of must-reads from ages ago which I have been steadily trying to finish off – it was quite wonderful). Have you read others of his too?

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    1. It would be interesting to see a list of your favourites one day 🙂 It’s such a subjective matter, of course, that it could go a long way towards giving a sense of one’s taste.

      I’ve read Eugenides’ three novels but not his short stories. The Marriage Plot is also very good.

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      1. A quick glance at my files shows that I posted something in 2002 but I know there are a couple of others – they must be in notebooks or journals (and are probably older than this one, I’m guessing). So, um, yeah, I should update. I heard Eudenides speak when he was touring for that novel and I really enjoyed his presentation; it even made me want to read The Virgin Suicides (a book I was so sure I wouldn’t want to read that I watched the film – though now I”m not sure what I thought would be uninteresting about it?). Did you read that book about the librarian who writes letters to books? Didn’t she have a huge crush on his stuff/him?

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    2. Yes, I read Dear Fahrenheit 451. The Virgin Suicides is the author’s favourite novel.

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  19. I have recently reread Jane Eyre (good but longer than I remembered!) and want to reread The Blind Assassin. Fun list! I might have to borrow this idea next May for my birthday. 🙂

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    1. I often think that when rereading classics — do they really need to be so long? 😉 That’s what I felt about Little Women, though I realized it’s basically two books in one.

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  20. I love book lists! It’s so interesting to see people’s favourite books. I love Miss Rumphius, Anne of GG (no surprise there!) and Jane Eyre. I also really enjoyed Far From the Madding Crowd, March, and The Blind Assassin. The one on your list that stands out as a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time is We, the Drowned. I even own it and was so happy the day I found it. Why must I be such a slow reader?!

    I’m thinking about making up a similar list of my own for my blog’s 5th anniversary. I have just let it go by the last couple of years, but 5 deserves a post, right? Hopefully I’ll find the time. It’ll be sometime mid-November if all goes well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would love to see your favourites list appear on your blog 🙂 Five is definitely an anniversary to mark!

      We, the Drowned is (pun intended?) one to immerse yourself in and read quickly, maybe on a vacation or plane ride when you have lots of dedicated reading time. I’d like to reread it and see if I love it quite as much the second time.

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  21. […] of these are repeated from the list of favorite books I drew up for my 35th […]

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