To see the book list that prompted this click HERE.
1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Yes, I'm aware of and truly regret the ridiculous way the slaves speak and the fact that their characterization perpetuates the stereotype of the "happy" slave. In spite of that (and Yes, that's a BIG "in spite of that....") its an amazingly rich story with vivid characters and locations. More than that it truly captures and communicates the feelings of the time and the people involved. I first read it in 8th grade and have read it annually ever since. I even took a paperback copy with me to Peace Corps.
2. The Joyous Season by Patrick Dennis. While I also absolutely love the author's almost equally marvelous Auntie Mame, I think this is actually the better of the two novels. While readers of the current smash hit The Help would be stunned by Lulu's thoughts in this book, the rest of a fan-damn-tabulous send up of families and the holidays. Seen thru the eyes of a young boy named Kerry, the Joyous Season takes us thru the Christmas from Hell, the demise of a truly happy marriage and the social snobbery of Old New York. I laugh my way thru it every Christmas.
3. And the Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. Mrs. Santmyer's book caused a sensation when it was published--she was over 80 at the time and that was considered "remarkable." It also gave hope to other author's whose books were published by University Presses, for The Ohio State University Press was the original imprint of this book. It went on to top the New York Times bestseller list! This is a "sweeping saga"of the very best sort--multiple generations of very believable families in fictional "Waynesboro" Ohio starting soon after the Civil War and continuing to the 1930s. The two main characters, friends at the town's female "seminary" are invited to join the local women's "improvement" club where someone presents an essay or similar each month. The chapters open with a listing of the "ladies of the club." Each member receives her due in this engaging story. Recently I've had reason to be in and out of Xenia, Ohio quite regularly. It's been a thrill to be where Mrs. Santmyer's amazing story was set.
4. No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This book, and the movie Apollo 13, should be required reading for everyone involved in public education in this country (and, YES, that does include the legislators!). We've all heard the phrase about Franklin Delano Roosevelt that "he taught a crippled nation how to walk." This is the amazing story of how Roosevelt inspired the country to meet and exceed production targets for war materials, for training and equipping soldiers, and for gaining buy-in for necessary societal changes (many short-term) that made it all possible. This is THE book on leadership in my humble opinion. Roosevelt has many, many haters to this day, but in large part we owe our freedom to his strong leadership at this perilous time.
5. Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie. If you've read this blog regularly, you know I follow the British Royal Family rather ardently. What you may not know is, thanks to Queen Victoria's fecundity, the line of succession to the BRITISH throne eventually included the heirs to the thrones of Germany, Denmark, Spain and Russia among others. And, had King George V gotten better advice and been a stronger person, the Russian throne might still exist. Robert Massie, one of the most readable historians of all times (and one of my very favorite authors), made his name with this book. At the time he was the father of a young hemophiliac and was drawn to the Romanov's by the role the disease played in it's demise. The desperate young Tzar, Nicholas II and his wife the German Princess Alix of Hesse, had 5 children but only one son--the hemophiliac Alexei. There being virtually no medical treatment for hemophilia at the start of the 20th Century the parents had to sit by and try to comfort their son as best they could. Alix's faith sustained her, then led her to the manipulative Rasputin. The rest, as we say, is history. Eventually, the Bolsheviks overthrew the Romanovs going so far as to execute them. Alix sister, Ella, was thrown down a mine shaft to die. No one who reads this book, particularly the episode at Spala, can be untouched by it. Almost equally moving is Massie's "hemophilia" book, Journey about his own son's struggle with the disease, which I have also read several times. I believe that book prepared me to cope with my own son's very different struggles.
The "oh so close" books that I had to exclude included the works of Chaim Potok (any), Herman Wouk (Winds of War, War and Remembrance, Marjorie Morningstar, the Caine Mutiny) and Barbara Kingsolve (Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer, The Bean Trees) (except the Lucana which I could not struggle thru). Missing too, are A Town Called Alice,: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, the River of Doubt and Rebecca. And there is plenty of nonfiction left off the list such as Blanche Wiesen Cook's fabulous biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, or memoirs like Behind the Urals, Life on the Color Line or the Glass Castle.
For a passionate, avid reader no list can stop with merely 5 entries!
Now, how about you? Why don't you share YOUR top 5 reads of all time?