50 Personal Favorite Books

Here is a list of 50 of my favorite books interspersed with a few comments. Since I read 2-4 books most weeks, this would have been a daunting task to compile if I had included everything I could remember reading. To make it easier, I defined “favorite” as being books that I re-read. Most of them are books I have enjoyed enough over the years that I own a copy.

Here they are (in totally random order):

1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – seemed to apply to the then current situation in the United States when I first discovered the book in the early 1980s. Today we are sliding more and more rapidly into the portrayed desperate situations of economy, government, and social programs.

2. Dealing with Dragons (series) by Patricia Wrede – I love the non-typical princess heroine in these books while the dragons, magicians, enchanted forest, and wizards are delightful.

3. Hogfather (and other Discworld books) by Terry Pratchett – satire set in a fantasy world=delightful! This book is particularly fun as “Death” must fill in for the Hogfather (Santa Claus) to keep the world from ending.

4. The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough – an epic romance set in Australia spanning generations of star-crossed lovers. One of the few books withOUT a happy ending that I enjoy re-reading.

5. House of Rain by Craig Childs – an engaging read as the author explores ancient Anasazi sites across the Southwest and interacts with a wide variety of specialists in his search to answer the question as to where the Anasazi went when they left their traditional homeland. I especially enjoy the descriptions of places that we now visit since we live in this part of the country.

6. The Message (Bible) translated by Eugene Peterson – This contextualized translation makes the Bible fresh and alive again. It also makes the Books of Poetry feel like actual poems.

7. Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreath – I discovered this entertaining book (and its sequel) during high school. Perhaps this is one reason I was not afraid of having a large family?!

8. Christmas Issues of Women’s Magazines – I have a collection of at least one magazine per year dating back to 1981. It has become a Christmas tradition to pull out the box each November enjoy re-reading all of them. This year I have filled in a few missing issues plus added an issue from 1961 and 1962, the years Randy and I were born.

9. Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond – I first read an excerpt of this book and interview with the author in a flight magazine when we traveled to Irian Jaya in 1993. I quickly book the book, and occasionally re-read the somewhat controversial views of the basis for inequities world-wide. (I also enjoy re-reading similar books such as 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles Mann, Hope’s Edge: the Next Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Lappe, and Shadow Cities: A Billion Squaters, a New Urban World by Robert Neuwirth.)

10. Plains of Passage by Jean Auel – my favorite of the Children of the Earth series. This is a romance, an epic travel saga, and pseudo-(pre)historical fiction.

11. Raising a Large Family by Katherine Schlaerth – I re-read this book at least annually while we were in the midst of raising our 7 children. It is practical, down-to-earth, and based on real-life strategies shared by other parents of large families. Unfortunately it is now out of print.

12. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery – a classic. I identified with the girl who saw beauty (often via imagination) in the world around her, even while surrounded by practical, no-nonsense people.

13. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks – This story-form history of the Jewish People in Europe is fascinating. Equally interesting is the author’s technique of telling a story of each owner of the illuminated book based on tiny discoveries about the manuscript found by (fictional) book repairmen/scholars. (Warning: a few graphic torture scenes are literally haunting…)

14. Eternity in their Hearts by Don Richardson – another thought-provoking, somewhat controversial book asking questions and giving examples of cultures that already had the gospel message embedded in their cultural stories and traditions. Rather than causing Christians to feel missions/evangelism is unnecessary, this book shows how the way missionaries handle existing culture can have a huge impact on reception of the gospel.

15. Dove by Robin Graham – I discovered this book when I was young and was captivated by the story of a 16 year old setting out to sail around the world alone. (I’ve got to buy another copy of this out-of-print book so I can re-read it when I want to—one of my sons now owns my original copy purchased through Scholastic Books at school.)

16. Marva Collins’ Way by Marva Collins – This was my introduction to teachers who think way outside the box and are successfully making a difference with at-risk students in difficult school settings. I continue to look for, read, and enjoy books by similar teacher/authors such as Rafe Esquith, John Gatto and Pat Conroy (“The Water is Wide”).

17. Gods, Graves & Scholars: The Story of Archaeology by C.W. Ceram – I’ve always enjoyed adventurous tales of archaeologists. This book is an excellent summary (in story form) of the history of Modern Archaeology.

18. The Frontiersman by Allan Eckhart – a friend who struggled with academics in middle school gave me this book. I was enthralled with a first taste of historical fiction. I’ll never know how my friend got through this thick book with small print…maybe it was the adventures on every other page. Or maybe it was because it was set in Ohio, right where we lived.

19. No Life for a Lady by Agnes Morley Cleaveland – a memoir by a woman who was an original cowboy as part of an early ranching family in New Mexico Territory. Even more of a favorite now that I live in her state and have visited the areas she writes about…

20. Christy by Catherine Marshall – romance, do-good adventures, remote Appalachian setting, and significant culture shock combine to make a gripping read. I enjoyed this as a teenager and still enjoy re-reading it occasionally today.

21. Making the Terrible Twos Terrific (and other books) by John Rosemond – raising my kids in an era when so many of my friends and the “experts” of the time seemed to favor coddling kids, catering to kids, and discussing everything with kids was stressful at times. I very much appreciated this author/counselor’s no-nonsense, practical, let-the-child-experience-the-consequences-of-his-actions books. It was nice to have my own parental tendencies affirmed!

22. Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein – I loved this from the first read (suggested by a friend) in college. The characters and the setting have become familiar over the years, making this a comforting re-read.

23. Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy by Patricia McKillip – another series with a wonderful mix of romance, magic, and epic good vs evil struggles. Some of my kids complain that these books lack full character development…but that doesn’t dull my enjoyment of the series!

24. Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, and other books by Mark Twain – Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were good, but rarely of interest to re-read. I continue to enjoy the wry, tongue-in-cheek descriptions in Twain’s travel books. Now that we live out West, I especially enjoy Roughing It, much of which could have been set in my back yard.

25. The Seven Daughter of Eve: the Science that Reveals our Genetic Ancestry by Bryan Sykes – again, this book tells stories of the possible lives of the ancient maternal ancestors of most people alive today. I enjoyed the scientific basis for this book and found the stories made the science come alive! Over the years, I’ve read many books about the origins and early civilizations of humanity. The ones I most enjoy mix science and stories. This is one I like to re-read occasionally.

26. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde – this is a lovely, quirky series where literary detectives work to protect books and plots from forgers, murderers, and other attacks. Detective novels filled with time travel and classic books, what a mix!

27. Motel of the Mysteries by David MacAulay – this may look like a picture book, but in reality it is a wonderful satire on archaeology in general and specifically Howard Carter finding the tomb of King Tut. It gives humorous “religious” interpretations by archaeologists of the future who discover an ancient motel and roadways.

28. The Crystal Cave series by Mary Stewart – I don’t remember when I discovered this alternative Arthurian series, but I’ve loved it from the start. Definitely a must read if you like this genre.

29. The Sky Stone by Jack Whyte – although the other books in his Camulod Chronicles are good, this one is my favorite. This is a prequel to Arthurian tales told from the perspective of a Roman soldier in Britain during the beginning of the Dark Ages when the Roman legions were being overrun and were withdrawing from the country. Romance, adventure, mystery, and more set in a little-known time in history…my kind of read!

30. All Creatures Great & Small (and other books) by James Harriot – if one loves animals, enjoys medical things, is enamored of England, and enjoys a good story with lively characters, this is a great series. A highlight of my first trip to Yorkshire, England was seeing “familiar” scenery and taking a tour of the house where this book begins.

31. Sanity in the Summertime by Linda Dillow and Claudia Arp – this book became a guide for Summertime fun and learning for many years. I don’t know if it really made the summer go easier, but I always like to make plans, even if we don’t accomplish everything on the list. The idea of setting goals for each child was helpful and easily modified for Sanity in the Schoolyear!

32. A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich – this fictional life story of a pioneer woman is always a good read. It is somewhat dark, with realities overwhelming dreams but ends on a happy note. I wonder if this book has influenced by drive to reach for dreams, not just let them drift away?

33. Mr. God, This is Anna by Fynn – How does one describe this book about a precocious little girl befriended by a bemused fellow? It is not really religious, not a parenting book, not a science book…but a mix of all the above and more. Anna looks at the wonderful world in a very different way than most of us, stretching the reader’s thoughts in many arenas.

34. The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborn – If you haven’t yet discovered this book, stop reading this list and go track down this book immediately! If you are tired of boring religion, tired of do-nothing Christians, and/or tired of a cultural Christianity seemingly divorced from the Jesus of the Bible, then this is the book for you. You might disagree with some of the author’s theology, but his ideas will definitely make you think!

35. The Unseen Bridegroom, or Wedded for a Week by May Agnes Fleming – I treasured this ancient paperback “penny novel” from the late 1800s that I found at my Great-Grandma’s house when I was young. The story is quite melodramatic but the over-the-top plot makes it a fun read. I was quite excited to discover it is now available for free download for Kindle.

36. Nefertiti, Lost Queen of the Nile – I wish I could find this book that I enjoyed when I was young. It was a touching story of the family life of Tutankamon and Nefertiti. I checked this out over and over from the library.

37. Calvin & Hobbes comic collections by Bill Waterson – Having a child or two like Calvin meant that some days it felt like Mr. Waterson must have peeked into our house for inspiration. James treasured the hardback complete collection of these cartoons that he received for Christmas the year before he died—and we all still enjoy rereading these occasionally.

38. books about Mt. Everest, the Iditarod, and other adventures… When I was young, I read a condensed version of the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful summiting of Mt. Everest in the 1950s. I fell in love with the risks, the adventure, and the ends-of-the-earth location and have sought out similar books ever since.

39. The Shack by William Young – In the midst of tragedy and resulting dark depression, God reaches out to the main character in unexpected ways. Reading this after the death of our son was intense but the main message of God’s overwhelming love for each of us was comforting even while it was stretching. Some Christians have banned this book, claiming it is heresy. Such a loss for them—this book might have opened their eyes to the God who loves them and who does not need their “protection.”

40. Zits (cartoon collections) by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman – In searching for the authors I just discovered there are a number of recent collections I have yet to read! Just as Calvin & Hobbes was based on our family of young ones, I swear Zits is based on our teenagers! Brings back memories of those years…and reminders of what is still ahead!

41. Wooster & Jeeves books by P.G. Wodehouse – These are wonderful, quirky stories of a lazy, trouble-prone British aristocrat and his butler who can solve all problems. For once the (BBC) television shows based on these books are excellent representations.

42. Hitchhiker’s Guide series of books by Douglas Adams – The BBC television series is good, the more recent US movie version, and the series of books are all good, but very different from each other. The poor earthman who ends up wandering the galaxy just wants a cup of British-style tea—which leads to all sorts of problems.

43. A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey – this fictional “autobiography” told via a lifetime of letters is gripping. It is hard to put down, even when re-reading for the umpteenth time. The main character faces many tragedies in her long life, but her determination and courage keep the tone upbeat.

44. Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot – a gripping missionary story of 5 men martyred while attempting to bring the gospel to a totally unreached tribe. This had a significant impact on my teen years, even while I was rebelling against the rules and boundaries of my Christian upbringing. My longing for adventure while doing something significant for God may well have started while reading (and re-reading) this book.

45. A Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall – a love story, a soft-spoken preacher who influenced even Congress with his faith, this is a book about a man of integrity written by the woman he married.

46. a large craft book that I pored over during childhood. It had every imaginable project for container gardens, games, toys, gifts and more. I don’t know when the book disappeared (sometime in the past few years). There are many other craft idea books…but this one was a connection to my childhood.

47. A Weekend to Change Your Life: Find Your Authentic Self After a Lifetime of Being All Things to All People by Joan Anderson – I’m not quite sure what brings me back over and over to this self-help book. Maybe it is the practical exercises that help the reader pick out “knots” in life. Maybe it is because it is not theoretical but is based on real-life experience of the author. Whatever it is, I come back to this book and discover new things about myself each time.

48. Four Word Self Help by Patti Digh – this seemingly simple book mixing words for life with art journaling is profound in its impact. Beyond this book, it led me to Patti’s blogs and her other books. I love the wisdom, I love the art. I wanna be like Patti when I grow up…

49. Hidden Rainbow by Christmas Carol Kauffman – I discovered this book on my mom’s bookshelves at some point when I was young and after many years of re-reading this inspiring story of a spiritually hungry young woman who holds her family together during difficult years in rural Yugoslavia, this book now sits on my own bookshelf.

50. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – this intense, scientific thriller is presented as “fact” by the author. It is a wonderfully gripping story, even with the main part of the story taking place in a top-secret lab over just a 5 day period. This was an early story by the author who later wrote Jurassic Park. I don’t usually read science thrillers—but make an exception for books by this author.

And since I still treasure a number of books from childhood, I decided to include of few of these here as well. All of these can still be found on my bookshelves, even after numerous moves!

  • From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankwiler – kids who run away from a boring, chore-filled life at home and escape to live in a museum, still a thrilling idea today!
  • The Island Stallion (and the myriad of Black Stallion books) by Walter Farley – manna for a horse-crazy girl, this one was always my favorite since it combined taming a wild horse with evidence of conquistadors on a remote Caribbean island.
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Books by Betty MacDonald – think of all the children you disliked or were disgusted by as a child and they are probably somewhere in these books. Don’t worry, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has magical (silly) ways of turning them back into lovable children with whom you would enjoy playing. Still fun to read as an adult (and I still want her upside-down house…)
  • Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Historical Fiction at its best written for young readers. I think my favorite was “The Long Winter” for all they suffered through, although the descriptions in “Farmer Boy” remind me of the years we raised our kids on a farm…
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – such injustice, such trouble, but with a happy ending, all set at the time of the American Revolution. One of the first historic fiction books I enjoyed which showed me there are stories of real-lives-lived hidden in the dry prose of history textbooks.
  • The Tripod Trilogy (starting with The White Mountains) by John Christopher – total science fiction including aliens, mind control, rebellion, and escape. Yet the scary aliens are shown to also be concerned and even lovable. Great introduction to this genre…
  • On to Oregon! by Honore Morrow – this was a slam dunk for a child who enjoyed reading about the Oregon Trail, high adventure, survival skills, and families. It is the story of the 7 Sager siblings who safely finished the journey to Oregon on their own after both of their parents died along the trail.
  • San Domingo, Medicine Hat Stallion (and other books) by Marguerite Henry – I devoured every one of these books in my many years of being horse-crazy! This is one I have re-read many times as an adult. I’m not sure what draws me back to it over and over—the setting? The courage of the main character? The historical time period? Whatever it is, this book is definitely a favorite!
  • First Woman Doctor – this story about Elizabeth Blackwell honed my interest in medicine. I also identified with this woman who defied tradition and expectations to follow her heart.
  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George – a survival story of a boy who lives by himself in the Catskill Mountains of New York with detailed descriptions and drawings of things he used to survive and thrive. I loved the falcon he caught. And driving through the Catskills headed to skiing in Vermont for spring breaks made the story even more thrilling.
  • Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twin Mysteries – a level of mysteries I can still handle reading—thrilling but not too graphic or scary. I enjoyed how independent these children/young adults were. And I enjoyed all the exotic places they travelled with their families.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – I cried and cried over this book, time after time after time. And I celebrated the pranks and fun times. A memorable “classic” with characters who seem fully alive.
  • Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan – adventure, fooling Nazi soldiers, high jinks, and triumphant children based on a true story of Norwegian families smuggling gold out of their country to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis.
  • The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron – space exploration by normal boys, an unknown planet orbiting the earth, and a different species of humanoids combine to make a wonderful series.
  • Sue Barton (nurse) series by Helen Dore Boylston – besides being horse-crazy as a child, I was also enamored of anything and everything medical. This series of books was an enjoyable introduction to the variety of jobs a nurse can have. The romance interest didn’t hurt…
  • The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp – I loved discovering the real story behind my favorite movie as a child—The Sound of Music which was just the beginning of their story.
  • Magic series by Edward Eager – normal, every day children having adventures with magic and having to figure out the “rules” along the way. What fun!
  • The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews – I enjoyed this book as a child, and still like to re-read it as an adult. Dual messages of the loneliness of endangered species and of the power of imagination are memorable.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Progress Report… « Journey2Wonder
  2. Trackback: 50 Things I Love « Journey2Wonder
  3. Kim Fernando
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 11:47:43

    I just added so many of these to my already miles long “to read” list. Thank you for sharing. There is nothing like a good book! I could gush about them for hours.


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