Our readers’ favorite books
“Outlander” series, by Diana Gabaldon
My all-time favorite book is not a single book, but Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series. Since I’m retired and have lots of time, I read at least one or two books a week. I have been a reader since I learned my ABC’s almost 80 years ago, and have a number of favorites from years gone by – many and cover-worn. However, Gabaldon’s relatively new series is about a Scotsman, Jamie Fraser, and his adventures – from a teenager and soldier in Scotland until he becomes embroiled in the Revolutionary War in America and eventually a wealthy landowner. This series has become my favorite because Jamie sounds like my father, who was born in Scotland in 1888. I can hear him speaking in his Scots brogue when I read the dialogue in her books. I have them in paperback, hardback and even on my Kindle. I adored my father and have missed him daily since he died in 1954. Gabaldon makes him live again for me.
– Joan Harris
“Anne of Green Gables,” by Lucy Maud Montgomery
I first read it about 40 years ago. Found a very old, battered copy at a second-hand store. I’ve reread it at least 25 times since then, and completely wore out that book. I went on to purchase and read everything I could find by Montgomery, including her journals, published in three volumes by two women in Canada who had extensively researched the author. “Anne” was published at the turn of the last century, but is a timeless story. Its themes – the redeeming power of love, the devastation of relentless loneliness, the positive and negative aspects of duty – and the creation of one of the most wonderful characters to be found in fiction make it a book that will never be out of date. Montgomery nourished me as a very lonely child with her lovely stories, and continues to offer comfort and support whenever I reread any of her work.
– Vick Myers-Canfield
I have two treasured books. My parents met in Charleroi, Belgium, in 1944 at a dance held to celebrate the town’s emancipation from the Germans. Dad spoke some French, Mom spoke a little English, and somehow they managed to fall in love and marry on June 25, 1945. In 1970, I was a stewardess for United Airlines and taking full advantage of my pass privileges to travel the world. I frequently visited my family in Belgium, but again there was a bit of a language barrier. Mom gave me two books before one of my trips. One is a small English-French conversational guide, and on the inside cover in my dad’s handwriting is “Don Culbertson, Charleroi 1944.” My Mother enclosed this note: “To Janet, Watch it, Kid! Your father used this book to court girls & he did pretty well needless to say! This book is yours. Love, Mother, December 1970.” In the index, my father had circled the pages for “civilities” and “the restaurant.” It is well worn, taped on the spine and yellowed with age. The pages crackle when I turn them, which I don’t do very often. The second book is a small Hugo French-English Dictionary. It, too, is well worn with a taped spine and frayed edges. On the inside cover, Mom wrote these words: “Dear Janet, You cut your teeth on this dictionary when you were a baby in your stroller. So, it is yours. With love, Mother, December 1970.” I moved to France in 1992, lived there four years and learned to speak a little more French. Mom’s dictionary served me well until I bought a larger one. My parents will celebrate 67 years of marriage this June.
- Janet M. Culbertson
“My Cousin Rachel,” by Daphne du Maurier
As a school librarian for 20 years, I was often asked by students to name my favorite book. My reply was always the same: I have so many favorites, I could never choose just one, just as I could never choose one favorite among my children. But I do have a favorite, and it has been in my possession for more than 30 years. My mother died when I was very young. One of her legacies to me was a love of reading. The year after she died, I needed something to read (voracious readers know that reading is truly a need), so I decided to browse a bookshelf in our den that I’d never explored before, since it contained mostly my dad’s electrical manuals. I had just finished reading a story that became one of my favorites: “Rebecca,” by Daphne du Maurier. To my surprise, the author’s name leapt at me from the bookshelf. I reached for my mother’s copy of “My Cousin Rachel,” 1952 edition. No dust jacket, just a faded tan linen cover with yellowed pages. I took the book to my room and began reading. A few pages into the story, a 25-cent raffle ticket fell out. On the ticket was my mom’s name, in her handwriting. It was her maiden name, and since she married in 1953, she must have been reading the book just before she married my dad. As I held in my hands the same book that my mother had held 26 years before and saw her handwriting on a makeshift bookmark, I felt closer to her. This miracle would never have occurred if I’d been reading a digital book. In my opinion, ebooks are for nonfiction. Real books are for stories that tug at your heart and stir your soul.
– Nancy Phillips
“The Bridge at Andau,” by James A. Michener.
If I had to pick just one book, it would be the Bible, I could study for a lifetime and keep learning. But my second most favorite book is “The Bridge at Andau,” by James A. Michener. It has an orange cover framing a black-and-white photograph of a teenager with a beret and gun, looking at the camera with great determination. The paperback cover is wrinkled and has been bent fully open; the spine is faded and illegible. My full name is written inside the cover in a neat cursive hand. The title page declares the book to be “Michener’s eloquent report on the Hungarians’ gallant rebellion” in 1956. I came across the “Bridge at Andau” after obsessing with World War II history in junior high school. The firsthand accounts of combat available in my junior-high library had been somewhat sanitized and romanticized, and the “Bridge at Andau” was an eye opener. Perhaps at first reading it was the vicarious thrill of danger, identifying with young people my age running out to jam the treads of tanks with pipes so that others could toss Molotov cocktails and “kill” the tank. What drew me back again and again was Michener’s talent for giving life to historical background and political context. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things – acts of bravery seeking freedom, and acts of inhumanity following orders. Communism is doomed to failure when ordinary people rediscover their humanity and refuse to submit to coercive power. Governments are subject to the consent of the governed. I wanted to be a passionate teenage freedom fighter, stepping up and taking chances. Perhaps that made it easier years later to step up and run for public office. Nobody was shooting bullets at me, but verbal attacks require a thick skin and I did occasionally get to let loose with a metaphorical Molotov cocktail. Other life lessons? All writers have a point of view, and the line between reporting and propaganda may be difficult to see. Michener takes pains to explain how he attempted to bring skepticism to his investigation and interviews. I try to bring the same skepticism to my own political writing.
– Sue Lani Madsen
“The Westing Game,” by Ellen Raskin
Ellen Raskin’s “The Westing Game” counts as one of my all-time favorite books – one that I wish I could go back and read for the first time. It’s a tightly woven, deeply complex story about a bunch of people who move into an apartment building. On the surface, there’s nothing connecting them. But everyone was invited to live there because they have some connection to the mysterious, reclusive millionaire Sam Westing. The book opens with a paradox – “The sun sets in the west, but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!” – that perfectly sets the stage for the murder mystery that follows. This was a book my mom read aloud to me when I was probably 8 or 9, listening at her side as the characters worked together in uneasy pairs to determine who among them is a murderer and win Westing’s inheritance. All the clues were right in front of us, but it wasn’t until the very end that every puzzle piece fit perfectly in place. It’s so intricate and intelligent and wonderful that it stayed with me growing up. Every five years or so, I track down a copy in a fit of nostalgia. Imagine my surprise when I mentioned a key part of the book and my mom did not remember that particular aspect of the plot. I loaned her my copy. Once her memory was restored, we bonded again and passed it on to Dad for the very first time. Raskin is such a good writer, she even suckered my younger brother in again when he picked up the copy and skimmed the first chapter, coming to this passage: “Who were these specially selected tenants? They were mothers and fathers and children. A dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge. And oh, yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake. Barney Northrup had rented one of the apartments to the wrong person.” He felt compelled to reread the book, and he even knew how it would all turn out! But even when you know the outcome, simple sentences take on all new meaning, and characters become even more layered as you get older. Tucked between the pages of an old favorite are all-new experiences still waiting to be discovered.
– Matthew Weaver
“The Moon and Six Pence,” by W. Somerset Maugham
It’s a fiction based, in part, on the biography of French artist Paul Gauguin. I have read this book at least three times. I have a commemorative edition given to me as a gift by my first wife. I love reading it partly just for the feel of the textured cover in my hands and the sturdiness of the gilt-edged pages. The story has always captured my imagination because it’s about one man’s devotion to his art that becomes obsession. I put the book down feeling ambivalent, wondering if I had devoted myself to my a singular passion at a young age, might I have become emotionally and intellectually fulfilled? Or would I have descended into isolation and bitter disappointment? Maugham never answers that question. This is a portrait of a man who chose to pursue his passion at all costs, but it leaves open the question of whether or not he was wise in making that choice, or really, if wisdom should even be a goal for a life well lived.
- Jim Wavada
“The Life of Samuel Johnson,” by James Boswell
My all-time favorite book is a 1946 copy of James Boswell’s “The Life of Samuel Johnson” that I picked up used. It has my underlines, margin notes and marked passages. I often pull it off my bookshelf to look up a quotation, enjoy a remembered episode or maybe add another margin note. No other book has given me as much pleasure over so long a time.
– Gail Underwood
“The Urantia Book”
“The Urantia Book” is far and away the most transformative book in my life. I think of it as an encyclopedia of the universe. Beginning with a
discussion of the nature of the First Source and Center, it then
introduces many types of celestial orders of beings. We are told how our
universe is organized and administered, the origin and progression of life
on our planet, and our ascension as individuals through this vast creation. “Urantia” is the name of our planet. Having insight into the “big picture” spurs me to be a more caring, grateful, forward-looking planetary citizen. My current Urantia Book isn’t particularly worn, as I have given away and replaced it several times since first acquiring a copy in 1977. I also occasionally hone my Spanish by reading “El LIbro Urantia.”
– Barbara Giles
“The Story of San Michele,” by Axel Munthe
My books are my best friends. I am surrounded by books and I would be most unhappy if I had to replace them with a Kindle. One of my favorites is “The Story of San Michele,” by Axel Munthe. I have read it three times. My second favorite author is Lawrence Schoonover. He writes historic novels. One of my favorites is “The Spider King.” It deals with France’s Louis XI, who suffered from epilepsy.
– Eleanor M. Simon
“To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
I have been in a battle with my big sis over the merits of reading from a computer vs. a good old hard-bound or paperback book (my preference) ever since she received a Kindle from her adult kids for her birthday. I am 51 years young and work for the Mead School District as a special-education tutor for high-school juniors and seniors, and have seen more kids fall asleep in class reading from a laptop than I have ever seen them do with a book. Also, I have been a literacy tutor for years, and you can’t send kids home with expensive Kindles, but you can send them home with wonderful, inexpensive books! Unlike my sister’s Kindle, a book will never have a glare on it when reading outside on the deck (my fav), and a beloved book can be passed around from friend to friend. My favorite book, which changed my life and cemented my character as a child, is Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which taught me the lies and horrors of racism, and showed me disabled people are worthy love and respect. I wanted to either marry Atticus Finch or have him as my dad.
– Delilah Dixon
“The Sot-Weed Factor,” by John Barth
I read it at least once a year. I upgraded to a hardcover edition about 15 years ago, after wearing out two paperback versions. It is an exquisite novel of innocence and history.
- Michael Schieche
“The Jungle Book,” by Rudyard Kipling
One of my most treasured books is a 1948 edition of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” I always grabbed this book off the shelf at my father’s foster parents’ house in Kirkland, and they finally gave it to me in the mid-‘50s. I loved the rich language, the illustrations, and especially the rhymes. I memorized these lines from the poem The Law of the Jungle:
Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is – Obey!
I later read newer editions of the books to my daughter, and to my first-grade students. Rikki Tikki Tavi was one of their favorites.
- Konny Newcomb
“Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller
In the final analysis, I have to go with my often-repaired paperback version of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” from which I taught at Northern Arizona University 117 times. It has notes on virtually every page, and some reading instructions in the margins of passages I used to declaim to my students. What I most like about the novel is how well it wears. In the 1970s, I had to argue with my students that incompetent medical doctors like Doc Daneeka really existed; in the ‘80s, I found myself arguing they were not all like him. The book is full of quotable passages, but one of my favorites is about Clevenger, a bona fide genius: “Clevenger was so intelligent he was stupid and the only people who did not know were those who were soon to find out.” In “Catch-22,” Heller parodied and mocked every institution in modern life, but the novel still does not come off as negative. One can feel Heller’s voice in the background, urging that it is not too late to change, that we can do a better job of being human. And Yossarian, one of the most totally self-absorbed characters in literature, does finally decide to return to Rome to find a young girl who might still be saved. Most likely he will be arrested yet again by the military police, but at least, in true existential fashion, he will go down trying. He learns that someone has to do something sometime, and that he is that person.
- Timothy Hunt
“Sherlock Holmes,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I have always been a fan of Sherlock Holmes, listening on the radio when I was a kid, watching all the Basil Rathbone movies, etc., reading a majority of the stories. In the 1980s, my wife bought the “Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume I and II.” My favorite story is The Final Problem.
- Dennis Robinson
“The Pearl,” by John Steinbeck
I was assigned “The Pearl” in literature class while attending secondary school in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. I developed a special liking for “The Pearl” because it resonated with my life story. My growing up was filled with sadness, longing, hunger, struggle, abuse, want and need. The principal characters in “The Pearl” are Kino, his wife, Juana, and baby Koyotito. The dirt floor hut, thatched roof, Juana blowing a coal alive in the early morning hours to make a fire … the nosy neighbors, the stray dogs, the daydreaming about coming into wealth one day to make things better – these images bonded me to this tiny book. How I wish Mr. Steinbeck had gone further with the story. I have given “The Pearl” multiple reads, and always have the same feeling of disappointment when the last page is turned.
– Randy Paul
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” by Betty Smith
My paperback copy of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” the story of a girl’s awakening, is yellowed, has a taped binding and shows signs of surviving a flooded garage. On the inside cover, in childlike print, are my name, the school I went to and Grade 9. Francie Nolan’s triumph from life in the slums to breadwinner for the family is reflected in themes of love, economics, learning and loss – universal themes still applicable today. She is like the tree with an inner strength that endures no matter what befalls it. I think I especially loved it because Francie read a book a day, and at age 14, reading became the hobby that has continued through my life.
- Pamela Pierson
“Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand
I have always been a voracious reader, but my favorite book is Ayn
Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” I have several copies, and usually read it at least
once a year. I find it heartbreaking and frustrating, but in the end encouraging; that logical, truly ethical minds may eventually persevere. “Atlas Shrugged” taught me about not using more than you produce, and the horror of the statement “There oughta be a law.” Its message is as valid today as when it was written in 1957.
– Karen Buck
“The Brothers K,” by David James Duncan
The cover of David James Duncan’s “The Brothers K” beckoned me: a scuffed-up baseball resting on scruffy grass, a whitewashed clapboard house in the distance. After passing it up a few times, I finally took a look at the story – a minor-league pitcher in the Northwest, father of six, in the ‘60s. The parallel was personally perfect. Then I let the words sweep me into the magnificently crafted narration of this family’s epic story. Duncan thinks deeply about the ways of the world.
– Vicki Hertz
“Teacher Man,” by Frank McCourt
My favorite book is “Teacher Man,” by Frank McCourt. The spirit that pops off of every page is downright life-affirming. This story of the author’s adventures as a teacher and immigrant in NYC is told with a twinkle in the eye that just never gets old.
- Deborah Brooks
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”
Put simply, Shakespeare portrays what it means to be human in breadth and depth far more than any other writer in any language. And he entertains as well as teaches!
– Bill Mahaney
Book of Common Prayer
It’s scripture and historic worship in beautiful language. Although published since the 1500s, my well-worn copy is from 1928. Along with The King James Bible (400 years old this year) and the works of Shakespeare, the Book of Common Prayer phrases have enriched the English language greatly.
– Lisa Nunlist
“The Lion’s Paw,” by Robb White
During my grade-school days (late 1950s-early ‘60s), we could buy paperback books from a rack in our classroom. One book I bought was “The Lion’s Paw,” by Robb White. I read it over and over because it was about kids my age on an exciting adventure. Years ago, I found a well-worn copy at a thrift shop. I send it to my cousin, who also loved the book. I eventually bought two more copies when the book was rereleased a few years ago, so that my grown sons can read it to their kids like I read it to them. I recently bought a Kindle Fire and have downloaded a few books, but I’ve discovered it’s just not the same. I don’t have to turn on my hardcover; all I have to do to find my place is open the book to my book mark. The battery doesn’t get low. And there’s just something about pulling that familiar, dog-eared book off the shelf – with its “Property of Lincoln School” stamped in the front pages – knowing I’m going to go on that adventure again. Matter of fact, I think I’ll put “The Lion’s Paw” on my night stand to start reading again tonight!
- Holly Bickford
The Holy Bible
While it is a very old book, my particular version was purchased in 1981. I have the New American Standard Version, and read from it every day. It bears the marks of much use, with dog-eared pages and crayon scribbles from our son when he was younger. Each page is filled with notes in the margins – highlighted passages add color to otherwise plain pages, and it is always ready to give guidance when needed.
– Gyla Delbridge
“The Swiss Family Robinson,” by Johann David Wyss
I first heard books were about to become obsolete in 1969, when I was 11. I loved Fridays because our English teacher, Mr. Rasmussen, would hand out the Weekly Reader for quiet reading time. But one article about the future really bugged me. It said that by 2000, books would be completely replaced by small TV screens that everybody would carry around with them, and they could read the whole library on one small screen. (The article went on to say that we’d all be using electronic money by then, so banks would be gone, and the moon would likely have at least two competing colonies of settlers, one from the USSR and one from the USA.) Even then, I loved books – holding them, reading them, allowing them to have their way with my imagination. I loved going to the library and checking out books. I loved the looks on the librarians’ faces when I asked to see the books Mr. Rasmussen suggested, because he thought I was “up to the challenge” – books by Hemingway and Hawthorne and Thoreau. The best book was the green-covered, hardback copy of “The Swiss Family Robinson” that I snuck under the covers at night. I’d wait until everybody else was asleep – we had eight kids in my family, so it might take a while – then I’d click on the heisted flashlight and start back in where I left off the night before. Holy cow, the crazy adventures those people had! And wasn’t it great how they might have fights and arguments among themselves, but in the end how they all pulled together for the family? I almost wished for a few pirates to invade my hometown so we could all have somebody to go up against. That book, with its hokey-sounding lessons of resilience and fortitude and determination, has probably had as great an influence on me as any of the greater works of literature I’ve read since. And that’s at least partly because of the physical act of huddling under that blanket with that flashlight, reading until all hours of the night (of course, my mother must have known), and being carried away by the object I held there in my trembling hand: the book, itself.
– Dennis Held
A couple of books have taught me life-changing lessons: “The Problem of Pain,” by C.S. Lewis (lesson: God defers to free will); and “Further Along the Road Less Traveled,” by Scott Peck (forgiving is good for you). However, I do have a book passed on to me by my grandmother through my mother that is precious. I would imagine it is more than 100 years old. (There is no copyright date.) My mother had, at one time, four children under six. I’m sure that is why the book is in very poor repair externally. The book’s cover is leather, with something like silk backing it. The silk is totally wrecked, and the leather terribly spotted. There is a glossary which serves as a dictionary defining words Shakespeare used, for which no definition would be necessary these days. Perhaps this bespeaks the era.
– Sally O’Brien
Edgar Allen Poe collection
My twin sister and I inherited a series of literature books from our grandparents – when your grandma is a teacher, as were her sisters, and there were two of us, you heard “sit down and read a book” a lot. The Edgar Allen Poe collection is 3 inches thick and has all his works in it. We have always fought over this book. She lives in Nevada. After 30 years at Kaiser Mead, my husband took a job at a mine in Round Mountain, Nev., and boards with her when she isn’t here. I called her today and told her of your upcoming article and asked, “Will you put the book in Don’s truck when he leaves tomorrow to come up home?” She was excited and said, “Sure.” We’ll see…. We both have parts of this huge series of books, but that one is special. If she really sends it, you will have helped me get my hands back on the best, most cherished book we have. It will be mine – all mine – again!
– Leslie Blake
“Robinson Crusoe and the Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” by Daniel Defoe
By far, this wonderful book is my all-time favorite. It’s like a time machine. Crusoe’s travels and colorful descriptions of the people and countries he visited are intensely interesting. It is difficult to read at first. Back then (1719), people used words we would not recognize, and words that have entirely different meanings today. Fortunately, there is a glossary of terms in the back which helps one understand the intent of the author. I reread this book about once a year because it is just that good. The original bears little resemblance to the altered versions I was exposed to growing up (including Disney movies). The original really gives one a feel for the social attitudes and various cultures of the day.
- Sean Mahar
“Freckles,” by Gene Stratton-Porter
I borrowed this book from my grandfather years ago, probably in the early 1940s. I read the book then and a couple times more before I graduated high school. When we were transferred overseas, it was put in storage. On our way, we stopped in Illinois at my in-laws. My mother-in-law had purchased the same book at a garage sale and thought it would be nice for the children. While overseas, I read the book aloud to our three children. It’s about a young man born without a right hand who grows up in an orphanage after being abandoned as a baby. He obtains a job working for a company that felled trees for making furniture, and becomes intrigued with the birds and flowers in the area where he works. My book has seen a lot of wear. The cover is in fairly good shape, except a little damage from sliding in an out of a book case.
- Violet Hott
“Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels”
A 61-year love affair with books began when I was 10 and found this book underneath our Christmas tree. It made me realize the world could be at my fingertips. Libraries were the Magic Kingdom before Disneyland, and the only ticket needed was a library card. This was the book I never tired of, always finding some new thing within its covers.
– Sharon Brewczynski
Click here to comment on this story »