I must admit I lied, an act of exclusion not intention. Of necessity for restraint not extravagance. These are not my favorite twenty-six books I’ve ever read – only the favorite for each letter of the alphabet. Even that was a miserable choice for nearly every letter. I had to leave out so many incredible books screaming, “Pick me. Me! You know you love me best.” Look at the possible choices just for the letter A:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
The Alexandria Quartet (4 novels) by Lawrence Durrell
All Other Nights by Dara Horn
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (This was the book I selected.)
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg
Atonement by Eon McEwan
How could I write about All the Light We Cannot See but leave out All Other Nights, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Atonement or the other eight books? Only by wringing my hands and making promises in the dark, sometimes picking petals off the daisy, did I come to conclusions. In some cases, I had to choose a favorite book for a particular letter though I really adore another book more than the one for the letter for which I was writing. Anointing a single child. Medieval torture. The aching limitations of the series. The books left out cry to me in my dreams, “How could you do this to me?” Love is a fickle entity. I had to choose one, only one book for each letter, but still, I love all of you equally.
How did I even come to have a selection of titles from which to choose?
About ten years ago I began to keep a list of books I’d read, sometimes writing a very brief review. I’ve added titles read long ago as I remember them. The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope, a pseudonym for a group of writers, is the very first book I ever read by myself when I was five, but this book only recently got onto my list. Close to a thousand mostly fiction books read since 1953, the earliest date I can remember reading books for pleasure or elucidation. It remains an organizational mess – not in alphabetical order by title or author, not even organized by the year read. Kids’ books are mixed in as well as non-fiction which I chose not to include for possible review, nor biography or autobiography, philosophy, religious exegeses, history, science, technology, poetry, short story collections, or Shakespeare’s plays, almost none of which are even on the list. I’ve not included all the books read in support of my career as an art teacher: how to teach, how to teach art, and art history, production methods, materials, and techniques, and commentary. Also not on the list are the dozens (hundreds?) of textbooks pored over for college, and any books I still don’t remember. (OK, Captain Obvious, go away now.) This year I got a bit smarter and created a page just for 2017. I’m not a marathon reader by any means, and the list of books I’d like to read is at least another thousand.
So, picking a favorite for each letter posed a challenge. I didn’t want more than one book per author, nor to lean too heavily on any one genre, or select more female than male writers. Nor should only the classics or only recent books be considered. I selected the entire series before I began to write about Doerr’s book in order to keep my pen out of those quagmires. Didn’t mean I didn’t change my mind – I did that too, for about every letter as its publication date approached.
My original idea was only to choose adult books but if you’ve followed the series, you know I didn’t stick with that plan. Some children’s books are too exceptional and memorable to be ignored. Thus Max made his bow in Where the Wild Things Are, right after I’d sent my beloved copy to my youngest grandchildren in Northern California.
These are books that pulled me between their covers and held on to my heart and mind, sometimes making me laugh out loud in awkward places or leaving me in tears. Most of them I’ve read more than once, some as many as six times (imagine how long my list would be had I not done that) but many I haven’t read within the last year or so. Which meant I had to skim the book, most of them fortunately still on my shelves. But I’m not a speed reader and that’s why there are gaps of more than a week between some of the posts. I read “out loud in my head,” usually in voices, and that takes time.
As I worked through the alphabet my focus changed. From writing reviews of great books I wanted people to read, I wrote personal stories about why each book meant so much to me. They influenced other book choices, or how I write, or what I think about the world, or compelled me to dream bigger, try harder, research deeper, write more. There are hundreds of thousands of reviews on the Internet but my series reveals at least twenty-six gherkins of information about me.
I gave up quoting my favorite line because that became another nearly impossible choice. Most of my books are flagged with dozens of sticky notes, indicating a passage I wanted to remember. When I started copying ten or twelve sentences, I got close to crossing the acceptable legal line of limited exposure of another writer’s work. I stopped including them at all.
Toward the end of the alphabet I got creative, as you’ve probably noted. Consider X is for The Book Whose Title I Can’t Remember – that one was a mighty undertaking, demanding a return to my earliest childhood memories, but it might be the post in this series for which I’m most proud.
You, my readers, have graciously offered your own favorite titles for various letters, and I’m so thankful for your interest and recommendations. I hope you’ll consider a book or two from my list for something to read over the next year. When you open to the first page, tell them their old friend Shari sent you.
Other books that were serious contenders for A to Z:
Perhaps another 300 books I couldn’t write about, my other favorite favorites.
Painting “Interesting Story” by Laura Muntz Lyall, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.