You may have seen the meme going around on the Book of Faces—no, not the one where you dump ice cold water over your head and donate to a good cause, but the other one. The one that asks you to list the ten books you’ve read that have stayed with you, for better or worse. You’re not supposed to think about it too hard, just the first ten books that come to mind.
I apologize for the self-interruption right here, Interwebers, but it has to be said: I weep for those persons who cannot come up with ten books. I weep hard. And then I hand you a list to get you started. And if you tell me you don’t like reading books, then all I have to say to you is this: You’re doing it wrong.
Anyshoes, when I was tagged for this meme by my friend Nina, I excitedly jotted down my list and posted it to my feed last week. But after some reflection, I realized that ten is a stupid number, and not one I can even remotely stick to, ergo I’ve expanded my initial list, but after careful consideration and taking into account the fact that it is not, in fact, possible, to list 1,572 books and expect people to still pay attention, have capped my New! and Improved! list at 15.
So here you are, the 15 books that, off the top of my head, have stayed with me through thick and thin:
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Bah. Gahd, I really hate this book. I really do. Granted, much of my hatred stems from the fact that I tried to read this entire book in a weekend for junior year AP English (because why would I read on a schedule? Pffft…silly organizational skills) and as a result hated the book and still hate it to this day. It was just so DRY (no pun intended). I remember turning page after page and thinking, “For the love of all that is holy and decent get on with it already.”
- The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God by John R. Powers. I’ve read this book at least eight times, and get something new out of it every time. I love it. I used to check it out from the library at least once a summer, and it’s entirely possible I was the only one who ever did. I love Powers’ books—they are another version of the stories my mom and dad tell about when they were growing up Catholic on the South Side (see Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?). It was probably not until the fourth or fifth reading of Ice Cream God, however, that I connected the prologue and the ending. And when I did I cried like a baby.
- The Monster at the End of This Book. Oh, Grover, how I love thee! It’s Grover! Grover is the monster at the end of the book! And Grover is not a monster! I loved this book as a little kid. He’s adorable and silly! And I may or may not insist on reading it to my nephews even though they’re getting a little too old for it.
- The Giving Tree/A Light in the Attic/Where the Sidewalk Ends. Give me Shel Silverstein, or give me death.
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This is one of the most beautiful fucking books I’ve ever read, and yes, I do feel the need to swear about it. That’s how fucking gorgeous it is. And it is just so easy to sink into the stories as they weave together.
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin. GAH. Another book that I absolutely cannot stand. I know it’s supposed to be this great feminist work and everything but Christ on a cracker, I wanted to tear the damn book to shreds just to get it out of my face. There was something about the main character that made me want to slap some sense into her, and I felt she was just so whiny and wistful. I get it, I do—different times for women and all that, but Jeezy Creezy.
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Speaking of Jeezy Creezy, The first time I read this book I almost fell out of my seat laughing while riding the Montrose bus home from work, and realized I probably looked a bit like a lunatic. (But then remembered I was on the Montrose bus and really, I fit right in.) As Catholics we’re taught that Jesus is the human Son of God, but this was the first time I ever really viewed him that way. This was the first time I didn’t think Jesus was a goody-two-shoes with a stick up his dupa, and someone I’d actually like to hang out with.
- Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett. If you’ve never read Jincy Willett, DO. She pulls you into her odd little world, twisting and heading off on excellent tangents on every other page, but it’s such a divine ride. There is a scene in this book that involves a bar and shoelaces being tied together that left me gasping for breath, I laughed so hard, and solidified my love of Willett’s prose.
- This is Where I Leave you by Jonathan Tropper. The first book of Tropper’s that I read, and I finished it in about two days during the 2010 Snowpacolypse in DC. I don’t even know what to say. I just freaking loved this book so hard.
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I know—I’m as surprised as you are that such a classic landed on my list, because typically I’m a righteous fan of more modern fiction. But we read this in high school, and I found it captivating. I’d like to go back to my high school English class (sophomore year, I think it was?) and read it again, along with the discussions. There is so much I remember, and so much I’ve forgotten, I’d need someone to walk me through it again.
- Dawn by V.C. Andrews. Most people might cite Flowers in the Attic as their V.C. Andrews memory, and yes, I read that one too (along with just about everything else by Andrews), but Dawn stays with me, and I have no idea why. But there you go.
- The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Dear God, please save me from this book. I know it’s been lauded left, right, up and down, but no. I just couldn’t do it. This was the first book that I actually did not force myself to finish—up until that point I would read a book come hell or high water (unless it was assigned for a class. In which case…eh. Maybe I’d read the whole thing and not bullshit my way completely though the exam.) But this one? Not so much. I got about 50 pages in—a feat in and of itself—and thought to myself, “This is dumb. I don’t like this book. I’m going to stop reading it.” It was a big moment for me, to walk away from a book. I’ve grown so much because of that experience.
- The Babysitters Club series and Sleepover Friends series by Ann M. Martin and Susan Saunders, respectively. Alright, let’s just get this out of the way: I was on a first-name basis with my local librarians by age 8. And it had a lot to do with the fact that I was constantly filling out the Interlibrary Loan forms so I could get the latest book from both of these series. I know BSC was a big one, but does anyone else even remember Sleepover Friends? I swear I’m not making it up, I just looked it up on Amazon—they really do exist. And let me tell you something: 11-year-old McPolish thought having a sleepover with your best pals every weekend while eating Chinese food and having your own private playhouse in your backyard and dressing ONLY in red, black, and white clothing was like, the coolest thing ever. Like, right up there with Clarissa Explains It All.
- Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg. The first time I read this it was called “Coming Attractions” but somewhere along the way they changed the name, and I don’t know why. Either way, this is another book that I’ve read more than a few times, back in the day when I read books more than once. (What happened to that time?) And you know what? Every time I absolutely loved it. Ms. Flagg is a consummate storyteller.
- The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro. The scene: A young McPolish, at the airport at the end of a work trip, waiting to board a flight back to Chicago. Reading this book, which she’d picked up a few hours earlier. Doubled over, wheezing with laughter at Notaro’s essays. And then finishing the entire book on the three-hour flight home.
Tell me, Interwebers—what ten (or 15) books are on your list?