Because I want this site to focus on storytelling (both my own and my thoughts on others’ stories), I thought a solid foundation would be to talk about my favorite examples of storytelling in print, aka books. Today, I will be sharing with you My Top 10 Favorite Books.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved to read. My mom would get so frustrated with me. She would tell me to go to bed as she turned off my light. I would wait a few minutes when I thought the coast was clear, then I would sneak out of bed, grab a book, and huddle under my night-light to read. She would always catch me and make me put my book away and return to bed. This cycle would usually come to an end with me falling asleep on the floor with my face in my book. Eventually, my dad finally said that as long as I was just reading, I could stay awake in my room with the light on to read until I fell asleep in bed, rather than the floor.
I have always continued to read in some capacity. In college, as an English major, 99% of the reading I did was all for classes. My recreational reading was almost non-existent during those years (which is when my passion for visual storytelling took off exponentially). Since then, I have been able to find the time and the joy in recreational reading, especially a few years ago when I started to read the new Star Wars canon books (which will be its own list down the road).
This list will not be limited to fiction or non-fiction, but any book that’s had an impact on my life. Some will be well-known, and some may be more obscure.
1. The Bible
My faith in God is important to me, so putting the Bible as #1 seems like a no-brain-er to a Christian such as myself. But, even putting aside the fact that it is a religious text, the Bible is also extraordinary from a literary standpoint. The Bible gives us wonderful historical insight across both Testaments, stories filled with analogy and themes, beautiful poetry, bloody action and war, philosophy, wildly fascinating and obscure people, sex, love, hope, and, well… faith.
2. How Star Wars Conquered the Universe- Chris Taylor
My third love, behind God and my family, is Star Wars. I have been inundated with Star Wars since I was in kindergarten. Chris Taylor’s book shows me that I’m not the only one. The entire world has been changed by Star Wars for the past 40 years. I have never read or watched anything on Star Wars as reflective and in-depth on the cultural impact it has had over the decades. Chris Taylor has taken that to the extreme by writing what I am calling the definitive Star Wars nonfiction epic. There were a couple of spots where I got chills down my spine as I read what Taylor described. If you have heard of that one thing called the Star Wars, this is a must-read.
3. On Writing- Stephen King
Stephen King helped me become the reader and writer I am today even though I have never met him in person. Yet, after reading his memoir, On Writing, I feel like, on some level, I understand him and his craft. The book is split up into two parts, one autobiography and one writing craftsmanship. The section on craftsmanship is so straightforward and lush with examples so you can see both the good and the bad that all writers will eventually produce. It’s important to see the struggle, of someone as prolific as King is, so when the every-writer gets discouraged, they can look towards their heroes and know it’s okay. Sometimes we have to “[crawl] through a river of shit” before we can write something of worth. (The quote is from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, an adaptation of Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.)
4. Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
My favorite fiction book of all time is Fahrenheit 451. It’s a beautifully crafted glimpse into an all-too-possible future where people have willingly given up control and creativity to the government. Books have been banned, along with all original thought. Everything is a remake and has no depth or true meaning. Sound familiar? I read it at least once a year. I teach it to my 8th graders. Every time I go into that world I keep picking out things in the real world that are closer and closer to the mindless, unoriginal reality in the book. One time I was reading the descriptions of the television shows in Fahrenheit 451, and I realized Ray Bradbury just described everything Michael Bay has ever made 50 years before he made them.
5. Walden- Henry David Thoreau
I must be obsessed with the reflective self, because Walden is another memoir. It’s all about removing oneself from the world and connecting to something more personal. In Thoreau’s case, it was nature. He spent two years in solitude and wrote each chapter as focusing on a different theme or aspect of his tenure alone. Walden is the one book I have spent the most time studying, behind the Bible. It is the focus of my longest single-text analysis paper from college. I read it and other people’s analyses of it explicitly for months. To give you a glimpse of the subject and tone, I came across a quote by novelist John Updike. When he reflects on Walden, he says, “Thoreau[‘s] so vivid a protester, so perfect a crank and hermit saint, that the book risks being as revered and unread as the Bible.” I like the quote because it is as salty and sarcastic as Thoreau can get in Walden when reflecting about his own society.
6. To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird takes us on a journey alongside Scout, a curious little girl who wants to understand the world, and its motives. We get this horrific account of people being taken advantage of through the eyes of innocence. We want the same answers and understanding as Scout. Every year I share this book with my students and the message of understanding people around you in spite of your differences, especially, in a landscape where compromise is dying and division thrives.
7. the horizontal world: growing up wild in the middle of nowhere- Debra Marquart
Another collection of essays, this memoir is centered around a girl who was born and raised in a small rural town in North Dakota, desperate to leave, and faced with the repercussions of those actions. That was me growing up! Aside from me being a guy, who moved to North Dakota when I was in middle school. I hated North Dakota. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to leave as soon as I could. And, most of my friends, who were born and raised in North Dakota, wanted to leave their farms too. Marquart’s story of wanting to leave circumstances she never had any control over is relatable across the board, and her criticisms of small-town life in North Dakota were ravishing, raw, and right.
8. I Am America (And So Can You!)- Stephen Colbert
What a fun satire! I discovered satire in high school by watching The Colbert Report, which is where I found out about the book as Colbert persistently and shamelessly plugged his book (which is part of the charm of the show). Everything is put together so well. Stephen Colbert writes this under the guise of his Colbert Report persona. Nothing is safe, yet nothing feels exploited. It’s the perfect extension for the show. If you liked the humor and satire from the show, you’ll enjoy the book and all its “truthiness” – or what we would now call “alternative facts”.
9. Star Wars Journal: The Fight for Justice- John Peel
The Fight for Justice was my first step into a larger world, a literary world of Star Wars books. I remember flipping through the Scholastic magazine as an elementary student and seeing this book. I had to order it. This wasn’t just some sticker book or some kids flip book. This was a chapter book without pictures, legit stuff to a kid nearing double-digits. I proceeded to buy the Darth Maul journal after Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out. But, unlike the fans of old who grew up in the 80s and early 90s, I was never without the films. I was seven years old when they were re-released in theatres in 1997, then two years later, the Prequels stared with Episode I. So, it wasn’t until 2005 and the release of the last Prequel, Revenge of the Sith that I was Star Wars-less. By that time, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of Expanded Universe content that I just shut down. Now, with the new canon, I have been able to stay on target, but I’ll always remember The Fight for Justice as my first exposure to canon outside the movies.
10. A Christmas Carol- Charles Dickens
My favorite time of the year, the most wonderful time of the year, is Christmas. Charles Dicken’s classic tale is a timeless glimpse into England’s Christmas past, allowing us to reflect on what Christmas looks like in contemporary society. Have our values on the holiday changed in the past hundred years? The language and the dialogue are a joy to the ear (especially if you listen to the audiobook read by Tim Curry). Scrooge’s transformation is my favorite part as every time I begin the story, I can see Scrooge’s point of view. I taste the cynical, surly sauce Scrooge has brewed. Only when we take the journey with Scrooge do we realize the error in his ways and share the wish to change them. There’s no better sentiment made around the holidays as “God bless us, every one.”
What did you think of my list? What does your own list look like? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading.